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Birch Bark Bread Basket

jarrod dahl

-Originally posted on Instagram on Feb 3, 2016

Last night we had our first real snow storm of the year. April and I had been trying to plan a night were we could sort some birch bark for weaving bread baking baskets. This was the perfect time. As the snow fell and over a glass of wine, we went through a big roll of bark we harvested this past summer. April had been after me to weave her a bread baking basket. So after the sorting we prepped some strips for weaving. Once we had enough, I wove this basket.

I’ve been working with birch bark for over 12 years and when working with it I’m still constantly in awe of its subtle feel, its flexibility and the many other great qualities. It’s no wonder why that in earlier times wherever in the world the birch trees grew, its bark had a very important place in the lives of the people living among them. The bark was used to make all kinds of things needed for daily living; from woven shoes, a multitude of different styles of canisters and baskets, and of course, the iconic birch bark canoe.

This basket is designed to bake bread in. It’s just a touch smaller than a regular loaf pan. Once it’s oiled and seasoned, kinda like a cast iron pan, it’ll be ready for baking in. The finished bread will have a nice woven imprint on the underside. I’m not sure if this type of basket has a history before bread pans or not, but I think it’s still pretty cool.

A woven birch bark bread baking basket

Cut it to See It

jarrod dahl

Instagram post on Feb 16th of so....with slight editing. This was before I figured out how to get the format right on Instagram.

A little extra learning this morning. This exercise is the hardest for beginner turners to do, especially pole lathe turners, due to the extra energy and skill involved. We have a lot invested in our work. But in the end lessons that give us more information to base a comparison on are very important. 

I would argue that if you don't do this once in awhile you may be missing a lot. Chop or cut the good bowls and the bad, we need the comparison in order to improve our skills to 'see'. 

I was pleased with tall tumbler.  I use a pole lathe and basically have the wood I turn between two centers, I need to leave a small spindle of wood on the inside of the cup until it's complete then cut it off. So when turning I can only see and feel with my tools what I'm doing on the inside. For me cutting it in half helps me see how well I did at getting just a slightly different inner cup compared to the outer. 

These end grain cups have been used for 1000's of years and I'm proud to be using the same technology as back then, a foot powered pole lathe. Using this type of lathe is not some over idealistic notion of the past, but the search for a aesthetic and ethos that can create objects that don't look so ‘machined’, as they do on an electric lathe. Because objects on my lathe moves back and forth, there are natural anomalies in the surface when the direction changes. These anomalies add something that I think our eyes enjoy looking at, even if it's happening on a unconscious level. I'm always digging deeper into my craft. There's no hurry, just careful steps forward. Every object building on the other. I'm in this for the long haul so cutting one cup is much more valuable than not. This is the story of #realcraft and the #riseofthecraftspersonclass

The Instagram Essays...

jarrod dahl

For folks following along on Instagram you've already read these short post. For those that aren't following along, I've been trying my hand at long form posts on that platform. Instagram is a great place for crafts, great photos and connecttions with folks if your not on Facebook. I left the Facebook world last year for reasons too many and too opinionated to mention here. 

But I thought I'd post these past Instagram posts here. I've been digging the confined limit. I think it's like 125 words including spacing and paragraph breaks. So they have to be short and sweet. I wish I had the time and energy to write some in depth blog posts's not in the cards right now. I've been working on a few posts and as I transition into really heady and in depth subject matter relating to craft, making, skill, etc.... I'm finding that my writing skills aren't up to the same speed as my thoughts and ideas. The ideas are too complex to give them all the back story I'd like in order to give context to the subject matter. 

So.....short essays for now if you will.

I'll post these every time I post on on the ol' Instagram. But, hold on as I'm about a dozen deep over there already. I'll get caught up with them here on my blog over then next week or so.....

Here's one from a few weeks ago......

my collection of eating spoons

This morning I was thinking about spoon design, spoon carving techniques, and various tools used to make them.

