Tin Thread necklace

I took a class today at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota with Katherine Buenger. It was one of their Try It! classes, which are mostly one session. I love Sami bracelets – I purchased one several years ago at an American Craft Council show, and enjoy wearing it – and Katherine designed this necklace using the same techniques. The tin thread is pewter wire, containing 4% silver, wrapped around a cotton core. The leather and antler closure are reindeer. Below is my completed necklace. It is flexible enough to drape nicely, and I like the closure visible on the side in the front.

A closeup of the clasp.

A closeup of the braid.

Now, I did the braid correctly, but I didn’t fully follow directions on which hand held a particular pair of threads at a point in the braiding process – at least that’s what we determined, because below is how the braid should look. In my defense, I have long hair that I wear braided. I am practiced at braiding flat.

Mine is flat, and looks the same on both sides. Hers is cupped, with a different side profile than mine. My finished necklace is done with the gauge of thread of the center sample, and 28″ long.

If you want to make a necklace like mine (but with the right profile!), or a bracelet, check out Katherine’s classes at Bead & Button.

North House Folk School, the leather tote bag edition

Three years ago, I took a sweet grass basketry class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Grand Marais is on the North Shore of Lake Superior, nearly to Ontario, and a draw for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation as well as its arts. Not as much is open in the winter, but the lake is always a draw.

This time, I made a hand-sewn leather tote bag with Candace LaCosse. Candace has a shop and studio in Duluth, Minnesota, which is about two hours south on the southern tip of Lake Superior. Candace makes and sells shoes and bags, baskets and wallets, and much more through her shop and other venues. We walked into the classroom to piles of vegetable tanned cow hides, which are big and heavy and stiff.

Using a template, we cut out the bag and handles.

You cut a groove into the leather, mostly to guide where you place the prong chisel. This stitch groover tool takes some practice.

Making the holes for the stitches.

The thread is linen, and needs to be heavily waxed. Pro tip: look for beeswax candles on sale!

Beginning to stitch.

Using a piece of leather to cushion the table from the chisel. It gets plenty of use.

The entire first day was to sew the handles, two pieces sewn together for each handle. No one finished; we all took homework back to our hotels to finish stitching. I returned in the morning with the completed handles.

I decided I wanted an interior pocket, an extra…

And, I decided to personalize it.

Sewing the handle on the bag. This was challenging, trying to line up the inner and outer handle ends, sandwiched around the bag.

Here’s all the pieces assembled – the handles are sewn on and riveted, and the pocket is attached by rivets only. I also decided to add a flap closure, which is sewn on.

At this point, I’m running out of time. I have yet to sew up the sides of the bag, and sew the triangles that will give the tote its flat bottom. Basically, there was enough time for one bag extra, but not two. Candace suggested that I start sewing the sides of the tote from the bottom, enough to punch the holes for the stitching of the corners. This, I do. Then it’s time for the long drive home.

On Monday, I sew up the sides of the tote at the shop while waiting for my car to be serviced, and go directly to work. Arriving early, I sew. I finish both of the sides except for THE LAST HOLE. I hadn’t gotten it fully punched.

Later at home, I find a nail and punch the last hole, then sew the triangle corners. Here’s the bag inside out.

This was not easy to turn right side out. Candace was telling us about a style of shoe that you make inside out, and how difficult it was to turn – I bet! I finally grasped the sides of the bag and literally used my foot to make it turn. And, the final product!

The leather will soften and patina with age.

I can picture making something out of leather again. You don’t need to have a lot – the stitch groover and the prong chisel and a needle (and an awl – how can I not have an awl?!) are the only tools you need. Add leather and linen twine and beeswax, and creative options abound.


Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue…

I had a lovely, relaxing afternoon of paper marbling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. The pictures below are first the design floating in the water, then the print on paper. 

And again:

And again:

And one more, just of the finished product:

Honestly, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do anything that looked this nice. If you ever have the opportunity, this was a lot of fun. 

