Archive for the ‘HANDWORK’ Category

Flax To Linen

March 15, 2017

I like to include folk art or craft in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and A Memory of Muskets is no exception.

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Rosina, the main character in the historical thread, is a newly-arrived German immigrant with little time for purely decorative handwork, so I decided to feature the process of creating linen. The contemporary mystery features Old World Wisconsin’s Schulz Farm, and processing flax into linen is a major interpretive activity there.

The Schulz Farm.

Linen is made of fibers from flax plants, specifically Linum usitatissimum. Flax plants for use in cloth production are generally harvested before they are quite mature—just when the stem begins to turn yellow.

Flax in Schulz garden. Photo by Loyd Heath.

Flax in Schulz garden. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Once plants have been pulled, and seeds removed, a process called retting starts to break down the hard inner core within the stem. Some families put their stalks in shallow water. If an appropriate stream or pool wasn’t available, they relied on dew-retting. It was essential to watch this closely and retrieve the plants at just the right moment.

Dew retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Dew-retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Once retted, a hard outer shell still surrounds the flax fibers. The woman pictured below is pounding stalks in a flax break, which crumbles the shell into bits.

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(Library of Congress)

Handfuls of the broken flax are held against a scutching board (center in the photo below) and scraped with a wooden knife to remove as much of the hard bits as possible.

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(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The flax is then cleaned by pulling it through hackles made with sharp iron teeth.

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(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The tangled bits left in the hackle are called tow (as in, a tow-headed child) and saved to spin into twine.

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Once clean, the long fibers resemble human hair (as in, a flaxen-haired beauty).

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(Photo by Loyd Heath)

When enough flax had been cleaned, it was time to carefully spread fibers around the distaff on the spinning wheel. The photo below, labeled only “Germany,” shows women with flax wheels. The distaff is to the upper right above each wheel, with a wide band holding the flax fibers in place on each.

(Author’s collection)

Here’s the flax wheel at the Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin. The spinner draws fibers down from the distaff; the wheel twists them into thread and winds them on the bobbin.

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The small bowl holds water. Spinning with wet fingers helps bind the individual fibers together.

A good spinner could make fine thread for delicate work, or something coarser, based on the fibers and need.

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Once lots of thread has been spun, the wrap threads are measured (on a pegged warping board, just barely visible in the back of the photo below), then carefully put onto the loom. This process is known as dressing the loom, or warping the loom. Each individual thread must maintain an even tension.

An interpreter weaves on the loom at the Schulz (German) farm.

This is the process Chloe agreed to take on in A Memory of Muskets. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Finally, it’s time to weave. You can see the woven linen cloth wrapping around the lower beam in front of the interpreter.

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

Linen cloth is labor-intensive to make, but sturdy. The artifact monogrammed shirt below was the inspiration for the monogrammed shirt Rosina makes in A Memory of Muskets.

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According to textile historians, flax has been used in garments for over 4,000 years. That boggles my mind, considering how involved the process is. I was introduced to the process when I worked at the Schulz Farm way back in the ’80s.

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Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

I’m glad I had a chance to spotlight it in a Chloe mystery.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

Colonial Girls At Work

February 23, 2017

While doing research for Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey With Felicity, I discovered that a few girls in colonial Williamsburg may have been doing work I once thought was open only to boys.  Cool!

Certainly, girls were involved in traditional roles. I had the chance to ask interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg questions about cooking, for example.

The kitchen at Great Hopes Plantation.

The kitchen at Great Hopes Plantation.

And I saw several young women working in a dressmaker’s shop. Milliners specialized in making hats, and mantua-makers stitched gowns and accessories. Like all skilled trades, this work usually required an apprenticeship.

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An experienced seamstress would hire younger women, and teach them her skills.

Colonial Williamsburg has a modern program that allows men and women to become apprentices and learn a specific skill.  After learning the basics, apprentices graduate to journeywoman or journeyman status. The most skilled may one day become masters and run a shop.

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Hard at work.

 

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An example of the fashions produced in such a shop.

