Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Celtic Brooch with Alexandrite

Here is a Celtic brooch, a penannular brooch, which I just finished making. John helped me set it with

10 mm alexandrite, lab created gem stones. These stones change color according to what light
they are in. In full dalight they are a royal blue. Indoors, under electric lights, they are purple.
Sometimes they seem to be both colors at once! I think its really amazing.

Below is a photo showing it pinned to a hand woven silk scarf.
To fasten, you push the straight pin in
and out of the fabric, swivel the circle so that one end goes under the exposed point of the pin, and
the pressure of the fabric on the pin is what holds it fast.
Very clever, those ancient Celts!
This pin is about 2 inches across. I made it for a woman who weaves, but is entirely blind. She is giving it as a gift, with something she has woven, for a very special friend.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ewes Not Fat, Ewes Fuzzy

Here is Petunia, in all her splendor! She has on
a year and a half worth of fleece, and glad of it.
She is so cozy in the miserable north-wet weather. She is a Sennybridge Welsh sheep, as is her pal Lillibette. They have gotten two apples each this morning when they came bahhhhing at the back door. When they hear John's voice they know its time for a morning treat. If the apple has a worm in it they will not eat it. They are strict vegetarians!
Look how nicely groomed her fleece is! She & Lillibette use the apple tree to rub against for grooming and back-scratching.
And we have noticed that they have begun to chew on the bottom branches of the Christmas tree! We'd better bring it in the house!
I am working on the very-fancy sterling silver Celtic brooches today. One has given me trouble with the settings, but I have one setting done. And am hoping it all going easier today. I cannot wait to see how it comes to look when it is all formed and polished and set! Making magic things is ever so fun. I will surely post photos when they are done.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Views in the Smithy

Here is a huge old fir stump. We got this stump on Stuart Island when we lived out there at anchor in the sloop Grace. A huge storm had brought down some big trees, and a park ranger in Prevost Harbor cut the trees up. When the ground began to thaw, one stump got rolling down the hill and chased John down, on to the ramp, and all the way out to the dock! He decided we should bring it to the smithy which was then on the far end of that harbor. We loaded it in the 6 foot dinghy (!!) and rowed it to the smithy. Its a good solid thing to work on!
On the stump you can see our light cross-peen hammer, a T-stake, and my graver and jig for holding bone cabochons to incise them.
This is a tray of sterling silver crochet hooks John is making. They are all different sizes and designs. And not spoken for yet, if you would like to to order some.

Here is our lovely anvil. It weighs 170 pounds, and we bought it back east from a man whose father was a smith from Sweden. Since we are living on an old Swedish homestead here on Lopez Island I think the anvil approves. Our favorite hammer is on top.

Here is my system for making sets of double pointed knitting needles and not confusing them.
Yes, those are popsicle making molds. They work great! You can see a nearly done set of sterling silver dp needles , and some bronze I cut up to make size #1 dps needels. I also have a shawl pin and a sleying hook in there, waiting for the final polishing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Ring of the Anvil

I guess my neighbors can hear the anvil ringing again! (Well, John has beeen smithing all along, but not both if us.) I have been able to get some good time in at the smithy again. What a long hard haul its been.
Monday's mail should have a load of late orders sent out in it, hooray. I forgot how much strength it takes to buff metal. You really have to lean in to the wheel to get the bronze all shiny & smooth. I am working on penannular brooches and shawl pins and a pair of knitting needles set with malachite today. The needles just need cleaning & rouging & setting. Each thing I send out is a customer who has written saying "where is my stuff?" So it is very enjoyable both to do it all, and to let them know it is on its way.
The Easter lily is blooming on our kitchen table. It has a very tall curved stem and three white blossoms in a cluster. Heavenly! Plus the cactus...I guess its a Halloween cactus? is still blooming bright red right next to it. The flowers look like nudibranchs.
Back to the smithy with me now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Triskeles, topology, and Celtic knots

Hey everyone. I have so much missed being in the smithy doing all that metal magic stuff. I really feel amazed by metalsmithing, even after , ohhh, 25 years! The things it does!!!
John and I have been playing with Celtic knot ideas. He is so brilliant..always coming up with new ideas to try out!

Today we are musing on triskeles, topology, and Celtic knots. A triskele is a Celtic design of a triple spiral. Which means three spirals. The spirals must all go in the same direction. Clockwise or counter clockwise. (Or sun-wise and counter sun-wise.) I feel intuitively that these spirals have to do with time and the progression of things, but thats just me musing.

My 'magic method' of Celtic knot construction uses paper folding & cutting to create symetries of interlocking pattern. I invented this method in '86 while playing with kirigami, a Japanese paper folding & cutting method.