Six years of updating

That’s a rather grand title, but true: I have added two to three pieces per year of beadwork to my gallery, and changed its format. The new format is easier to view, and will be easier to maintain. It’s interesting to try to determine themes and trends. Blue is one theme! I also use less peyote now than I used to. Here’s a screenshot of about half the gallery:

It’s in reverse chronological order, and pulls out some of the pieces that are significant, or just simply attractive in their execution. Click on a piece for a brief description, and/or click on an item and then through the images as a slideshow.

I updated my “About” page as well, and tweaked the sidebar. My SAORI loom arrives in about two weeks. I’ll be documenting my learning process with the loom, and perhaps that will mean some more changes – a beadwork gallery and a weaving gallery? One can only hope.

Hmong textiles

The Hmong are an ethnic group that began coming to Minnesota in 1975 as refugees from the Vietnam War that decimated their homelands in Laos. The United States recruited Hmong men to assist in the war as a secret operation, with a total of 30,000 – 40,000 Hmong soldiers killed in combat, an estimated 1/4 of all Hmong men and boys fighting for the U.S. After the war, many Hmong escaped or evacuated to Thailand as the Lao monarchy was overthrown by Communist leadership, and the Communists launched a campaign to capture or kill the Hmong involved. From the refugee camps, many Hmong came to Minnesota starting in 1975, with the largest wave arriving in 1980, and the last arriving in 2004. Please note the length of time that some people were in the camps; I went to a talk given by a man who was a child in the camps.

Today, there are more than 66,000 Hmong in Minnesota, and the Twin Cities metro is home to the largest concentration of Hmong in America. Last year, the Minnesota History Center mounted an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Hmong in Minnesota, “We are Hmong Minnesota” This is translated from “Peb Mog Hmoob” in White Hmong, one of the three main dialects. All signage was in White Hmong and English. It was a sobering, colorful, interesting, beautiful exhibit, and I’m grateful that I was able to visit.

I have lived in Minnesota since 1980, and I have seen Hmong handwork since moving here, always appreciating and admiring it. This is the first piece of Hmong handwork I have the pleasure of owning, a gift from a friend.

This bag is 7×6″, so you can see the piecework is very tiny.


This pillow was purchased at a school’s garage sale fundraiser, is 9″ square, and lives on the couch in my living room. The cut work is all hand reverse-appliquéd, and the triangles are satin-stitch embroidery. The spiral is a common motif called a snail, and the outer shape is a star motif.


Finally, recently, I was at a thrift store and horrified/delighted to find two pieces of Hmong embroidery for almost nothing. The person who priced them didn’t know how spectacular these pieces are. I saw a corner of the binding peeking out from some embroidered hankies, and immediately recognized the Hmong style of binding. This first piece is cross stitch, and 27 x 28″.


A detail:Hmong-cross-stitch-detail

And this, a truly spectacular piece that I am very grateful to be able to own. It is 34 x 32″, hand-embroidered with silk.


I work with someone who is Hmong, and I brought these to work to see if she could tell me anything about them. I was wondering if this piece depicted a fable, and she told me it is the animals of the forest. Click to see a larger picture.

Some of these embroidered pieces are called “story cloths” (paj ndau), and tell the story of current or pre-war life, or more poignantly, the war and escape. The Minnesota History Center has a huge story cloth that was on display during the exhibit. Here is a picture of it (65 x 95″). If you would like to see more, there are images in the MHS digital collections.

My workroom with my beads has no available wall space (bookcases, windows, and doors are in the way). I’m hoping that within a couple years, I will be able to repurpose a room into a sewing room, where I will hang these on the wall. I am pleased to be their next caretaker, and I will treat them well.

Almost a new year, almost a new blog?

