Posts Tagged ‘The Weaver's Revenge’

Logistics for the Hanka Homestead Tour

July 11, 2021

I’ve had some questions about carpooling and lodging relevant to the special Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum Tour on Saturday, August 21. This evocative historic site is the setting for the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.

The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum is located in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Here’s a map.

Lodging is limited in the vicinity, so if you’re searching online for accommodations, you might need to cast a wider net than usual. The event doesn’t start until the afternoon, so you’ll have some time to travel that morning.

If you’re interested in attending and would like to share the driving with someone, let me know where you live and I’ll do what I can to help facilitate connections. For starters, a friend in the Madison, WI area is hoping to find a companion for the trip. Contact me if you can help.

For more information about this free program, visit my event registration page. It’s going to be an awesome afternoon!

Widow of the Grasses

June 18, 2021

That’s what some people in Finland called a woman left behind when her husband immigrated to America.

(Sorrow, Albert Edelfelt, Finnish National Gallery)

Sadly, it was not uncommon for desperate poverty to force families to separate. Some men planned to earn what was needed to send passage money to their wives. Others planned to work for a while before returning to Finland in better financial shape. Although it often took years, many families were reunited.

Some women, however, never saw their husbands again. Letters stopped coming, the promised wages never arrived, and they were left alone to wonder what had gone wrong. Effectively widowed, these women were sometimes ostracized by their neighbors, or blamed for their husbands’ departures.

(Solvieg, Albert Edelfelt, Helsinki Art Museum)

Another term for the women left behind was Amerikan Leski, or America Widow. In 1905 one such woman, Elisa Valkama, published a song warning other Finnish women about men who left their wives behind. Here are the opening lyrics:

Since you left me, that two-timing husband, I have no pangs of sorrow. It’s a well-known thing in these here parts, an America Widow.

If you are a good upstanding wife or a happily engaged young girl, never never let your husband take to the road, or go traveling to the new world.

Many couples are no longer happy, it’s all because the man’s gone away. America’s call has captured men’s hearts, while he left his wife there to stay.

Do not say it’s America’s doing, there’s all too many wives left behind. Ignominy places them in a prison, there to face censure unkind.

To read the full lyrics, and hear the song, click the image below.

At least a few  Widows of the Grasses managed to make their way to America and search for their husbands. In 1905, a local newspaper  reported  that a woman arrived in Red Jacket, Michigan, in search of  her missing husband, Herman. She found him living with a woman he’d presented as his legitimate wife.

The abandoned woman must have been outraged, but she needed Herman to provide for her and their six children. Herman agreed to leave his illegitimate wife in favor of his lawful one. (Wife #2  responded by promptly emptying their bank account.)

Whether happily reunited with their husbands or not, it’s painful to imagine how difficult the situation was for all the women left behind in Finland—and the men who felt they had no other choice.

I decided to explore this topic in The Weaver’s Revenge in honor of all those who found themselves in that situation.

Two Virtual Programs This Week

May 26, 2021

No matter where you live, you’re invited!

If you missed my launch party for The Weaver’s Revenge, you have a second chance to see the program. Books & Company in Oconomowoc, WI, is hosting an author visit on Thursday, May 27, at 7 PM Central. Participation is free but registration is required. You can register online here.

Then on Sunday, May 30, at 10 AM Central, something different! The Free Congregation of Sauk County, WI, is hosting my presentation about A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons. This program is free and does not require preregistration. To learn how to tune in, click here.

I’d love to see you at either—or both!

Launch Party!

May 10, 2021

I invite you to join me for the virtual launch party for the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge! The event is scheduled for this Wednesday, May 12, at 7 PM US Central time.

It will be hosted by Mystery to Me, my local indie bookstore. I’ll show slides of some of the people, places, and the past that inspired me to write the story.

This online event is free, but you must pre-register

I’ll also sign and personalize books for anyone who orders from Mystery To Me.

Although I miss in-person events, I’m delighted that geography won’t limit anyone. I hope to see you there!

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!