As it turns out, this is not the year for grand travels and adventures away, but for finding peace at home. Those of us who enjoy handcrafting are more thankful than ever to keep our hands busy– just like a great novel, diving into a project can transport us to another place and time.
Sometimes a handmade item can serve as a memory-keeper to remind you of a special time or place. For me, sometimes I’m so fascinated by the natural beauty of something, I want to understand what makes it so beautiful — to break down the elements that make it captivating. That’s what I really love about coming up with weaving designs.
I have a handmade birch bark basket that I made with my grandfather several summers ago — we harvested the bark, formed it into shape, and laced it together with spruce roots. Every time I see the basket, I’m transported back to what seems like a different world – the wild northern part of Saskatchewan. I wanted to capture the feeling of that place in a weaving design: the eerie call of a loon, patches of wild blueberries, endless glistening lakes and streams, the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights, and maybe even a glimpse of a moose.
My design entitled “Birches of Northern Saskatchewan” was published in the March/April 2020 issue of Handwoven. This issue features a number of wonderful projects inspired by flora and fauna.
The challenge of capturing birch bark in a weaving project was the irregularity of birch bark: it’s usually covered in random knots and patches of lichen interspersed across the surface. Of course, weaving is by nature repetitive and sequential. It was really fun to try and capture the feel of the bark’s appearance, while incorporating symmetry and pattern.
The result was a set of 4 matching-yet-different placemats. The color scheme is neutral and soothing, with two main earthy tones along with a few “pops” of brighter color to represent lichen.
I chose to weave with Synchrony yarn (a blend of 60% cotton and 40% wool) because I knew the cotton/wool combination would add texture and interest to the cloth – birch bark is not exactly smooth! The yarn is heavy enough, in DK weight, to make for solidly functional placemats that are also easy to wash and care for. The project requires a 4-harness loom and is a beginner to intermediate level project.
I know I’m not the only one who is captivated by birch trees – I’m sure many have their own connection to the places where these unique trees grow. Why not bring a hint of wilderness into your home? It’s a great reminder of those faraway places we’ve been, and of how we can carry that beauty with us on a daily basis.
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