Archive for the ‘The Weaver's Revenge’ Category

Anna’s Loom

April 29, 2021

Thanks to reader Robyn S., I have another loom to show you—and this one comes with a story!

Robyn, who is half Finnish, weaves on this loom at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista, CA. (Robyn refers to this as a Finnish Tree Loom, a perfect descriptor for what are also called root looms.)

Anna’s loom.

This story begins shortly after World War II, when many people in Finland were struggling with poverty. Finnish immigrant Matt Rihinen, a dairy farmer in Negaunee, MI, began collecting clothing donations on his dairy route to send back to those in need in Old Country.

Some of the donations were too worn to be included in the care packages. Matt’s wife Anna asked him to build her a loom so she could put the scraps to good use. Matt began work in 1944, and finished in 1945. Anna wove rugs on this loom for the rest of her life.

Eventually the farm, and the loom, passed on to Anna and Matt’s only child, Johanna Pohjala. Johanna became a celebrated weaver herself, who wove and sold enough rugs to finance three trips to Finland! When the heavy overhead beater became too difficult for her to handle, her husband reconfigured it for her.

The loom was inherited by her daughter Christine Simonen, who donated it to the museum. Christine also donated a large warp chain prepared by Johanna before her death.

Johanna’s warp being wound onto the loom by Robyn and two other museum volunteers.
Weaving in process.
Completed rug.
Here’s another rug Robyn wove on the same warp. What a difference weft choices make!

Robyn and other museum volunteers keep all sorts of textile traditions alive. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum.

And to gain more insight into the social history of Finnish rag weaving, check out The Weaver’s Revenge: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery!

Hanka Homestead Tour – Save The Date!

April 8, 2021

Would you like to explore the historic site featured in my 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge? I’m delighted to announce a special event for readers!

I invite you to join me on Saturday, August 21, 2021, at the Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum in Pelkie, Michigan.

You’ll enjoy a view of the site from Chloe’s perspective. I look forward to showing you where the action took place, and chatting about how the story developed.

Plotting murder and mayhem on one of my research trips.

My special guest will be Alan Pape, who launched the monumental group effort to restore and preserve the abandoned Hanka buildings in the early 1980s. Alan served as restoration chief at Old World Wisconsin from 1971-1983, and has a special affinity for—and knowledge of—Finnish log structures. Hearing from Alan will be a rare treat!

Alan at work on one of the Hanka buildings, c. 1983.

And, experienced Hanka Homestead guides will be leading tours, telling stories about Finnish immigrants’ heritage and experiences, and showing you some special artifacts.

Oscar, one of the knowledgeable volunteers.

This event will be free. (Donations to the Homestead will be greatly appreciated.)

I’ll have more details later, but I wanted to give you a chance to plan ahead. The site is in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, with limited accommodations in the vicinity.

(Covid note: I’m proceeding with the expectation that conditions will be much better in August, but of course will keep an eye on the situation.)

Come see for yourself why I found the Hanka Homestead so inspiring!

Available For Pre-Order!

April 2, 2021

My new publisher has listed The Weaver’s Revenge, the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, for pre-order!

If this title isn’t listed yet at your favorite independent bookstore, it should be soon.

Root Looms – Part 2

March 25, 2021

In my last post, I wrote about the gorgeous old root looms made by Finnish craftsmen. If you’d like to learn more about root looms and rug weaving, I highly recommend a visit to The Iron County Historical Society Museum in Hurley, Wisconsin.

The Iron County Historical Museum in Hurley, in the former county courthouse building.

In 1980 two families donated old looms to the museum, which focuses on the history of Iron County and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Three of the all-volunteer staff—Director Nellie Kopaz, Ursula Schram, and Lillian Kostac—decided to showcase the importance of rug-making in the region not only by displaying the looms, but by demonstrating weaving. The group began making rugs in 1981.

Don’t you love this photo from the early 1980s? A team of volunteers (including Nellie Kopaz, in the black sweater) is warping a beautiful old loom. (Courtesy Iron County Historical Museum)

The loom collection grew. Several fabulous old examples show how different craftsmen used what was available to make unique looms.

This loom is over a century old. The curving supports were made from a single bent tree that was cut in half. The pieces were pegged together, and the gears also carved from wood.

(Photo by Julie Morello)

The painted loom below was built in 1912 by Alrick Johnson and August Abrahamson Luusa. A descendant of the recipient recalled helping his grandmother when she worked on rugs—and also noted that the loom provided a great hiding place for young children!

(Photo by Julie Morello)

Another talented woodworker; another style.

(Photo by Julie Morello)

Forty years after museum volunteers began making rag rugs, the program continues strong. Guests are welcome to meet some of the workers and learn more about the weaving process.

The weaving room.

Tons of clean fabric are donated to the museum each year. Workers sort the cloth by type and color, cut it into strips, and sew them together to provide the weft.

The cutting & sewing table.
This pretty rug was one of many underway during my visit.