Since a triskele is a-symetrical in that it goes around only in one direction on its spirals, it cannot be made by folding & cutting. However, one can take a circle of paper, slit it, and fold that piece into equal thirds. If you draw a spiral on that and cut it out then one of the three resulting spirals will face the wrong direction.

OK. Here is that design.

See how the two right sprials face

other. Not good.

Next thing I did was do the same sort of slit & fold circle BUT then I cut the folds away so they are, in essence, just three stacked fan-shaped pieces of paper. These I drew a spiral on & cut out carefully. When I had done that I laid them out. One still faced the same way as another, but now I just was able to flip that one over to make them all go in tha same direction. I hear you saying "So what?" Well so you can use this method to design very pleasing triskeles. Like this one I just did

Yes, I cut off a wee bit on one side.

But it is a nice symetry, eh?

I have been doing other knots too. I cut a trilaterally (three sided) symetrical one a few days ago. Traced it on to paper, scanned it in, and then bucket-filled the backround blue behind it. Doing this one needs to only make sure that all the 'cells' of the design are closed so the color does not run over. Go ahead and take it to your photo-art program and play with it! Color, distort, have fun.

I am going to do a tutorial on the basic knot method on youtube and/or google soon. Keep your eyes open & google me!

OK, I also did a quick pentalateral (star shaped) knot this morning, and hand drew five separate triskeles in to it after I was done making the design. Here is that. Its hard to see the triskeles on the five end things, but they are there. I like the star formed in the middle...

As you can tell by the uneven nature of the paths of this knot, I cut it out of paper. I drew the little 'over and under' lines which make it a Celtic interlacing pattern, in fact a two dimensional representation of a three demensional design. OK? Then when done I hand drew the triskeles in. But they do not look nearly as nice as the ones above that I cut out! Cutting stuff out gives you a crisp sort of symetry. Plus its sort of magic, you know?
I have nattered enough for the nonce. My brain is going in spirals.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Errant Sheep

Our two sheep, Lillibette and Petunia, keep running off in the night. Only to be reported by strangers who see them in the road and drive in to the farm to awaken us and get us scurrying to fetch them back. WHY are they out in the road? Do they have a clandestine rondesvous with some handsome rams? Are they looking to score some wild veterinery medicine for kicks? Are they just sleepless and bored? They have taken to hanging out under the ripening apple tree and munching down the half-red apples. We watch them for signs of indigestion, but so far they are their usual sheep-in-paradise selves. They need shearing!!
Meanwhile I have loads of metalsmithing to do, and plan to go to the smithy and work no matter what today. In an hour.
Socks are arriving at my PO box at a cheerful rate! I am the envy of the women in the post office, plus any friends or aquaintences who happen to be there when the package arrives. The last pair I am calling Mermaid Socks. If a mermaid had feet she would choose these socks. They are bamboo and merino and some stretchy stuff. They shimmer! As ever, I am not 'allowed' to wear them until John takes their formal portrait for the web site. Lest I stretch them out and get them gooped up with salal berries.
We picked what are likely the last salal berries of the season, out at Shark Reef. Other than picking them off the little group-berry stems at home, we have not done anything with them except add them in with barbequed smoked pink salmon. The indiginous people liked that combination, and so do we! They would make fruit leather with the berries in long strips and then roll it into a huge wheel to last the winter. Brilliant, eh? There were a few different people selling whole pink salmon off their truck for $4 a fish for a very short time. Is that great or what?? And we had company then so got to share some of it. Then ate salmon for lunch & dinner for days. John is a man who knows how to cook or barbeque or smoke salmon most wonderfully. But we seldom get to have it, especially in such splendid quantity.
The new Lehmans Hardware catalog came, and I have been circling items like mad. Its also encouraging to see how many of the old-time non-electric things I already have, & use all the time. I guess we are functionally living in the 18oo's, except we have a computer & DSL.
On that questionable musing I will sign off.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

This Dappled Morning

The far field
dazzles with the hawkweed,
yellow, festive,
and the sheep
has eaten all the
tasty blossoms around her.
Shadows of swallows
slide over the long grass
golden beneath the rowan
whose berries swell in
crimson clusters on the bough.
I feel as solitary
and prickly as a thistle,
this dappled morning,
as I lean on the cold iron of the anvil.
The bronze knitting needles I have made
are golden bright from the rouge,
and lie on the work bench
waiting to be sent
all over the planet.
I can see them go
like the many shadows of birds
flying out, away,
to land in a pair of hands.
Hands that will draw to them yarn,
like the wool of my sheep,
distilled from a field of yellow flowers.
Hands that will draw to them patterns,
like the rowan now growing,
its grey branches knitted to the blue of the sky,
its berries, red within green,
celebrating magic, utility, motion, and beauty.