I would like to begin again writing regularly for this blog. To that end: I fixed the automatic backup, I updated plugins, and chose a new theme. Not tons different, but a bit cleaner and more modern. I got rid of duplication between categories (such as jewelry) and tags (stitch used). The header image is gone, but I think that’s okay. All the content is here.

I did some beading for holiday gifts, but nothing I’ve photographed. I have an idea for an earring design intended for a Christmas gift, but it will become a New Year’s gift. I have a pretty start of a herringbone rope that I want to continue (French seed beads, beautiful things), and combine with several other herringbone ropes of the same beads. Other things need updating, but let’s start with these!

Spoon carving at the Driftless Folk School

Last year at about this time, my sister and I took a class on sweet grass basketry at the North House Folk School. This learning vacation together, we took a class on spoon carving at the Driftless Folk School in Viroqua, Wisconsin. I took some pictures as we worked to be able to share.

The class was taught by Terry Beck and Tom Wheeler, in the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin (“driftless” refers to glacial activity, or rather lack of glacial activity, which means lovely varied scenery). We started out with safety: “Keep your flesh out the line of travel” summed up the tips. What was most helpful for me to remember was to keep my elbows in, so your torso essentially acts as a stop, as your range of motion is decreased even when using force while carving.

We carved green wood. In the picture below, Tom is using a hatchet to quarter-saw a green log – green is important, it is much easier to carve green wood as wood hardens as it dries. You can carve dry wood, it’s just more work. Cutting the wood in this fashion means getting a section of the log that is more like it’s cut like a pie, rather than a plank.


Here, Tom and Terry both each have essentially a club of wood in their hands. They were working together with Tom holding the piece of wood while Terry was splitting the blank. For more control, Terry placed the hatchet, and used the club to hit the hatchet to create the split.


We went inside the building, and used the hatchet to take off the bark and begin shaping the piece. Rule of thumb: each minute you can spend carving with the hatchet would be equivalent to doing 10 minutes of knife work.


Draw a rough outline of your spoon, and then a small hand saw is used to cut some stops – to hopefully keep you from cutting off the spoon’s handle.


I’m working in sumac, a beautiful wood. Note: sumac, NOT poison sumac!


A little more is done at this point. I’m still using the hatchet. The sharpening on this has been modified. Usually a hatchet has two bevels, one stepping in from another, kind of like a classic barn roof has two angles that meet at the tip. This is more like an A-frame, one shallow, sharp bevel. Also, I am carving holding the hatchet right up at the head, and have my thumb on one side of the head, and my finger on the other.


Still working with the hatchet.


Now I’ve progressed to the sloyd (or slöjd) knife. It a very short, very sharp knife. Slöjd refers to the handcraft tradition in Sweden; here’s a post I wrote about slöjd for the American Craft Council.


Now I’ve begun working on the bowl of the knife with a hook knife. It looks like you imagine, a rather scary looking curved blade that enables scooping out the bowl. You can see that this work isn’t as smooth. Between the picture above and this picture, we went to lunch. An hour of drying, plus a new tool to use, and I had some difficulty. You start carving the bowl by drawing its edge, and then scooping from that edge towards the center.


I have finished carving. I used a rasp, and some cabinet scrapers on the bowl, to smooth out some of my tool marks. These tools aren’t needed though – to carve a spoon, all you truly need is a hatchet, a small handsaw, and the two knives. Sanding or not sanding is a matter of preference. I will be sanding this later this week, and then it will be oiled and cured/hardened for a month before use. When I finish, I will post a picture of the final project with the knives, which I omitted photographing in process (I liked photographing with the hatchet I see!).


Finally, here are some of the other spoons that were carved, the top left three by the instructors.


There aren’t as many places to learn spoon carving as I would think, because it is such an achievable project. This is one day of work, though an experienced craftsman can complete the carving in less than an hour. See if you have a local folk school, or perhaps a Scandinavian store or museum, if you are interested. I recommend it – and the Driftless Folk School and Terry and Tom!