Where did this idea of the widespread use of quillwork in the Southeast come from? Some of it came from blurring "tradition" with "historical practice". That something is traditional does not mean it is an ancient, or even old practice. To be traditional, something only has to be passed from one to another. Before I get too side tracked..
Unfortunately, a lot more of the problem with quillwork came from misunderstanding what constitutes documentation. I have actually been shown the following images as proof that Cherokee used quilled bags and knives:
So what did the Cherokee really decorate with quills in the 18th century? The answer can be found in the writings of more than one trusted 18th century source who weas actually on hand to see for themselves. Henry Timberlake is an excellent example:
describing the calumet, or peace pipe:
.."The stem is about three feet long, finely adourned with porcupine-quills, dyed feathers, deers hair, and such like gaudy trifles."
describing the clothing:
..."mockafons, which are shoes of a make particular to the Americans, ornamented with porcupine-quills..."
While he describes all of their clothing in great detail, these are the only two items described as decorated with quillwork. Similar descriptions can be found in the writings of Adair, Busso, and others. The one other item these other authors relate as being decorated with quills is a diadem, or crown. Diadems, like the calumet, were for special occaisions, not everyday wear. So we can infer, that because porcupines, whose habitat only extended into NW West VA, were not a source of artistic materials for everyday things. If quillwork was so widespread among the Cherokee and the rest of the Southeast, why does is show up so infrequently in the historic record? The answer is obvious to me: because the quillwork wasnt there in the quantities many wish it was.
There is another item which quite frequently appears in hair decorations of both Northern and Southern interpreters of 18th century Native culture is out of place... porcupine guardhair in roaches. There are a number of red deer hair roaches which survive from the 18th century. Some are round, some are U shaped. None of them feature porcupine hair. None at all. In fact, porcupine guard hair on roaches doesnt begin to show up until the 19th century! Why is it being worn by 18th century interpreters? Take a look at the pictures I posted above. It was painted (and continues to be painted) by modern artists. Wearing porcupine guard hair in your roach is incorrect for 18th century interpretation! For the love of the porcupine and history, please stop!
I am sure that someone along the way will be offended by this. That is not my intention. The Cherokee, along with the rest of the peoples of the Southeast had other outlets for their artistic expression. Ever seen the cane basket work the Cherokee were famous for, even in the 18th century? How about their pipes?