Molly Swan-Sheeran copyright 2007
Read more of my poems?

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Day after day of sunshine! I'm about to get Northwest Sunshine Panic Syndrome!
We have been picking salal berries and baking tarts. Salal berries were a big thing for the native people here. They made fruit leather out of it, and then rolled the sheets of it up into a huge wheel to last the winter. It has no thorns! They taste like blueberries.
Eating great quantities of it makes you poop green. (Too much information?)

The sock trade is rolling along & picking up speed. I have over a dozen avid knitters casting on stitches and beginning to knit me a pair of lovely socks. I cannot tell you how exciting this is! I think I better buy more bronze! Since I love smithing out the knitting needles, and whimper & sob when I try to knit socks, this is a match made in heaven.
Meanwhile we have had house guests, and more coming at regular intervals this whole month. But we really like guests, so that is fine. John & I love to cook for people, and to take them hiking around here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Great Sock Trade of 2007

Hey knitters of the world! I have begun the sock trade again.
I am willing to trade a set of my hand wrought bronze double pointed needles for a pair of socks. The socks need to be in natural fibers, a women's size 10, and in a color or colors I like. Don't start knitting until I say OK to the trade! I really like the colors green, blue, or purple. I am pining for a pair of all emerald green socks!
Look at my web site to see what the needles look like.
Please write to me if you are interested in trading.
More on this later!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Paul Revere Was Right

Most people remember Paul Revere as the guy who went riding hollering "The red coats are coming!" Metalsmiths remember him as the guy who had a rolling mill for metal in the colonies. The only rolling mill. Which meant he could melt down metals, make ingots, and hammer it out into rod, then roll it through the rolling mill to make wire in specific sizes. Instead of having to send the metal back to England to have it done there at great cost, as England wanted. In fact he was legally supposed to.
A rolling mill looks sort of like a gizmo to roll out pasta.
But thats not what I came here to talk about. I came here to talk about drawing rod through a metal plate, a 'draw plate', which makes it a tiny bit smaller. One keeps annealing the wire and drawing it through smaller size holes in the plate until one gets the size one wants. And I have wanted the size silver to make a specific size of knitting needles. Size #1. Its a specialty size. And I finally have got it all set up right to draw my own wire. And am feeling, like Paul Revere, that I am empowered in the smithy.
Enough about that, you say? OK. The dark brown sheep, Petunia, has decided that the fragrant purple petunias I planted in pots on the front porch are for her. So far I have kept her at bay using netting and sharp glances her way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Celtic Knots by Maria

Here are some first knots made by Maria using the instructions in my book, Design Your Own Celtic Knots. They are terrific! Thanks for sending these, Maria.

Celtic Knots in Seattle

Here I am teaching my original Celtic knot design method at the Seattle Folklife Festival.

I got to teach hundreds of people of all ages, kids to seniors!
Below is a first knot someone made.

And to the right below is a child with her first knot.

It was great fun, and I sold my how-to books, plus the books on CD and I have it on an on line download. So wherever you are you can learn it too.
Getting back to smithing has been difficult after all the energy of the Folklife Festival, but I will be able to ship a few sets of knitting needles out tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Folklife Festival Celtic Knot Class

Boy, I have not written a post in awhile! When I finally got over the bug I was so far behind on all my metalwork that I had to 'put my nose to the anvil'! I am nearly timely now.
Meanwhile, I am going to be teaching Molly's Magic Method of Celtic knot design at the Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center May 25th through the 28th. I will be in the Folklife Commons in the center tent with the purple top, and will be teaching from 11 to 6 every day. It costs $1 to come in the tent and learn. And its really fun to do. Kids & adults. Everybody!
I will also be selling my book Design Your Own Celtic Knots, plus I now have it in a pdf file on a CD for sale. Also I will be able to send people a link for downloading the whole book on line. Its the book I hand lettered and illustrated while I was living aboard the sloop Grace. It tells you about my original method for designing Celtic knots, which is way easier than anything else around.
If you cannot make it to the Folklife Festival, and I think you ought to go there because it has the most folk and world music all over the place (7000 performers?!): stages & buskers and everyone making music & dancing! Oh, but if you cannot go & want to know about my book you can find it on my web site at Now I can send the book by e mail all over the world! Hooray!
I have to get back to binding the last of the books.. Printing them here has been a wretched chore for John. He's been covered with black ink smears.
We leave on the 'red eye' ferry in the morning, and are hopeful that the traffic over on the mainland is not too bad. We so seldom leave our little island!
Hope to see you at the Festival!!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Dreaded Raw Garlic Cure