I also saw several women who were apprentices in nontraditional roles. The young woman below was in the 2nd year of a 7-year apprenticeship at a joinery.  Joiners produced things like window frames, doors, and shutters.

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Apprentices usually started at age 14. They had to be tall enough to work at the bench, and spent 12-hour days in the shop.

 

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A master craftsman would rule a shop like this. A journeyman, who had some skills but had not finished his or her apprenticeship, would help train the apprentices.

I discovered female apprentices learning to make wagon wheels,

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An apprentice watches as the master craftsman checks her saw.

 

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The final product.

and tinware.

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The man interpreting here told me that he’s not aware of official female tinsmith apprentices in the colonies, but he has seen women mentioned in records—probably all family members who learned the trade from their husband or father.

 

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Some of the finished products, ready for sale.

And this woman was helping a man make a saddle in the military artificer’s shop.  (An artificer, pronounced ar-TI-fi-cer, had the skills to make different items the army needed.)

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“There were women in almost all the trades, if help was needed and they could do the work,” one interpreter told me.

If you had lived in colonial times, would you have wanted to become an apprentice? What skill would you like to learn?

* * *

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes

To learn more about Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey with Felicity, click here

 

Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts – Part 2

February 21, 2017

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWebI’m proud to have talented quilt teacher, designer, and historian Linda Halpin visit Sites and Stories. Last time, Linda wrote about how she came to study the quilts referenced in the famous Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

She also helped me out when I decided that a quilt would be at the center of Death on the Prairie, the 6th Chloe Ellefson mystery.

 Here’s Linda’s story.

* * *

It turns out my connection to Laura wasn’t done. Many years after Quilting With Laura was published, I met Kathleen Ernst in one of my classes. Kathleen had written several books for the American Girl company. My daughter was a big fan of American Girl. It was a line of book characters and dolls that taught history through different eras. Their stories were rounded out by books on cooking, period clothing, and current events. The dolls encouraged imagination as they taught history.

Fast forward several years after that first encounter to when Kathleen contacted me about a new project she was working on. She had expanded her writing to include books for adults with a line of mystery books based on a woman named Chloe Ellefson. Chloe worked at a living history museum, and like the American Girl characters, she brought artifacts to life by studying what life was like when the artifacts were used, who used them, how they were used, what life was like at the time.  It was all the things I loved about Little House and American Girl, but this time geared towards adults.

Chloe Ellefson mysteries

I love Kathleen’s story telling style. She interweaves story lines back and forth from historical to present day as Chloe investigates her artifacts. Kathleen’s new project was a story in which Chloe is given a quilt said to have been made by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she sets out to investigate if this could really be true. What Kathleen wanted from me was a quilt that could help tell Chloe’s story, one that incorporated the blocks Laura talked about in her books.

My prior investigation told me that there were only three patterns Laura mentions by name:  Nine Patch, Bear’s Track, and Doves in the Window. My quilt research taught me that at the time Laura was learning to quilt, patterns didn’t have specific names the way they do today. They were simply called ‘patchwork.’ It wasn’t until 1889 that patterns began to be identified by different names, mostly as a marketing tool for Ladies Art Company, a mail order catalog where people could order patterns.

Prior to that, patterns were spread person to person, or blocks were printed in women’ magazine of the day, such as Godey’s Ladies Magazine. Interestingly enough, sewing was so much a part of every day life that only an ink drawing of the blocks were given. No templates, no directions. Women were able to draft their own patterns and figure out the construction on their own just by looking at the pictures.

Goody's Lady's Book, 1840 (Wikimedia Commons)

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1840 (Wikimedia Commons)

When Laura was learning to quilt in the 1860s and ’70s, patterns weren’t identified by specific names. By the time she sat down to write her stories in the 1930s and on, pattern names were widely used. What she called Doves in the Window in her stories could have been one of several different designs, as several different patterns share that name. When writing Quilting With Laura, the intrigue for me happened when I tried to determine just which Doves in the Window pattern Laura had used for her wedding quilt. There was no real quilt to look at. Very early on in their marriage, a house fire destroyed most of Laura and Almanzo’s belongings, including her wedding quilt.

