Sami Inspired Bracelets by Katherine Buenger

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This jewelry is based on the designs of the Sami people. These Finno-Ugric people are from Arctic parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia They were originally hunters and gatherers and are known for reindeer herding. The nomadic Sami people have been herding reindeer for centuries, moving their herds from summer and winter pastures. Every part of the reindeer was used; meat and milk for eating, skin and fur for clothing, tendons and veins for the thread, and antlers for tools and crafts. Today there are over 80,000 Sami people living in the northern Nordic countries and many of them still make their living herding reindeer.

What are those bracelets seen on the wrists of
Benedict Cumberbatch, Usher, Sheryl Crow, and Dennis Quaid?

 

They are Sami bracelets made by SwedArt. They have become quite popular and are also fun to make.

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The jewelry is constructed with traditional materials including a tin thread (pewter with 4% silver), reindeer leather, and reindeer antler buttons.

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Tin thread is a fine wire wrapped around a core originally made of reindeer tendon (sinew). Other spun threads like this made with precious metals have been found as far back as the Viking Age and were commonly found throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.  The Sami people made tin or pewter thread, as silver and gold were more expensive than tin. Also, tin is a softer metal, which makes it easier to work with. Molten tin was poured into hollowed out twigs; the resulting rod was then pulled through different sized holes of a draw plate made from reindeer antlers. When the wire was thin enough it would be spun onto sinew the same width as the wire. Originally this thread was used to do embroidery, decorating their clothing and other belongings. It is believed as tourism to this area become more popular in the late 1800s they started making the bracelets as something to sell. The thread today is manufactured commercially with a cotton core. It comes in several gauges. In addition to the tin thread being made today, there is also gold-plated, copper, and enameled copper, which comes in many beautiful colors.

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Reindeer skin is very thin and strong, making it a good choice for these bracelets. Early on, the leather tanning process involved soaking the hide in tannic acids made from tree bark. Different species of trees produced different colored hides, mostly shades of browns. Today the leather is sometimes chemically tanned. Dying the leather offers a wide range of colors. While reindeer leather would be used by the Sami people, lamb and other leathers are also used.

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Unlike the rest of the deer families, reindeer antlers are found on both males and females. Antlers on the male reindeer are primarily used during mating season and they are shed in the late fall. Females keep their antlers until spring, using them to defend food territories. Rudolph and the rest of Santa’s team are most likely all females.

 
Sinew was widely used as thread in the pre-industrial world. Today synthetic sinew can be used for an authentic look when sewing these bracelets.  One woman I know learned to make bracelets in Sweden and they used dental floss as a thread.

 

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To make these bracelets, a tin thread is usually braided into a three or four strand braid. A braid or multiple braids are then hand stitched down the center of a leather strip that is twice the width of the finished bracelet. The leather is then folded in and stitched closed on the backside of the bracelet. An antler button and leather loop are used as a closure. By adding a leather cord or a twisted tin thread to the braid or changing the number of threads in each strand, a vast number of patterns can be achieved. Beads can also be added to the braids making for endless possible designs.

Katherine-Buenger-Crop

Katherine Buenger

Woodbury, MN

buengerstudios.com

Katherine has a degree in studio art from Macalester College. She enjoys many fiber-related arts, including weaving, spinning, ply-split braiding, and braiding with Sami tin thread. Whether it is spinning the yellow pages, computer tape, or adding telephone wire to weavings and braids, she likes finding something different and fun to do with her art. She is not afraid to break the rules and try something new and encourages others to do the same. Katherine has taught Sami-inspired bracelets at The Weavers Guild of Minnesota, Midwest Weavers Conference, Minnesota Federation of Weavers and Spinners, and other venues in the Midwest. After teaching hundreds of students, she is still having fun sharing this Sami-inspired craft with others.

 

Sources
Tenntrads Borderier by Mona Callenberg
Reindeerherding.org
Nordnorge.com

One comment on “Sami Inspired Bracelets by Katherine Buenger

  1. Hi Catherine…wondering if you are available for teaching a class on the Sami bracelet to a group of my boundary waters women. We recently bought a bracelet from you for one of the members who retired…and will be moving to Florida soon! Wondering if you would be available on October 1 or the 10. I would host the gathering at my home in White Bear Lake. If you would need to talk to me, my phone number is 651 429-3957(home) or 651 247-7691(cell). Thanks. Paulette

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