Well I have had the stomach bug that is going around. I did the mint tea. I did the grape juice.
I did the goldenseal, which usually works great with me. Finally I did the dreaded raw garlic cure. The way this works is, first you chop up about a tablespoon of fresh ginger and boil it with a few cups of water. Set that aside to cool. Then you mince up a big clove of garlic. You mix this with a few spoonfulls of peanut butter. Sometimes I put in a drop of soy sauce. You eat the peanut butter garlic mix and wash it down with the ginger tea. The tea is to keep you from tossing the whole thing, as you already feel nauseated & its pretty strong stuff.
One's breath is helacious after this, of course, but what care I?
So, sick since Wednesday, did the D.R.G.C. on Friday. Performed a wedding ceremony on Saturday & carried on normallly (or as normal as I ever get) and then back to the outhouse with the trots. Or the sprints, as it were. But then felt well on Monday. Until later on. Then at 1 am I did the garlic.
I am telling you this in case you are suffering from this same bug. So you may have a chance to vanquish it. (I feel like Marley's Ghost telling you this)
Meanwhile, the cherry trees are in full voluptuous bloom. I'm glad the winds did not tear off too many flowers. No hummingbirds this morning. They must have done with these for now.
John is lying in the grass out back, dressed all in green complete with green velvet pants. He is coming down with the bug, I fear.
I have been cutting pages of my book in half as they are printed two pages to a sheet. They still need to have the holes punched in, and to be collated, and to have the covers printed, and to be bound with the comb binders. Such a lot of work. I'm so glad John is doing the actual printing.
And what about all the metalsmithing waiting to be done?????? As soon as I feel a little strength. I am so weak now. But I miss the metal.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Fierce Attack Sheep

Twice lately the wild turkeys have come by the house, and both times the sheep have chased them away! Yesterday Petunia ran around & around the pear tree with her head down and the turkey running away from her as fast as it could go. These are wild timid sheep! So its very surprising. Turkeys, though, are so obviously descended from dinosaurs, its no wonder that the sheep do not want them around.

I have been out hot twisting silver rod. It took about a year after John came up with this unorthodox method of silversmithing for me to try it out. And it took longer yet for me to start using it regularly. My rate of 'fried' pieces is about what it was for me with bronze about 24 years ago. And if I get the least bit distracted while I am doing it its sure I will mess it up. But the ease and fluidity of working it this way is a treat. I get tighter twists, and greater range of design. I've got a bunch sitting in the 'pickle bath' now, a mild acid that takes off the black fire scale that inevitably happens when one heats silver up that high.

When I was in my 20's I never thought I'd live to this age. Back then, we all thought the atomic bomb was looking over our shoulders just waiting to pounce on us and send us to smithereens. Never mind that bogus stuff in school when they had us crouched down under our desks! Anyway, now I am nearly 60, and in the thick of being a self-employed crafts person. This is what we have both been doing since '81. I'm still amazed at the world politics, and how such a huge number of humans keep on living on this fragile planet of ours.

I'm several years past the age when my father, a professor of botany, retired. As an artist and writer, I will never get to retire. I was talking to a stone mason at the grocery store the other day, and we both agreed that we expected to die while we were still working. This is probably how everyone always thought of themselves before the American dream of retirement came along. I don't know. My husband & I live very simply, without many things that our contemporaries consider essential. But we do have unheard of freedom and flexibility.

When we first started being crafts people we drove a '61 hump-back 544 Volvo. Back and forth across country. We knew some inopportune time it would die a final death, probably in the winter in Montana on the interstate. So we decided to be prepared to cut our losses and walk away with all our metalsmithing inventory on our backs in one small bag. It was such a good car we never had to, though.