At the time my book was published, I found what I thought for sure was the correct Doves in the Window pattern. It was one that, like Bear’s Track, had lots of bias edges. It’s the one I could see Caroline making Laura take out over and over again until she had it right. And it looks like doves. Surely that must be the pattern she was talking about.

Doves In The Window

Doves In The Window

Or, could it have been this one, also called Doves in the Window, but that was very similar to Bear’s Track?

Doves in the Window block.

Doves in the Window block.

 

Bear's Paw block.

Bear’s Track block.

That would certainly explain why she called it Bear’s Track in On The Banks of Plum Creek, but Doves in the Window in These Happy Golden Years.

But wait! Could it have been this one –

quilt block by Linda Halpin

– very similar to a block made by Laura on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum in Burr Oak, IA?

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Quilt block on display in the Master Hotel, Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, Burr Oak, IA.

In making Chloe’s Quilt for Kathleen, I had the opportunity to create a little mystery of my own. For the front of the quilt, I combined Nine Patch, the pattern both Laura and Mary made (and the pattern Mary continued to make even after she lost her eyesight), Bear’s Track, and the Doves in the Window that resembles the Bear’s Track.

I used reproduction fabrics that mimicked the fabrics Laura would have used as a child. I even used the construction technique seen so often in antique scrap quilts of piecing together tiny fragments of cloth until they were large enough to cut out the small pieces needed to make the block.

When I was done, I had created this quilt for Kathleen.

Linda (on the right) and I took the gorgeous quilt she made for me to the Ingalls family's dugout site on Plum Creek (small sign in the background marks actual spot). Just because.

Isn’t it beautiful?  Linda (on the right) and I took Chloe’s Quilt to the Ingalls family’s dugout site on Plum Creek. Just because.

But for my mystery, I couldn’t resist also including the Burr Oak Doves in the Window variation, as I felt it told a story of its own. The back of Kathleen’s quilt shows a variation of the Burr Oak block (lower left in photo below), as well as another Doves in the Window design. The Burr Oak block is very similar to a pattern I discovered in an old quilting book from 1929, where author Ruth Finley collected patterns and stories and recorded them in one of the first books written on quilting. In the Finley book, Doves in the Window appears as the block shown top right below.

Doves in the Window

Is it possible that this was the pattern Laura made? Was she trying to recreate it from memory, thereby making one so similar to the Finley block by making the Burr Oak block? We may never know, but it sure is fun to speculate!

Linda Halpin

* * *

Linda Halpin has been teaching quiltmaking across the United States and Canada for over 40 years. She is one of a handful of teachers certified by the Embroiderer’s Guild of America as a Quiltmaking Instructor. In addition to Quilting with Laura, which focuses on hand piecing, the way Laura would have done, she has also written several other quiltmaking books as well as The Little House Sampler pattern, which is geared toward today’s machine piecing techniques. She was invited both in 2015 and 2016 by Andover Fabrics of New York to make quilts for them using their Little House on the Prairie inspired lines of fabrics, available in quilt shops nationwide. To see more of Linda’s work, or to learn about the classes and lectures she offers, visit her website at www.lindahalpin.com.

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Learn more about Death on the Prairie, and all of the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, on my website.

Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts – Part 1

February 14, 2017

I’m delighted to welcome my talented friend Linda Halpin to the blog! Linda is a quilt instructor and historian—and a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

* * *

Linda Halpin Pepin

Linda Halpin with one of her beautiful quilts at the replica Ingalls cabin in Pepin, WI.

Like many, my adventure with Laura started in grade school when I was captivated by her stories. This was long before television brought her to life. She lived in my head, made real by her story telling. As a child, I too began sewing at an early age, so whenever Laura mentioned sewing, it struck a chord. I remember her telling of how Ma expected her to do her job over until it was done well.

That pesky Bear’s Track quilt block she was making in On The Banks of Plum Creek, with so many bias edges that had to be done over and over until it was right.

The Doves in the Window quilt she made as a little girl that she packed into her trunk in These Happy Golden Years as she gathered belongings for her new life as Almanzo’s wife.

And it all started with the Nine Patch blocks she and Mary learned their sewing skills on.  What were these patterns?  What did they look like?