Rug sales support the museum.

Lots of sizes and colors to choose from!

In The Weaver’s Revenge, the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Chloe attends a cutting bee where local weavers have gathered to prepare their strips. The woman hosting the bee explains,

“You know what I love most about weaving? This. Just a bunch of neighbor-women sitting around the old woodstove in somebody’s kitchen drinking coffee and preparing their rags. It’s sociable.”

That camaraderie seems to define the good energy in the Iron County Historical Society’s weaving room as well. And that’s an important part of the story.

Busy day in the weaving room, some time in the 1990s.

Special thanks to Julie Morello for her help with this post. Her parents, Doris and Hank, were longtime museum volunteers. Doris is of Finnish descent and wanted to learn how to weave. In the photo above, she’s on the left, preparing cloth. She also helped preserve the tradition of braiding wool rugs, as shown below. Hank’s many tasks included loom repair and assembling donated looms that arrived in pieces. Thanks to the Morellos—and all of the museum volunteers who make things happen!

 

Root Looms – Part 1

March 18, 2021

Chloe was transfixed by the unique weaving apparatus dominating the space. “I love your loom!” she breathed.  Unlike other antique looms she’d seen, all crafted with straight and soulless support beams, this one gloried in knotholes and grain and flowing curves.  (From the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.)

For centuries, woodworkers in Finland created what they needed with what they could acquire from local forests. Clever craftsmen considered even crooked trees, or those with deformities in roots or branches. These curves and angles were ideal for many elements of plows, boats…and weaving looms.

Kaarina Passila, weaver (Finnish Heritage Agency)

When Finnish immigrants began settling in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the tradition of making “root looms” continued.

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center. This loom was made in the Jacobsville, MI area over a century ago.

Here’s how a loom maker describes his work in The Weaver’s Revenge:

I do appreciate a good tree. A bad carpenter works against the tree. Just cuts the dang thing down and wants everything to look like it came off an assembly line. What I do is look for roots and trunks and branches that bend a certain way. Something others might see as a deformity, I see as the structure of a loom. 

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center.

Root looms are big and heavy and featured beaters hanging from an overhead frame. The size and weight make it possible for weavers to create firm, durable rugs. In the photo above, the loom’s reed (middle of the photo), which keeps warp threads evenly spaced, is made of actual reed material. (Later looms featured metal reeds.) Weavers grasped the horizontal wooden bar on top of the reed to bang every strip of cloth tight.

In The Weaver’s Revenge, a weaver helps Chloe understand why Finnish rugs are special:

Chloe touched the iron rod affixed to the beater bar. “What’s this for?”

Betty slid onto the bench. “Chloe, I want to show you why Finnish weavers are known for the quality of their rugs. After every shuttle pass I beat four times, twice with my hands at the edges of the bar, twice with them in the center.” She demonstrated, banging hard enough to make the loom shudder. “The iron rod adds extra weight.” 

“I’ve never seen that technique.”

Betty looked pleased. “Some gift shops sell rugs you could poke a finger through. Our rugs are tight. That’s why these big heavy root looms are so important. You can’t beat hard enough with one of those flimsy modern looms.”

Historians note that, in general, Finnish rag rugs are beaten so tightly that the warp threads virtually disappear, as in the example below.

(Finnish Heritage Society)

Root looms were an important element of the Finnish rug weaving tradition. It was fun to spotlight these looms—and their makers—in The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming in May!

Finnish Rag Rugs

March 11, 2021

Most Chloe Ellefson mysteries celebrate a folk art relevant for the featured ethnic group. When I chose to focus on Finnish immigrants in the 11th book, The Weaver’s Revenge, I wanted to spotlight the tradition of weaving rag rugs.

Practical weavers collected worn clothing, cut the fabric into strips, sewed the strips together, and used them as weft. Although this craft was widely practiced by people of different origins, scholars note that Finns have been most successful at maintaining the tradition.

Some “hit and miss” rag rugs reveal a largely random approach, with irregular pinstripes.

(The National Museum of Finland)

Historically, most American rugs were created this way. However, the skills Finnish weavers brought to the New World included color and design. The two examples below show controlled stripes and gorgeous palettes.

(The National Museum of Finland)
(The National Museum of Finland)

Many traditional weavers went further by creating more complicated designs, such as twill, rosepath, and tabby.

Rag rugs for sale in Puutori in Turku, Finland, 1955. (Finnish Heritage Agency)

The photo below provides a closer look at a spectacular rug.

(The National Museum of Finland)

In Chloe’s time—the 1980s—some scholars considered rag rugs too commonplace to warrant study. When I learned that, Chloe’s boss Ralph Petty popped to mind. In The Weaver’s Revenge, when Chloe wants to research both patterns and the social implications of Finnish American rag rug weaving in the Upper Midwest, Petty is not impressed:

“I told you not to waste time on that ridiculous proposal, did I not?”

