Aug 282014

This is the fourth and final post about the 2014 Iowa State Fair, but this one wouldn’t have been written at all if John and I had followed our original intentions, which were to take in the sights, sounds and tastes at the fair, but not to go shopping. Well, you know that old phrase about the “best laid plans of mice and men?” Our plans evaporated when we entered the Walnut Center Crafts building because that’s where you’ll find many of the handmade products that are for sale. And we handcrafters have to stick together, you know. We support each other not only with words of admiration, but also with our wallets. So, here we go with a show-and-tell!

What captured our eyes immediately was a display of hand-hammered plates made from recycled aluminum by American Forging, a company owned by Dan and Nick Davenport, with locations in Des Moines, Iowa and Millington, Michigan. Their process involves hand engraving a design in reverse into a block of steel with a hammer and chisel, then placing the recycled aluminum onto the block and forcing the metal into the engraving. This creates a “forward image.” The piece is then cut to size, edged and colored, and polished. This process is actually based on an art form called repoussé, a French word related to the Latin verb pulsare, which means to push up, and describes exactly what happens when you hammer a design from the back into a piece of metal. The process takes advantage of the elasticity of metal. Because we have a nautical theme in our guest bathroom, we thought the plate below would fit in nicely.

DSCN8348John fell in love with a carved wooden hedgehog made by Jan Dwyer of Bridgewater, Iowa. Jan and her husband, Dean, have been carving from catalpa wood for more than 30 years. The wood itself comes from catalpa trees that need to be cut down for one reason or another.  Catalpa wood is apparently very soft, and when it is dried, the bark shrinks with the wood and doesn’t come off. The Dwyers work with the bark side of the wood, with Jan drawing the designs and Dean cutting them out with a band saw. Jan then does final shaping with a palm sander, spindle sander and Dremel tools. The wood is stained to bring out its beautiful grain, and then finish coats are applied. Melissa of Mulberry Creek blogs in more detail about the Dwyers in her post, Jan Dwyer Collectibles, so please visit her post to learn more about this crafting couple. The Dwyers do not have a Web site, but you can e-mail Jan at, or call her at 641-369-2791.


We have been buying pottery pieces for a number of years from Connie Braunschweig of Alta, Iowa, who has been running Braunschweig Pottery since the 1980s. Her work is distinctive in that her inspiration from nature is always evident. You’ll often see, for example, leaf-shaped dishes, or leaf-inscribed trays. And her work is just as clean on the back as it is on the front; you don’t have to worry about the bottoms of her pieces scratching the surface on which they rest. Connie’s decorative-but-functional pottery is hand-built from rolled-out clay slabs, and she uses leaves and grasses for texturing. The photos below show not only the wall vase and leaf tray (which I am using as a spoon rest) that we purchased this year, but also a cracker tray we bought previously. You can wash Connie’s lead-free pottery by hand or in the dishwasher, and you can heat it up in the oven. You can bet we will be purchasing future pieces!

Connie Braunschweig

Our final purchase at the Iowa State Fair was found not at the Walnut Center, but instead in the Varied Industries Building at the Kalona tourism booth. If you’re unfamiliar with Kalona, it is a charming rural community located in eastern Iowa. Known for its rich quilting history, the Amish, cheese curds, and the Kalona Historical Village, the town offers visitors numerous ways to take a trip back in time and learn about life in the mid 1800s. This is one of those places John and I have been wishing to visit during the entire time we’ve lived in Iowa, and this fall may prove to be the time when we finally do so. At the state fair booth, however, we supported Kalona’s tourist industry by purchasing some caramel corn for John, some beverage coasters we can use when we do our annual cabin retreat at Backbone State Park in northeastern Iowa, and a wooden bookmark for me. The bookmark is handcrafted from an assortment of laminated hardwoods by JK Creative Wood in Kalona, and reminds me of a quilted border pattern. “JK” stands for Joel Brokaw and his wife, Karma, master craftsman and design artist, respectively, who own the six-generation family business. The kiln-dried wood that goes into their products uses woods I have never heard of, plus others that are familiar: cherry, maple, walnut, elm, mahogany, cedar, purpleheart (South America), padauk (Africa), jatoba (South America), ziricote (Central America), chakte coc (Central America), and wenge (Africa). The wood is never stained, so what you see is what you are truly getting. If you want to see what these woods look like, a great visual resource is the World Timber Corporation Web site. Or, you can visit the JK Creative Wood page on Facebook to see some of their products.