Nine patch quilt (National Museum of American History, 321804.)

Nine patch quilt, c. 1890-1900, maker unknown.  (National Museum of American History, 321804.)

Fast forward many years:  I had become a quilt teacher, leading classes for quilt shops and guilds across the country.  One day, a young mom came into a shop where I was teaching.  She was looking for a book that had patterns that tied in with the Little House stories.  They were her daughter’s favorite books, and she wanted to teach her daughter how to quilt.  What better way than to do it through quilt blocks that told Laura’s story?

Why hadn’t I thought of it before?  It was the perfect project for me to undertake.  I began with re-reading the entire Little House series of books, this time making note of all the times Laura mentioned quilts and fabric and sewing.  Imagine my surprise to find over 70 references!  Stitching truly was a part of her every day life.

As I made note of the patterns Laura mentioned, her adventures also brought to mind several quilt blocks that would be perfect to help tell her story:  Log Cabin, Schoolhouse, Trail of the Covered Wagon.

Log cabin quilt,1850-1875, maker unknown. (National Museum of American History, 234821)

Log cabin quilt,c. 1850-1875, maker unknown. (National Museum of American History, 234821)

By the time I was done, I had gathered 14 patterns that I thought would be perfect as a teaching tool that linked quilting and Little House.  Quilting with Laura:  Patterns Inspired by the “Little House On The Prairie” Series was published in 1991, with revisions and reprinting in 2015.

quilting with Laura

It has been the perfect way to tell Laura’s story in fabrics, picking and choosing the block designs most appealing to the maker.

* * *

Here are some of the quilts Linda has made to show how the individual block patterns in her book can be put together in different ways.

Andover Fabrics has twice invited Linda to make a display quilt using their Little House on the Prairie-inspired line. The 2015 quilt is shown at the top of the page; this one was created in 2016.

Andover Fabrics has twice invited Linda to make a display quilt using their Little House on the Prairie-inspired line. The 2015 quilt is shown at the top of the page; this one was created in 2016.

 

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This one uses 9 of the block patterns available in Linda’s book, Quilting With Laura.

 

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A sampler using some of the blue and red tones that would have been available for Laura’s use.

 

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Linda designed this Wisconsin-themed quilt for Millhouse Quilts in Waunakee, WI.

* * *

Linda Halpin has been teaching quiltmaking across the United States and Canada for over 40 year. She is one of a handful of teachers certified by the Embroiderer’s Guild of America as a Quiltmaking Instructor. In addition to Quilting with Laura, which focuses on hand piecing, the way Laura would have done, she has also written several other quiltmaking books as well as The Little House Sampler pattern, which is geared toward today’s machine piecing techniques. She was invited both in 2015 and 2016 by Andover Fabrics of New York to make quilts for them using their Little House on the Prairie inspired lines of fabrics, available in quilt shops nationwide. To see more of Linda’s work, or to learn about the classes and lectures she offers, visit her website at www.lindahalpin.com

* * *

Next time, Linda will share how she came to create a quilt for my Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie!

Hands-On Wycinanki

June 30, 2015

Readers have been wondering where they can try their hands at wycinanki, the art of Polish paper cutting featured in Tradition of Deceit. (Learn more about wycinanki here.)

If you live in Wisconsin, try contacting the Polish Center of Wisconsin, the Polish Heritage Club of Madison, or other local Polish heritage groups. (Similar groups in other parts of the country can probably also provide information.) I’ve taken several workshops with Kasia Drake-Hames.

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Kasia (in the tan sweater) holds workshops and classes that are low-key and fun, most often in the Milwaukee area.

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My very first wycinanki project. Yes, it is just like making snowflakes.  I took a class on wycinanki Christmas cards at the Polish Center of Wisconsin.

If you can’t find a class, don’t despair. It’s easy (and inexpensive) to get started.

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Materials needed: paper (I use origami paper), scissors, glue. Tweezers can be helpful for placing pieces, and Q-tips work well to spread glue.

