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The Saami Art of Tin Thread Spinning

Tugging on a bit of pewter thread has led me down a new path of unraveling some of the intricately beautiful textile crafts of my ancestors.

Tin Thread Embroidery

Pewter
The first use of pewter dates back to the Bronze Age. Pewter was used by the Egyptians and later the Romans, and came into use in Europe for tableware and jewellery from the Middle Ages.

Pewter is a malleable metal alloy, traditionally 85–99% tin, with the remainder consisting of copper, antimony, bismuth and sometimes, less commonly today, lead. Silver is also sometimes used. Copper and antimony act as hardeners while lead is common in the lower grades of pewter, which have a bluish tint.
Wikipedia – Pewter

Although pewter was an alloy of tin and other metals such as lead, in modern day pewter or tin thread,heavy metals are no longer used. Silver is added to stabilize the tin instead.

Thread spun from metals such as gold and silver have been found in Viking age textiles in sites such as Birka. Pewter or tin could also be spun into thread and used for the making of jewellery or decoration for clothing. Pewter became known as the poor man’s silver. It is thought that the use of pewter thread has only been produced by the Saami. Earliest evidence of the use pewter thread has been found in Saami textiles from the 1600’s, though fragments of pewter have been found 500 years earlier.

Saami Embroidered Tin Bag

Saami Tin Embroidery

Saami Embroidered Tin Collar

Tin Thread Making Tools
The tools for making pewter or tin thread are a die made from reindeer antlers and a spindle. The die is carved from a reindeer antler and has as many as 60 different sized holes drilled into it. The tin is dragged through the successively smaller holes until a fine tin thread is produced.

Die for Dragging Tin
Die made of reindeer antler, used for dragging and making tin thread.
tenntrad die
Spin Cross
Spindle for spinning tin thread
Spin Cross

Linnaeus: Tin Dragging and Spinning
Linnaeus Drag and Spin Tin

Dragging Tin Thread
The tin thread was produced from bars of tin or from tin melted down from pewter plates and tableware. The tin is formed into narrow bars with a knife and hammer. It is pounded and shaped into a rod or dowel and pulled through the holes in the die with the use of pliers or even teeth.
to make it easier to pull through the die, the tin is dipped in fat, produced by melting reindeer hooves.

Tin is being pulled through the die with the use of pliers.

Tin thread is being pulled through smaller holes in the die.
Dragging Tin Thread

Fine tin thread is being dragged through the die with the use of teeth.
Dragging Tin with Teeth

Spinning Tin Thread

After the tin has been dragged, it is plied with a core thread using either a drop spindle or a Spin Cross.
Spinning Tin onto Spin Cross
Tin Spinning

The core thread should be the same thickness as the tin wire, in order to produce an evenly spun thread. The tin wraps around the core as it is spun using a similar plying technique as with other core spun yarns.

Tin Thread
Tin Thread Spinning
Tin Thread Core
Tin Thread Spindle

Tin Thread Embroidery
The spun tin thread can now be used for embroidery. It can be sewn directly onto tanned leather, though wool fabric or wadmal is used more often as the base for the embroidered thread.

Sewing Tin Thread

The core thread is sewn to the back of the fabric to fasten the tin thead in place.
Tin Thread Embroidery

The tin thread is stitched to the top side of the leather or fabric with very small stitches.
Tin Thread Embroidery
Tin Thread Sewing

Wadmal
Wadmal is a coarse, densely woven wool fabric that has been felted so that the weave structure is no longer visible. This creates a very warm and windproof fabric.
Instead of embroidering onto wadmal, I thought that I would try to embroider the tin thread onto handmade felt instead, as the felt would have a similar weight and consistency as wool felted yardage. I felted a small sheet of 21 micron merino wool and stitched a small sample of tin thread embroidery. I was quite pleased with the result.

