featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Holiday Blog Hop Starting December 11th

Holiday Blog Hop

Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Monday, September 10, 2012


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


Marguerite Lafayette said...

I'm curious as what inspired you to write stories that incorporate crafts and how much does the craft chosen influence the story?

Mary Frances Roya said...

I always thought of a light house as wonderful place to be. I am a bit of hermit. But seeing the ocean every day just sounds great. Loved the blog. You story sound great. Keep writing so I can keep writing.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Marguerite,I've always loved trying new forms of crafts, and I've always loved history, so the two interests pair well together. Everyday women are so often forgotten in the history books, and bits of handwork that get left behind may provide the only glimpse we can get of their lives.

Sometimes a craft does form the foundation of the plot and so drive the story. Old World Murder revolves around a missing hand-carved and hand-painted antique bowl, and I chose to focus on that for the first Chloe Ellefson mystery because I'd always been fascinated with such pieces.

And sometimes the main storyline involves other topics of themes, which is the case in The Light Keeper's Legacy. Once I'd created the fictional Danish immigrant, I delved into old Danish handwork so I could add that aspect to her character. Hedebo becomes a symbol of what she lost by leaving Denmark, and it also provides her solace during touch times in the new world.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Oops, that should have been "tough times".

Kathleen Ernst said...

Mary Frances, there is something quite appealing about lighthouses, isn't there? Thanks for your comment.

Judy said...

I find stories including a bit about vintage crafts worth a read even if I'm attracted originally by the mystery element. I might try those ornaments, but I would not have thought of using embroidery thread, of which I have tons. I also enjoy archeology and discovering vintage crafts for real is a treat. I am attracted to book covers, whether it's a cat, a cooking item or a craft. Thanks for putting me in the draw for a copy.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Judy, thanks for your comments. One of the characters in The Light Keeper's Legacy is an archaeologist. It sounds as if you and I share a lot of interests!

Nancy said...

The only kind of handy work that I was any good at is neddlepoint. One grandmother tried to teach me to knit and all I could do was a long string, never could get the yarn to go the other way, so no one ever tried to teach me crochet.

I love having some kind of craft in a mystery as that makes the people more real.


Diane Schultz said...

I love quilting and find I like different parts of the process: the designing/creative vision part, and then the actual quilting part. I love doing it by hand, but find I am way too slow and have done things by machine in order to finish (both stitching and quilting, but not applique). My hand sewing and quilting classes helped me a lot in being better when I use the machine. I also think about the women who went before me in this art/homecraft form. No stories of quilting bees in the family, but a few old and not very lovely quilts which were functional.

Merry Lu said...

Kathleen, I LOVE these. They remind me of the few pieces of handmade lace I have from my grandmother and great aunts. While I love sewing and quilting, I have never felt ambitious enough to learn to make lace, but these projects you have shown are inspiring!

Sue said...

Although I am one of the world's most inept crafters, I so appreciate the artistry and skill involved. Likewise, I am thrilled with the historical integrity that you bring to your stories, both at that adult and YA level. Thank you for sharing your interests, passions and talents!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Nancy, Diane, Merry Lu, Sue: Thanks so much for the comments. I'm not an expert at any needle arts but I love trying new forms. Isn't it interesting that some things "take" and some don't? I tried to learn cross-stitch when I was young and just never got the hang of it.

Arletta Dawdy said...

238 turylenHi Kathleen,
I'm looking forward to Chloe #3! Carpal tunnel put an end to my knitting,crewel embroidery, and sewing-despite surgery. That was okay since I was engrossed in writing and travel. For 12 years or so, a friend sent out crocheted ornaments, similar to yours, as holiday greetings. I miss those.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Arletta, I'm glad you found other activities to fill your time. It can be hard to give up favorite activities. I admire the friend who sent out the ornaments...I'm afraid I'm not that prolific, but I love the idea!

Patti Goke said...

Kathleen, I appreciate your determination to learn the folk art that becomes a central figure in your books. Not only can we become friends with Chloe, but also the folk arts. Being of Danish stock, as well as Norwegian, I look forward to reading your next book and getting to know bedebo. Also, THANK YOU for supporting Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum!

Dru said...

I love quilting because it allows my mind to wander as I stitch and it's amazing how things become clearer.

cyn209 said...

i have yet to read your series, but your books are definitely on my WishList!!!

thank you for the giveaway!!!

cyn209 at juno dot com

Kathleen Ernst said...

Patti, it's truly my pleasure, in more ways than one.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Dru, I have a similar experience. There's something about busying your hands that does good things for the brain!

Cyn, my pleasure.

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Great post, Katheleen, and GORGEOUS lace! I'm really looking forward to your latest!

traveler said...

Wonderful post. Your books and writing sounds appealing and unique. Best wishes.

Judy said...

I neglected to give you my email address yesterday.