I have nattered on enough for now. more later.
OH! A hummingbird came to the open door of the smithy today. Ruby throated & humming.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Death & Taxes

Hey, I have not posted in a bit. Working on the dreaded taxes. Just about ready to sign the check!
John & I rigged up a tool to draw out wire. Its an oak plank with a big vice at one end and a come-along winch at the other end. We anneal the metal rod/wire, and grind one end to a point. This we push through a draw plate, which is a special callibrated steel plate with holes of descending diameter. So. We put the point through the hole closest in size to the rod, and fasten on the drawing tongs. Then we use two C-clamps to hold the tongs securely on to the point of the rod. Then one of us holds the draw tongs while the other one uses a big piece of pipe as a lever to make the winch slowly pull the rod through the hole. This makes the rod a teensy bit smaller. Then we anneal the rod again and draw it through the next smallest hole. Its tedious! But it allows us to make rod in more sizes. For crochet hooks, and for knitting needles.
Next item! I have been accepted to the Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center the end of May to teach my Celtic knot making method!! The entire time of 4 days. It will be in the hands-on learning area by the Space Needle. I just bought a big bunch of little sharp scissors on eBay. Tomorrow the world.
An old friend in upstate NY died. John Culver. I hadn't seen him in a very long time. I meant to get in touch, but he didn't do e mail. I know, thats a rotten excuse not to get in touch with somebody. And now its too late. The funeral was this past weekend.
There are baby lambs at all the sheep farms on the island, but not ours. We are thinking we ought to buy another ewe and a ram. But which kind????

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Sound of a Hammer and Anvil

I have been doing lots of smithing. I love the sound of the hammer hitting hot metal on the big old anvil, that nice bright ringing sound. I ought to be using ear protcetion, and I do on heavier things. But I'm doing double pointed knitting needles now, in both silver and bronze. All size #1. I've got other sizes in the works too, but today its size #1's. Which are slender.
Heating and pounding on metal is fun. It becomes as ductile as, say, modeling clay. I hammer on the rod...make, lets see, a squared off design in cross-section. Then when I heat up one little spot with the oxy-propane torch I can twist the metal in just that spot. And it makes such wonderful patterns. I can stop and spot heat and twist the other way. I can do layers of patterning, one over the other, to get more complex and interesting designs. Or I can keep it simple. The twists in the middle of the needle shafts keep the yarn from sliding off too easily. Since what I do is just like jewelry work, the final shine I put on, with jeweler's rouge, is really shiny.
While I'm on a flagrant 'brag' here, my poetry is on my web site, and John has recorded me reading a number of them. You might like Interisland Ferry. is where you can find them.
Back to the smithy! Ding, ding, ding!!!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Imbolc/Brigid's Day/Candlemas at the Druid Chamber

Happy Imbolc! Here are some photos of the Druid Chamber. To the left you can see the central chimney-niche. Below, you can see the left wall. The stone work is very nice.

You can see on the left how the chamber has been built below the roots of a huge old tree. And above, how the roots are incorporated in the structure. There are also boulders which are left in place as part of the walls.
It is a very sweet place, up on the side of a hill. And no one around here seems to know about it! It looks like its been here awhile. John found it one day a few years ago. He tends to find magical places.
Meanwhile, I am slowly smithing my way through a long list of people who have ordered double pointed knitting needles. I seem so slow! Well, my back has not been good lately.
Brigid and Evan came for the weekend, and we had a lovely time. We hiked to Watmough Head in the rain. But we never made it to the Druid Chamber!
John has recorded a number of my poems being read aloud. Thats on our web site.
I got an order for a shawl pin last night. They are so much fun to make. Metalsmithing is fun.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Design Your Own Celtic Knots

Hey! My book, Design Your Own Celtic Knots, is available on Amazon! I invented a method using paper folding and cutting, like a paper snowflake, to easily & quickly design Celtic interlacing designs. I'll post a knot here soon that you can use in your photo editor program to bucket fill and play with. Or get the book and design your own original ones. I teach kids to do it, its so easy.
Go to to see it , or my web site at
Hours of fun, and lots of extra confetti as a side bonus!
We are still snowed in. Maybe I'll go design another knot......

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I Hate Snow

Yeah, I do. We are functionally snowed in here. Its really comin down. I managed to get some supplies in. Hay for the sheep.
Petunia, the black sheep, can't see the white sheep in all the driving snow. So she has been bahing.
I keep thinking of those lucky people in Hawaii....groan.
I got a request for needles set with sheen obsidian. I can't find 10 mm cabs of it anywhere! All my suppliers have stopped carrying it. Go figure. I am thinking I will do some needles set with facetted stones. Won't those be glorious?
I wonder how long it will be before we can drive out? Its a safe bet I will have more time to blog!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Dorothy Swan's Miniature Rugs

Happy New Year all!
Here are some photos of my mother's display of her miniature carpets. They are all one inch to the foot...dollhouse size! She did not use any kits. They are quite perfect, as she is a fiend for detail. She has had them in the Acton Library in Old Saybrook, Ct.

She has put some furniture and dolls in the display.
If you would like to see larger photos to see detail, please contact me and I will send them to you.
My mother is a volunteer at her local historical society. She is pretty amazing!
She is a fabulous knitter, too.