I wanted to feature symmetrical flowers from central Poland’s Łowicz region in Tradition of Deceit, and I’ve learned a lot about this type of wycinanki on my own. Ornate flowers are made by layering different colors of paper.

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After gluing, I put the flowers between sheets of waxed paper and press them under heavy books. This keeps the flowers from curling as the glue sets.

When you’re starting out, it’s easiest to use printed patterns.  I’ve found posts at Papermatrix particularly helpful. I also picked up a couple of vintage books.

wycinanki books

After you’ve used someone else’s patterns for practice, it’s pretty easy to start experimenting with your own. Google wycinanki, study examples, and see what appeals to you.

When I design my own flowers, I use graph paper to help keep the diminishing sizes in order.

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Patterns show half of a flower layer. Fold the origami paper in half, place the pattern against the fold, and trace around the pattern. (Trace on the back side, so any pencil marks that remain after cutting don’t show.) Use the fold line to help you align each new layer right in the center of the one below.

I started small by making simple wycinanki cards.

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wycinanki KAE

My big goal was to create a piece like one described in Tradition of Deceit, described as “Two very pretty chickens, flanking a bouquet of flowers, printed in vibrant colors.”

Roosters are very common, but I needed to create my own chicken pattern. I started by making a simple drawing, and then sketched in layers.

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Then I transferred the layers to origami paper.  You can see how some of the details evolved.

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I wanted to have this piece finished before Tradition of Deceit was published.  I wanted to have it finished before putting this post together.  It’s still not complete…

Tradition of Deceit wycinanki

In process!

That’s OK, though.  I started with a very simple flower bouquet, but kept wanting to add more blossoms. Then I decided that the open space above and below the chickens needed to filled. The two flowers above the chickens haven’t been glued down yet because I’m still playing with ideas.

I’m sure more experienced paper cutters would have prepared a complete pattern layout before beginning.  My piece has been growing more…shall we say…organically. (Hey, I don’t outline before beginning a novel, either.)

I’ve had a lot of fun with wycinanki, and if you’re so inclined, I hope you do to. And if you do try it, I’d love to see the results!

Folk Art, Knitting, Murder, and More…

May 18, 2015
I am delighted have my friend Donna Druchunas as guest on Sites and Stories! Donna is an expert knitter, dedicated to documenting and sharing traditional patterns from around the world. Many of her own original designs are inspired by artifact and heirloom pieces. I’ve been a huge fan of her work for a long time. Welcome, Donna!
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My name is Donna Druchunas and I am a writer, knitwear designer, and travel junkie. My passions for knitting, history, culture, and story-telling are at the center of my work. I’ve been a fan of Kathleen since I first met her at a Women Writing the West conference years ago. 

One of my favorite things about Kathleen’s books is the way she always manages to bring something beautiful and handmade into the story, even if it’s a murder mystery! In Tradition of Deceit, the fifth Chloe Ellefson mystery, the folk art that touches the story is the paper-cutting tradition from Poland, called Wycinanki. 

My own research about Lithuanian folk art and knitting motifs led me to discover a similar paper-cutting tradition that has been popular in Lithuania since the sixteenth century and is still being practiced today. Simple pieces of paper are cut into intricate and delicate shapes that look like lace. In Lithuania, beautiful examples of this art form are exhibited in museums and available for sale in shops, such as these pieces that I saw at a folk art shop in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

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What I find so fascinating is the endless possibilities for using ancient and traditional folk art motifs in different forms of arts and crafts. The feeling of the lacy white paper art is reflected in this beautiful crochet shawl in the same shop.

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Another example of how malleable folk art can be is the common 8-pointed geometric motif. I love how this same simple shape can be the sun, a star, a flower, or a snowflake depending on where and when it is used. It is used in knitting, embroidery, weaving, wood carving, and in many other crafts. Many of the oldest folk art symbols were used around the world, while some newer motifs and more stylized versions of older symbols have come to be associated with specific places. For example, the 8-pointed snowflake, which is seen as a flower in Lithuania, is most commonly identified with Norwegian knitting today. 