“You did,” Chloe allowed, “but I still want to help the Rankinen interpreters by learning more about–”

“What’s there to learn? Rags were made into rugs. End of story.”

There was, of course, much more to the story. Finnish American immigrants wove rugs that were practical and beautiful. Weaving helped women cope—sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally. The practice was and remains an important aspect of cultural identity.

Loom at The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum

Most old rugs received hard use, so few have survived. The tradition, however, endures. Here are two recent prize-winning examples from Finnish country in northern Wisconsin.

And if you visit a site devoted Finnish heritage, it’s easy to imagine how much cheer these works of art brought to log homes.

Rug on display at Little Finland, Hurley, WI.

You can gain much more insight into the Finnish rug weaving tradition by reading the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming soon!

Why the Hanka Homestead?

February 25, 2021

Whenever I write a new Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I have the fun of choosing a new historic site or museum to feature in the book. The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum in Michigran’s Upper Peninsula provides the setting for the forthcoming 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.

Click the image above for my video introduction to the site.

Readers are often curious about how I choose settings. It’s a complicated process, so let me share some of the reasons that this site reached the top of the list.

First, a potential setting must appeal to me on a personal level. Between researching and writing a book, I spend a lot of time—physically and mentally—in this space. My first visit to the homestead convinced me that I’d be happy immersing myself in this place and story. (And I knew Chloe would feel the same way.)

No matter how much I love a particular site, I can’t use it as a setting unless it has enough “geography” to support a murder mystery plot. I need room and opportunities to get characters into trouble. The Hanka property is remote, with no phone service. It includes ten buildings, including a couple of specific structures that hadn’t been featured in any earlier books. Perfect!

The Hankas were Finnish immigrants, so choosing this site allowed me to celebrate a new-to-the-series ethnic group. I was excited about the opportunity to shine a little lamplight on Finnish stories, heritage, and folk traditions.

Birchbark shoes on a woven rag rug.

At best, a Chloe Ellefson mystery represents a collaboration with site staff and local experts. I always talk with site hosts before committing to a book project. (If anyone expressed concern, I’d move on. It hasn’t happened yet.) The volunteers involved with the Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum, and representatives from Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center, were enthusiastic about the idea. They’ve been extraordinarily helpful through the research and writing phase.

Some the energetic people who provided a warm welcome during my first visit to the homestead.
A private tour on a misty day. Evocative!

And, it was nice to spotlight a wonderful site that is run entirely by a small group of volunteers. Such people make the museum world go around!

As the series has progressed over the past decade, I’ve planned ahead, thinking a lot about where main characters Chloe and Roelke are in their emotional journey. I like to choose settings that permit the book’s plotlines to reflect challenges Chloe and Roelke are facing at that moment. In The Weaver’s Revenge, they’re trying to figure out exactly what their marriage will look like. I won’t share any spoilers here, but that broad issue is mirrored in a number of elements from the Hanka/Finnish story used in the novel.

The earliest museum brochure, about 1985, designed by Alan Pape.

Finally, I had an added bonus. The man who originally started the Hanka Homestead restoration/museum project, Alan Pape, was a former colleague who served as restoration chief at Old World Wisconsin from 1971-1983. He was generous with his memories, knowledge, photos, and other records from the 1980s when the restoration got underway. My mystery plot is fictional, of course, but Alan’s assistance made it possible for me to root it firmly in real events.

That’s me at the homestead with Alan, on the right, and Professor Emeritus William H. Tishler, another vernacular architecture expert. I spent a fun weekend with these two, cruising the backroads looking at old Finnish buildings and listening to their stories.

I hope you enjoy exploring the Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum as much as I have!

The Weaver’s Revenge will be published this spring by Three Towers Press. I’ll let you know when it’s available!

Setting Reveal – The Weaver’s Revenge!

January 14, 2021

As series readers know, curator Chloe Ellefson visits different historic sites and museums in each mystery. There’s been a lot of speculation about the setting for the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge, which features Finnish heritage.

Over the course of the series I’ve often featured large and/or famous sites. It’s also important to shine some lamplight on lesser-known sites, where a small group of dedicated volunteers is preserving something special.

That’s what I chose to do this time. Click the photo below to view a video introduction to Chloe’s next destination, Michigan’s Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum!

I hope you enjoyed the mini-tour! I’ll have a lot more to share about the Hanka Homestead in the coming months.

(The book is slated for a spring, 2021 release. It is not yet available for pre-order. I’ll keep you posted!)

The Weaver’s Revenge—Final Clue!

November 2, 2020

It’s been great fun this fall to share some hints about the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge. Thanks for playing along! Here’s the final clue.

I’ll have lots more to share in the weeks to come!

The Weaver’s Revenge – Clues, Batch 4

October 28, 2020

This month I’m sharing photos that feature things in the forthcoming Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge. The image might represent a major element or a small detail. We’re getting close to the end!

(Wikimedia)

(Thanks to Oscar H. for this museum exhibit photo.)

I’ll post the final clue soon!