One of the things I pride myself on is my always growing collection of spoons, from makers around the world. I never even thought to before, but a few days ago I put them out in one pile to look at them all together. They usually sit in a big drawer and we let them flow from there to our two spoon racks that we grab from when we want to eat or need a spoon.

I own over 80 eating spoons. Wow! I never counted them until then. Only about 5 are mine. All the others are by folks I’ve met and traded with, bought online or at spoon carving events, or were gifts. They all have something I thought was interesting wether it be the ways of doing certain cuts, addressing certain design issues or sweet decorations. They all have great things about them, all of them.

What makes a good eating spoon? Is it subjective? Maybe to a point. But they still need to have certain design elements to work well. They are still tied to a finite function. Some of the spoons in this collection look great, were made with a high level of skill but don’t work very well, some look fairly simple, misshapen, and don’t have clean cuts and work very well. It’s interesting to see the spoons that get the most use and explore why. Many times it’s not just pure function that is the deciding factor. Then there’s the ones in between.

I believe our eyes can, in part, deceive us at times. So I used to try them out eating yogurt with a blindfold on to see what I could feel (what spoons are balanced in use, where the bowl of yogurt ended up, etc…) Sometimes the yogurt ended up in on my chin or the yogurt was hard to get off the bowl of the spoon.
In the end it seems like what makes a good spoon is largely subjective.. or is it? What’s for sure is that there are no absolutes.

The Apprenticeship Project Continues- Update/Reboot

jarrod dahl

Winter has finally arrived in northern Wisconsin. We've seen sub zero(f) temps and plenty of snow. This year, February sees me in my shop every day and in a making groove. I've been turning lots of end grain handled mugs and developing a few other designs that I want to offer to my product line. I'm digging it. If folks really want a daily feed you should follow me over on Instagram. I've also been tying my hand at the long-form style of Instagram posts lately, they are like a mini blog post. As usual I try to add some thought provoking material to these posts inspired by our daily life here, making traditional handcraft.

Over the month of January a fellow named Charlie Ryland stayed with us as an intro apprentice. He's spent the month working with me and a few days working with April. Charlie has a pretty good foundation in woodworking and was a great help around the shop. For the apprentice work we focused a lot of our time together on spoon carving. I taught him how to rough out blanks and billets to my specifications. Later we carved spoons side by side in order to get him vetted into The Greenwood Spooncarvers Collective (I'll write more on that soon enough) and also add to my inventory of eating spoons I sell on my web shop.  Charlie also helped me sort some of my ideas on handcraft, having to listen to me talk endlessly about art, craft, design, intention, and all the wild tangential subjects and roads I like to go down. He also helped sort some of the ideas we've had for the ongoing apprenticeship projects we have here at our place.

As for the apprentice project I wrote about in a post or two ago, with critiques on this blog, I'm sorry to write that I had to end it for now, due to a few unexpected circumstances. Sorry for dropping the ball on that one, maybe someday?  

I am hell bent on the focus though....

I still am working toward adding an apprenticeship opportunity here with me and my work. I've learned a lot over the past few months and I'm slowly building up more ideas as to how to work it for the long term. At some point both April and I would like to see long term apprenticeships here for as long as 7-10 months.  It'll take quite a commitment on both ours and the would be apprentice's parts but we are committed to the idea. We feel that a long term experience will be the only way to impart, share, and teach some of the core fundamentals of traditional craft. Immersion is a key factor.

As we flush out ideas, temper our experiences with desired outcomes, and think about how to transfer skill, thinking, perspective, lifestyle and all that goes into making a living making traditional handcraft I'll keep updating our experiences here.

Stay tuned.....

For the rise of the craftperson class... 

One of April's hand pounded black ash, pack baskets ready to final rim lashing. Almost ready to send to it's new owner.

a batch or handled mugs ready for the oil/wax bath. These can only be turned on a pole lathe.

spoons get carved here and there.