There’s one motif in Lithuanian folk art that I find myself using over and over again. It looks like a tic-tac-toe board tipped on an angle. It is a symbol for the sun and can also represent God. I’ve used this symbol in three different ways in knitting patterns: In beads to decorate a wrist warmer…

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in a solid color on another pair of wrist warmers…

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and in multiple colors on the cuff of a sock.

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I love how adaptable this simple geometric motif is. Before knitting came to Lithuania in the 18th century, this motif had been used in weaving, wood carving, metal work, and to decorate ceramic and clay pots as far back as the Stone Age.

Because Lithuania and Poland are neighbors and were actually joined as one nation for about 300 years–from 1385 until 1795–it’s not surprising to find some similarities between the folk art and aesthetic sensibilities of both countries. If you enjoy the folk art and craft topics in Kathleen’s books and on her blog, you might also enjoy my latest book, Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions. 

In its pages, you can learn about the history, culture, and folk art of Lithuania. There are also over 25 mitten, glove, and sock projects to knit using traditional Lithuanian motifs and techniques.

http://lithuanianknitting.pubslush.com

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Kathleen also writes about foods a lot, so I can’t resist sharing this photo of the delicious Lithuanian pastries that were served at the shop when I accidentally visited during the launch of a new exhibit.

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At our house, one of the best parts of Christmas was making traditional Lithuanian fried cookies that we called “krushtukis.

Here’s my grandmother’s Krushtuki recipe, which is lacking enough details that you could not make these yummy cookies without first helping Grandma roll, cut, and shape the dough, and fry the cookies in her kitchen.

Ingredients:
1/2 lb butter or Oleo
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
5 or 6 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
Crisco
Powdered sugar

 Instructions:
Cream butter or Oleo. 
Add sugar and eggs one at a time, then vanilla, salt, and flour.
Knead until it doesn’t stick.
Roll thin.
Cut in pieces.
Shape.
Fry in Crisco.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

 

Donna Druchunas
Knitting books, workshops, and cruises
www.sheeptoshawl.com
www.storiesinstitches.net

Norwegian Shingles

February 20, 2014

One of the many wonderful things about taking a folkart class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum is meeting fellow students. Last summer I met Lynn Sove Maxson, who told me about a wonderful project.

Lynn is an active volunteer at the Norsk Museum in Norway, Illinois. The community, founded in 1834, marks the first permanent Norwegian settlement in North America.

Pastor Elling Eielsen preached in a log cabin, which burned in 1841. The congregation built a second structure in 1846, which today houses the museum.

Norsk Museum

Norsk Museum photo.

Norsk Museum

Many of the original construction features are still visiible.  Norsk Museum photo.

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Marks made by the men who raised the building in 1846 are still visible on the old beams.  Norsk Museum photo.

When a modern roof was needed to protect the building, someone had the foresight to save those shingles hewn in the 1800s, and save them in a garage.

Lynn is a talented rosemaler. “While demonstrating Telemark rosemaling at the museum,” she wrote later, “I mentioned that it was difficult to find interesting wood to paint. Roald Berg, member of the board of directors, handed me an old dirty cedar shake roof shingle and asked if I could paint it.”  She began to paint, and to her surprise, people wanted to buy the shingles on the spot.

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Lynn, demonstrating the Norwegian art of rosemaling. Norsk Museum photo.

The Norsk Museum needs a new roof, and Lynn realized she had a great fundraising project. She and other volunteers began cleaning one hundred and sixty-seven years’ worth of dirt from the now-porous, warped, knot-holed shingles.

Then Lynn got in touch with some of her rosemaling friends. Would they be willing to paint a shingle or two, which would be sold to benefit the museum?

As you can see, the collective answer was Yes. Talented painters from far and wide are participating, including some Vesterheim Gold Medalists. As Lynn says, rosemalers began to “raise the roof.”

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Each painter was free to decide what to paint. Lynn’s only request was that knotholes, cracks, etc. be preserved. Such elements are part of the character of each individual shingle.

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painted shingle

Lynn shingle

Here’s Lynn with one of her works of art.

“The old shingles, which protected the church for so many years and through so much history, will now help the Museum and its Norwegian descendents in a new and original way,” Lynn said.

I think the original settlers would be pleased.