Tin Thread Embroidery on Felt

References:

Västerbotten nummer 2/1980, sidorna 115-128 “Om tillverkning av platt tenntråd”
Västerbotten nummer 3/1970 “Sameslöjd”
Reindeer Antler Die
Vadmal and Other Woolens

More Saami Crafts

Saami Reindeer Bracelets
What is Sami Duodji
Weaving on a Sami Rigid Heddle

Reindeer Leather and Tin Embroidery PurseReindeer and Pewter Purse
Reindeer Leather and Pewter Purse on Etsy

Saami Music – Itunes

Binna Banna – Kikki Aikio
Áphi (Wide As Oceans) – Sofia Jannok
Ulda – Ulla Pirttijärvi & Ulda
The Kautokeino Rebellion (Music from the Movie) – Herman Rundberg, Mari Boine & Svein Schultz
Beaivi, Áhcázan (The Sun, My Father) – Nils-Aslak Valkeapää

 

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How to Make a Sami Reindeer Bracelet

Saami Reindeer Leather Bracelets

One of the traditional Saami duodji crafts is leathermaking. I thought I would give it a try. I started with something simple by purchasing a Sami bracelet kit from a Sami supplier in Sweden TNKReativt.

Sami reindeer bracelet kit
The bracelet kit includes a piece of reindeer leather, tin thread, artificial sinew, clear nylon thread, sewing thread, a sewing needle, a leather needle and a reindeer antler button.

Weave the Braid
The kit includes enough tin thread to make a six strand braid.
Cut the tin thread into 3 equal lengths and fold these in half to create 6 strands.
I use a foam felting mat to work on.
Pin the folded end of the tin thread onto the foam mat.
Separate the 6 strands into 3 strands of 2 threads each.
Work a 3 strand braid along the length of the thread.
I pin the braid onto the foam about every inch or so, to hold it in place as I am braiding.

When you have finished braiding, secure the ends by tying a short piece of sinew around the ends. The sinew that is supplied is a short length, but this can be separated into several strands. Use a small strand to tie the tin braid.

Hand Stitch Braid to Leather Strip

To adjust the bracelet to the correct size, measure around your wrist. Add 1 cm to this measurement. Cut the length of reindeer leather to this size.

On the back side of the leather strip, measure and mark a cutting line 1.5 cm from the end of both ends.

Fold the leather strip in half and carefully cut a small slit into the leather, the width of the woven tin braiding.

Place the woven braid on the right side of the leather strip and slip the ends of the braid into the slits that you have cut.

Using the regular sewing needle that came with the kit and the nylon thread, stitch the braid onto the leather strip.
(The instructions that came with the kit, suggest using glue to attach the braid to the leather, but I do not recomment this) Hand stitching will make a better bracelet.

Attach Braided Loop to Leather Bracelet

The bracelet kit includes a short piece of leather strip and some imitation sinew. Split the sinew into a narrower thread and twist the sinew around the leather strip. The sinew will give the leather a bit of extra strength in the loop.

Thread the leather strip and sinew through the loop at the end of the tin braid. Then twist the leather strip and sinew together tightly and ply them together to make a spun thread. Tie the ends with the remaining sinew.


Thread the leather sewing needle with the end of the sinew and stitch the 2 ends of the leather braid together forming a loop. Sew this securely.

Trim the cut ends of the tin braid to 1 cm. Sew these end together with a bit of sinew.

Finishing
Using the leather needle, thread it with the polyester thread that came with the kit.
At the back of the bracelet, fold the ends of the leather together and neatly stitch them together.

Sew the reindeeer antler button to the other end of the bracelet.

Saami Reindeer Bracelet

Additional Tools

Once you have made your first Saami bracelet you might decide that you like working with leather, as I did. To make life easier, you will need to purchase a few extra tools.
1) A good lamp with a magnifying glass. Once I bought one, I don’t know how I managed without it. The hand can do what the eyes can see.
Mighty Bright LED Floor Light and Magnifier

2) Extra Leather Sewing Needles
It’s helpful to have a few different sizes on hand.
Leather Hand Needles-Assorted 3/Pkg

3) A good sewing thimble.
I like the Clover ones as I find them quite comfortable to wear.
Clover 6026 Medium Protect and Grip Thimble

4) Synthetic Sinew
Use synthetic sinew for stitching leather pieces together. Sinew comes in different colours, but I find the natural one is suitable for most uses.
Natural Simulated Sinew

5) Jewellery Making Pliers
Use for tin embroidery to pinch tin thread into shape before stitching.
ToolUSA Jeweler’s Complete 6-Piece Precision Plier Set

6) Good quality sewing thread.
The polyester threads are good but I prefer to use silk thread. I find it has less tendency to shred while stitching.
Original Guetermann Silk Sewing Thread; 110 yards/100 meters, Color 000 (black)

More Saami Crafts

How to weave with a Beaivi double hole heddle.

