Definition of quill in US English:



  • 1Any of the main wing or tail feathers of a bird.

    • ‘Outside the banquet hall there was a small oak table, upon which rested a yellowed parchment and a droopy quill of some exotic bird.’
    • ‘Throughout our period various breeds of birds were used to supply different quills, including duck, goose, swan and pheasant.’
    • ‘It was hunted extensively by natives for food and feathers, and its numbers began to decline when a market developed in European settlements for its skin, feathers, down, and quills.’
    • ‘Each quill is conspicuously marked with black and white bands.’
    • ‘When the quills begin to loosen, the bird removes them and is then ready to care for the new feathers.’
    • ‘She learned how to strip the sinews from the tendons and make the string for the bow, how to select the best willows for the shaft of the arrows, how to bind the goose quills to the shaft with gut and gum.’
    1. 1.1 The hollow shaft of a feather, especially the lower part or calamus that lacks barbs.
      • ‘Dubbed Kryoryctes cadburyi - as in Cadbury chocolate - the dinosaur-era mammal was roughly the size of a large cat, covered with quills, and toothless.’
      • ‘They are feather-like in that they are hollow and ‘resemble most closely the plumules of modem birds, having relatively short quills and long, filamentous barbs’.’
      • ‘The clothing is made from white caribou hides and sewn with sinew, using split bird quills on the seams.’
      • ‘Any suitable material may be used, including quill, parchment, wood, ivory, bone, horn, tortoiseshell, and plastic.’
      • ‘Beneath the ash was the oddest, most brilliant bird she had ever seen: gold skin, covered in spiky quills that would someday turn into red-and-orange feathers.’
      • ‘Its plectra - which pluck the strings to produce the harpsichord's sound - were replaced using black turkey quills, and the instrument now produces a sound as close as possible to how it would have sounded when made by Haxby.’
      • ‘Crane genomic DNA was extracted from adult feather quills using a sodium hydroxide boiling method.’
      • ‘We were especially careful in excluding specimens in molt by checking all specimens for the presence of feather quills.’
      • ‘By the way, they're born with soft quills, and the quills harden up within about six to eight hours after birth.’
      • ‘It has a great many tiny, very fluffy ‘miniature feathers’ and no long feathers or quills.’
      feather, crest
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 A pen made from a main wing or tail feather of a large bird by pointing and slitting the end of the shaft.
      • ‘Row upon row of desks was spread out before the panel in an intricate latticework, and numerous academy students were already scribbling furiously onto sheets of parchments with well-inked quills.’
      • ‘A candle sat on the left corner of the desk, next to which sat a quill pen, a blotter, an inkwell, and various other writing necessities.’
      • ‘She rummaged through it and pulled out a thick leather bound book, a feathered quill and a small pot of ink.’
      • ‘Although metal nibs are recorded as early as the 16th century they were not much used until the last quarter of the 19th when they began to replace quills.’
      • ‘The film shows the surgeon teaching his students by illustrating the successful procedure he has just carried out - he uses forceps as a quill pen and the patient's blood as his ink.’
      • ‘I wondered how long my pens would last: I'd used quills before, and would much rather use a ballpoint or even a modern calligraphic pen.’
      • ‘In one arm, he cradled a stack of books, and in the other, a leather satchel full of feather quills and dozens of tiny glass bottles.’
      • ‘Red's legacy as the color used in correcting papers and marking mistakes goes back to the 1700s, the era of the quill pen.’
      • ‘And there it was, in plain sight by the door, with a small knife, the kind used to sharpen quills, hanging next to it.’
      • ‘I decided to use a wing feather from a golden eagle [Aquila chrysaetos], which is of course beautiful, reminiscent of both flight and of a quill pen.’
      • ‘Filled with misery, he removed a roll of blank paper from the pocket of his robe, and slowly he began to write, using the quill pen he always kept with him.’
      • ‘Remember, this was a time of horse and buggy, feather quills and the most sophisticated appliance in the family home would've been an oil lamp.’
      • ‘Writers look to their quills, while painters care for horsehair and camel with as much care as palette and pigment.’
      • ‘It will retain aspects of its heritage - such as signing the loss book with a quill pen - as a way of reaffirming its long history, continuity and stability.’
      • ‘His head bent in deep thought, he bit his lip in uncertainty while lowering his quill to the parchment.’
      • ‘Most contemporary calligraphers, however, are used to writing with metal pens; they are not used to using quills, cutting them each time they sit down to write.’
      • ‘I'm sure there were those who lamented the demise of the quill pen and inkstand in the classroom.’
      • ‘All this might make you want to toss your computer into the nearest toxic waste dump and go back to writing letters with a quill pen.’
      • ‘Lowering his quill once more, the ink trailed in a continuous line, curving and twisting on the paper.’
      • ‘Now no-one's suggesting that we all go back to the old leather bound ledgers, with the day's business written in copperplate with a feather quill.’
  • 2The hollow sharp spines of a porcupine, hedgehog, or other spiny mammal.