There is a limited number of shingles. All profits from the sale of the shingles will be used to repair the roof. Donations should be at least $25 per shingle. For more information, contact Lynn: sovmax <at> wowway.com

Shingles

Making Jam For Mollie

June 17, 2013

My husband Scott and I have served as docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse, setting for The Light Keeper’s Legacy (the third Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery), for five years now. There are lots of stories to tell. I wove some of my favorites into the book—especially those concerning the Betts family, occupants in the late 1800s.

Visitors touring the lighthouse, however, see the structure as it appeared in about 1910. Charles Boshka was head keeper then.

Charlie Boshka

Charlie Boshka at an earlier posting.

I knew the basic facts of his time there, but until recently, all I knew about his wife Mollie was how lovely she was.

Charles and Mollie Boshka

This was Charlie and Mollie’s wedding photo.

That changed when I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting two of the Boshkas’ descendants. Thanks to the generosity of Connie Sena and Kari Gordon, the handsome couple in the portrait displayed at the lighthouse are a little more real to me now.

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Some sheet music was among the family treasures. Charlie played the violin, and even composed at least a few tunes.

The couple had two children.

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Charlie and Mollie with their son, Lucien Nels, and daughter, Ella Josephine.

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I adore this photograph! It gives a hint of life beyond the daily requirements for lighthouse families.

I was particularly pleased to get glimpses of Mollie. She grew roses.

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Some of Mollie’s roses still bloom at the couple’s home on Washington Island.

And she was a knitter.

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Mollie’s needles…

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…and a closer view of her handiwork.

I hoped to find a lace pattern similar to these, practice over the winter, and knit during my stay at Pottawatomie this year. Time got away from me, so—maybe next year.

However, Connie shared another treasure with me:  Mollie’s recipe for rhubarb jam.

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The week Scott and I traditionally stay as docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse comes right at the peak of rhubarb season. Perfect.

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That’s me, harvesting from the lighthouse garden.

Other than rhubarb, I brought the fixings for Mollie’s jam. I made a batch the day we arrived at Pottawatomie, and wrote the recipe out on brown paper.

rhubarb jam

Scott said the simmering jam made the whole house smell wonderful!

An added bonus?  The jam was delicious. I kept one jar for display, and we enjoyed the rest on our morning toast all week.

Mollie Boshka’s Rhubarb Jam
1 qt. rhubarb cut up fine
1 qt. sugar
2 oranges – grind rind and all
Let sit on back of stove until juices form.  Then let it boil good for 20 minutes.

Just before you take it off stove put in 1/4 lb. of walnuts, cut up fine
Also grind half a cup of raisins and put in the mixture.

*Note:  I omitted the sugar and added a splash of maple syrup instead. Also, I didn’t have a grinder, so I minced the oranges, walnuts, and raisins with a sharp knife.  Mollie’s reference to letting the rhubarb sit on the back of the stove harkens back to the days when the back burners of a wood-fired cookstove stayed warm; I stirred the rhubarb, oranges, and sweetener over low heat until it began to simmer.  I did not actually can the jam, but I plan to make another batch and freeze it in small containers.

It made me happy to bring a little something of Mollie back to the lighthouse.  And on chilly evenings, I could almost hear Charlie playing violin in the parlor—just as he did a century ago.

Pottawatomie lighthouse parlor

Nålbinding, Part 3 – Going Solo

March 16, 2013

In recent posts I provided a brief glimpse of the history of nålbinding, and an overview of my class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. I left Iowa knowing that I needed to practice the stitch until it was firmly imbedded in my brain.

This shows one stitch on the needle.

This shows the basic stitch on the needle.

I’d decided that my first independent project would be a pair of mittens. I understood what I needed to do to shape a mitten, so I got started.

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I got this far in class.

Once home, though, I soon discovered that I didn’t want to work on something that required even simple shaping. Life was crazy-busy. I was traveling a lot, and trying to meet deadlines too. I wanted a handwork project to relax with.

So I switched to scarves and bags. Nålbinding requires natural fibers, and I picked yarns with inherent variations.

A luscious wool-mohair blend.