One of the wonderful things about any state fair you attend is that you grow your appreciation for all that your state has to offer. Wherever you live, I hope you take advantage of your local, county or state fair’s offerings.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Mar 012014

NcM_Logo_colorUntil I saw a giveaway drawing earlier today, offered at Craftsy, I didn’t realize that March is National Craft Month. Who started this, and how is it being celebrated? The anwer is that you need look no further than the Craft & Hobby Association (CHA) Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Craft & Hobby Association, a not-for-profit trade association. CHA Foundation’s purpose is “to serve as a catalyst for enhancing life through creative expression throughout the world.” It does so by encouraging people to get involved in the CRE8TIME Movement during National Craft Month (or anytime).

CRE8TIME is an initiative that is all about reclaiming a few minutes every day or every week to be creative in some way, whether you write, compose music, craft floral arrangements, knit, sew, paint, design jewelry, weave baskets, or anything else. The folks at tell you that “CRE8TIME is a movement to raise awareness for the need to devote more time for creative expression, and provide a forum for you to share your experiences–the joys, lessons, and results—with the creative community at large.” If you do something creative, for example, share it with one of your favorite social networks (such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram) using this hashtag: #Cre8Time. Not sure where to start? You can download a monthly calendar filled with ideas for every day of the month: CRE8TIME Monthly Calendar. You can help advance the cause of the CRE8TIME movement by visiting the Join the Movement page of CRE8TIME, and subscribing to its mailing list.

So, what’s going on in the Web world in recognition of National Craft Month?

Visit the CRE8TIME page on Facebook, first of all, and begin following it. Then, “Craft your passion for National Craft Month and enter to win!” Make something you feel passionate about, take a picture of it, and upload it to the #CRE8TIME Facebook contest app ( or on Instagram ( Don’t forget to add the #CRE8TIME hashtag. Explain what your entry is about in the photo description area. Click here to enter:


Craftsy is  kicking off National Craft Month with a free class giveaway for three people. All you have to do is join the Craftsy site, if you have not already done so, and then click on the giveaway link. Joining costs you nothing, and there are free patterns and free mini classes you can enjoy anytime. You can click on either the photo below or this link to enter the drawing: The deadline to enter is March 31st, 2014, at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be notified by e-mail on April 1st, 2014.

Craftsy Free Class Drawing

Interweave’s Knitting Daily community is selecting 10 winners to receive prizes from its partners. Each prize is worth at least $25. To enter Knitting Daily’s random drawing, click on National Craft Month Giveaway and scroll to the entry form at the bottom of the page. You must enter by Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 11:50 p.m. PST. The winners will be announced on Monday, March 10. The sponsoring partners include:

  • The Musk Ox Farm of Palmer, Alaska sells hand-combed Qiviut yarns. It is offering its own giveaway. To get a free pattern and a discount for National Craft Month, and to enter the giveway, click on this link:
  • Go-Organize sells modular furniture for craft supplies storage needs.
  • Red Heart Reflective Yarn. Check out Red Heart’s free yarn patterns HERE.
  • Skacel Collection, Inc. features Simplinatural, HiKoo’s newest luxury six-ply fiber that combines wool, alpaca and silk.
  • Classic Elite Yarns offers a free weekly newsletter where you can find free patterns.
  • Chicken Boots sells organizers for your knitting and crochet tools and yarns.
  • Yarn Pop Top Shelf Totes are adorable zipper bags to keep you organized while you’re on-the-go.
  • Della Q sells bags and needlecases for knitters.
  • Imperial Yarn sells premium yarns such as Tracie too sport weight yarn. Take advantage of their free patterns HERE.
  • Harrisville Designs features Shetland and Highland wool yarns.

Save 30% March 1-6 at the Interweave store.

Fusion Beads is challenging beaders everywhere to join in a 30-day challenge for National Craft Month. Download their 30-day calendar HERE, and share photos of your finished creations on the Fusion Beads Facebook page. You can also blog about your creations. You’ll find the challenge here:

Image courtesy of Ahmet Guler /

Image courtesy of Ahmet Guler /

Besides offering discounts during the entire month of March that are tied in with National Craft Month, Jo-Ann Fabrics is sponsoring the Big Craft Challenge on Instagram. Here how it works: every day a new challenge will be posted. Take a photo of your solution or answer, and post it on Instagram using the hashtag, #BIGCRAFTCHALLENGE. On April 4, 2014, 5 winners will be announced via Jo-Ann Instagram who will receive a $250 gift card to Jo-Ann Fabrics and Craft Stores. You’ll find all of the challenges for the month on Instagram HERE, or visit Jo-Ann Instagram.


There are many other retailers from the craft and hobby industry who are participating in National Craft Month. Visit these links to learn more:

If you learn about other activities, challenges or giveaways related to National Craft Month 2014, please share them in the comments below. This annual month-long event is all about celebrating the things you make with your hands. Share your passion through your favorite social networks, blog about something you’ve made, or teach someone else what you’re passionate about.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved