Today we're happy to welcome back author Kathleen Ernst. The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen’s twenty-fourth published book. In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for American Girl, including the six-book series about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott. Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.
Leave a comment for a chance to win any one of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson mysteries: Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy. For more information, visit Kathleen at her website or blog. To learn more about Vesterheim’s folk-art classes, visit http://vesterheim.org/index.php. -- AP
Danish Needle Lace
Handwork in all its many forms is dear to my heart, as I’ve discussed here before in 2010 and 2011. I love featuring different types of crafts in my books. As a former museum curator, and author of a nonfiction history, twenty historical novels for young readers, and three mysteries set at historic sites, I’m particularly interested in everyday domestic folk-arts. So is Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my adult series.
As I began planning the latest installment, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, I thought about which type of handwork I might spotlight. I chose hedebosøm, a type of Scandinavian needle lace that originated in Denmark.
Hedebo incorporates button hole stitches, thread rings, and pyramids to make decorative motifs. The example below comes from the collection of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.
The Light Keeper’s Legacy finds Chloe researching the history of Rock Island in Lake Michigan. She’s agreed to create a furnishings plan for Pottawatomie Lighthouse, which is the oldest light station in Wisconsin.
Upon arrival, Chloe finds a body on the beach, wrapped in an old fishing net. Hoping that the young victim drowned accidentally, Chloe initially leaves the investigation to the local deputy sheriff and continues with her own work. She becomes fascinated with a peaceful meadow on the island, once site of a bustling fishing village.
I created a fictional woman, Ragna Anderson, for the historical mystery that twines with Chloe’s modern one. Ragna is a Danish immigrant, and the best netmaker on the island. She also excels at hedebo. Ragna’s memories of making lace provide a sharp contrast for her new work making heavy fishing nets…and when life in Wisconsin doesn’t turn out quite as the family had hoped, she turns again to lacemaking.
Handwork reflects Ragna’s changing fortunes within the mystery, from delicate needle lace to heavy netmaking and back again. A piece of hedebo becomes an important talisman in the modern timeline as well, connecting past with present.
To gain a better understanding of the art, I took an introductory hedebo class from Roger Buhr of Decorah, Iowa. In the space of a single workshop I discovered that while the fine work inset into old linens would take lots of time and patience to execute, the basic stitches are quite simple. Roger has designed a number of motifs that work well as Christmas ornaments. His patterns are easy to follow and can be done in different sizes. I used embroidery floss for the examples below.
The simple ornaments I’ve made aren’t comparable to the exquisite work done by experts. Still, working through the looping stitches helps me feel a connection with the women who once brought such skills from Europe to the New World.
Do you enjoy handwork too? What draws you? The creativity, the meditative quality of repeating stitches? Do you also think about the roots of your favorite folk-art, and the nameless women who helped it evolve? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for joining us again, Kathleen! Your guest posts are always so interesting. Readers, if you'd like a chance to win a copy of one of the Chloe Ellefson books, leave a comment. And don't forget to check back on Sunday to see if you're the winner. Unless you leave an email with your comment, we have no way of contacting you. You need to contact us. -- AP