A luscious wool-mohair blend.

Then I experimented with variegated yarns. I found the repetitive stitching almost meditative, and I loved watching the colorplay develop. Nålbinding projects were perfect for traveling since they required only a ball of yarn and a blunt wooden needle (which did pass TSA screenings, by the way. No scissors are required; yarn is broken and spliced.)

I love the colors in this skein.

Gorgeous colors!

Making a flat bottom for a bag.

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Unfinished bag, ready for the fulling process.

Since taking the class, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

I’ve learned that when making scarves, it’s tricky to gauge how many stitches to add on the curves so the ends stay perfectly flat.

I made the bottom scarf in the round, and even with blocking, the ends aren’t quite flat. My talented friend Becky solved this problem by making a tube instead (top). She’ll close the ends when she’s done and have a double-warm scarf.

I’ve learned that whatever leads to wool being labeled “washable” makes it difficult to splice yarn or full the finished piece.

Since this washable wool doesn’t splice or full well, I’ll need to line this bag.

I’ve also learned that I never should throw away wool yarn remnants.

I made this bag from scraps left over from an afghan project.

I haven’t given up knitting, hedebo, rosemaling, etc., etc.  But I find nålbinding more relaxing than anything else. Now I’m trying to figure out when I can introduce nålbinding into one of my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries!

Kate Martinson is offering her nålbinding workshop again this summer. I highly recommend it! For more information, visit the Vesterheim website.

Nålbinding, Part 1 – An Ancient Technique

March 2, 2013

I’m a fiber arts junkie—especially when it comes to old forms of needlework. So when I saw a woman demonstrating a technique I didn’t even recognize during a special event at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, I skidded to a halt.

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Kate Martinson, Associate Professor of Art at Luther College, explained that she was doing nålbinding (pronounced noll-bin-ding). I immediately signed up for one of her classes.

Anthropologists refer to this unique technique as knotless netting. Nålbinding is also sometimes called Viking knitting, but it actually pre-dates the Viking era. Women have used this technique for centuries to make everything from mittens to strainers to stockings. It produces a very strong and water-repellant fabric that doesn’t ravel when cut.

Artifacts constructed with Nålbinding

Kate showed us images of artifacts constructed with nålbinding.

Scandinavian women used fibers from sheep, fox, wolf, bear, and cows. The technique produces a distinctive ribbed finish, but women often fulled the finished item by agitating it in water. With enough fulling, the stitchwork can totally disappear. That makes it difficult for even skilled textile historians to know for sure if a certain artifact was made by nålbinding or not.

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Possibly the oldest known example of nålbinding—maybe as old as 15th-century.

Nålbinding requires only a single-eyed needle and a natural-fiber yarn to work with, so it was quite portable. One cool example:  women used this technique when they went to high pastures with their herds of cows each summer. They twisted hairs from their cows’ tail into thread. Nålbinding then allowed them to make a perfect mesh for straining milk.

Here's an example of a milk strainer from Norway.  (Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum collection.)

An example of a milk strainer from Norway. (Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum collection.)

Nålbinding strainer - Vesterheim

Here you can see the distinctive herringbone pattern in the spiral of stitches.

A milk strainer as it would have been used.

A milk strainer as it would have been used.  The wooden base, which has a hole in the center,  would have been set over a bucket.  The strainer’s natural bristles would help filter out impurities. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum exhibit)

Learning about this provided an unexpected personal connection for me. Examples of nålbinding have been found in Iran, China, Peru… the technique was so versatile that it was widely used. My father’s parents came from Switzerland. It’s very possible that women on my grandmother’s side of the family made milk strainers just like that when tending their cows in alpine pastures.

Nålbinding was done in at least some rural areas through World War II; the fabric produced is sturdier than knitted fabric, so when supplies were scarce, women made items this way. The technique almost died out, but a few textile historians—like Kate—are working to keep it alive.

Interested in learning more? I highly recommend taking a workshop with Kate, who is both an expert and a wonderful instructor. There’s a class scheduled at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum (in north-east Iowa) this summer.  For more information, see their class description page.

Next time, Part II – a peek at the class experience!