Saami Reindeer Leather Purse

Reindeer Leather Purse
Saami Reindeer Leather Purse on Etsy

Saami Music – Itunes

Binna Banna – Kikki Aikio
Áphi (Wide As Oceans) – Sofia Jannok
Ulda – Ulla Pirttijärvi & Ulda
The Kautokeino Rebellion (Music from the Movie) – Herman Rundberg, Mari Boine & Svein Schultz
Beaivi, Áhcázan (The Sun, My Father) – Nils-Aslak Valkeapää

What is Sami Duodji

Sami Duodji is all traditional handicraft that is made by the Saami people. The crafts are both artistic and have a functional purpose such as tools, clothing, knives, cups, bags, hats, belts, laces. These items have been made by hand for many centuries and were used in everyday Sami life.
Recently there has been a growing interest in Sami crafts throughout the world. I think it is wonderful that other crafts people are learning about traditional Sami style handicrafts and techniques.

In the early 1970’s, the Sami organized their cottage industry into Sami Duodji craft organizations whose purpose is to promote Sami handicrafts and provide an advocacy and monitoring role in quality control, training and professional development. The organizations help to ensure raw materials and supplies for makers and producers, and promote the protection and legal knowledge on a non-profit basis. Also the organizations help to foster contacts with government entities and organizations in the Nordic countries.

Members of the Sami Duodji association use a Duodji mark that identifies the products as made by authentic Sami people. The Duodji mark is administered by different organizations.
In Finland, Sami Duodji Finland
In Norway “Sámiid Duodji”
In Sweden, “Riksorganisationen Same Ätnam2
In Russia, “CEPES Sam Arts and Crafts Association”

To be a member of the Sami Duodji organization the person must have previous handicraft training and experience.
The Sámi means a person who considers himself a Sámi, and
– Who has learned the Sami language as their first language, or the father, mother, grandmother, or grandfather has learned Sami as their first language, or
– Whose parents meet at least one of these Sami mentioned conditions

Sami Duodji Trademark

The purpose of the Sami Duodji trademark :
– The mark is a trademark of Sámi handicraft
– Indicates the buyers that the manufacturer of the goods is the Sami
– To protect Sami handicraft quality
– To be a sign that the Sámi handicraft is a living tradition.
The products must be developed in a traditional way or use traditional materials.
Products that are intended for souvenirs and have no traditional or functional use, do not use Sámi Duodji trademark.

Please help support the Sami Duodji craft industry by purchasing products made by Saami people or purchasing materials for your crafts from Sami suppliers.

As my father was a Saami, born in Kola and lived in Petsamo throughout most of his childhood, I consider myself also to be Saami. My grandmother earned her living by herding reindeer and making handicrafts. She traveled to Norway during the summer months to sell her crafted items. Therefore I have a strong interest in learning more about the Saami duodji crafts of my ancestors. As I pursue this area of study, I will be posting articles on my explorations.

Saami Handicrafts

Saami Double Slot Weaving Reed
Beaivi – How to Weave on a Double Hole Sami Heddle

Saami Music – Itunes

Binna Banna – Kikki Aikio
Áphi (Wide As Oceans) – Sofia Jannok
Ulda – Ulla Pirttijärvi & Ulda
The Kautokeino Rebellion (Music from the Movie) – Herman Rundberg, Mari Boine & Svein Schultz
Beaivi, Áhcázan (The Sun, My Father) – Nils-Aslak Valkeapää

Nilus Tapestry Loom for Sale


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