    • ‘Such cooperation, however, can be compared to two porcupines cuddling up to stay warm - they can't avoid harming each other with their quills.’
    • ‘Usually when approached these spiky creatures stop and raise their quills in defence as they dig themselves into the ground.’
    • ‘Among the most beautiful objects depicted are those with woven porcupine quills dyed many colors.’
    • ‘The quills are so lightly fixed to the porcupine's body that they are easily detached and left embedded in the attacker.’
    • ‘The presence of bite marks indicated social stress and porcupine quills showed that the leopard had been in constant pain.’
    • ‘A porcupine road kill between Yellowknife and Hay River provided a good quantity of quills to start off with.’
    • ‘Between Komfokorum and Dompoase, a man dangles a rat the size of a rabbit in front of our windscreen, trying to sell us bush meat; beneath his tarpaulin, I can see the brushy quills of something resembling a porcupine.’
    • ‘Yet display can also conceal, as the raised quills of a porcupine disguise the vulnerability and true size of its actual body.’
    • ‘These elaborately painted masks represent a pair of horned animals, each with a porcupine quill sprouting from its head.’
    • ‘With its back arched, head tucked away and peeping backwards underneath its belly, the porcupine turns its back on the attacker and charges, the idea being to drive the sharp quills into the attacker.’
    • ‘In anger, she attacks the porcupine, and her nose is filled with quills.’
    • ‘An adult porcupine has approximately 30,000 quills on its body, which are replaced every year.’
    • ‘That's hard to imagine, given the creature's resistance to domestication and its propensity for using its quills to keep humans away.’
    • ‘Now the quills, they rattle their quills if they are being alarmed.’
    • ‘Meeting a porcupine, he knows its tricks; he was a victim of its quills before.’
    • ‘Several days were then spent learning how to sew the porcupine quills into decorative motifs on the clothing and attaching the silverberry seeds to the fringes.’
    • ‘They were decorated with porcupine quills, cut fringes, and simple geometric designs often colored with earth pigments.’
    • ‘The quills are not poisonous, the wound becomes septic simply because of the dirt on the quills, and bacteria always thrive where there is dirt.’
    • ‘I was actually stuck with a porcupine quill once and had to go to the hospital to get it out.’
    prickle, spine, thorn, barb
    View synonyms
  • 3quillsUS dated, informal Panpipes.

  • 4A weaver's spindle.


[with object]
  • Form (fabric) into small cylindrical folds.

    • ‘It was a gift of a beautiful piece of quilled and layered paper work, along with an unbelievably neat inscription, all presented in one of the best examples of the frame-maker's craft I've seen in a long, long time.’
    • ‘Clearly a master of her modest medium, she folds paper into facets, quills it into curlicues and cuts it into intricate, lacelike filigree.’


Late Middle English (in the senses ‘hollow stem’ and ‘shaft of a feather’): probably from Middle Low German quiele.