Bert-Hyde

Family Classes: Beaver Hat Story

Now is a good time to think about setting up a class with friends or family for a reunion in the coming months. Students have really enjoyed sharing time and learning with friends and relatives, and we can custom design a class for you! Just read this story below for a little inspiration!


I was introduced to the Ely Folk School a few years ago when I stumbled across a Beaver Hide Sewing class noting I could make a hat or mittens out of a beaver fur. It was the middle of the winter and if you are going to survive here you need to find something to do, so I said what the heck. I grabbed a room in beautiful Ely for a couple nights and enjoyed the peace of the area at this time of year. I had never done anything like this before, however Bert and Mark, the instructors, made me feel welcome and  were patient with the novices. They were knowledgeable and open to questions, and I ended up with a fantastic hat. Fast forward a year and I pulled a friend along with me and we made the mitts. Once again Bert and Mark were great. These hats and mitts are amazing; if there is one complaint it is that they are too warm.

Of course I am a show off and showed my friends and family my prizes. People loved them, and I told them about the folk school and many showed interest in taking the class. Somewhere in my brain I formulated a plan between Christmas and this class. Christmas has changed as our family has expanded, and our culture has changed as well. My kids, nieces and nephews do not need anything anymore and quite frankly they do not want anything anymore. So it was getting hard to get presents for them and gift cards became a bit impersonal. I remembered that Bert and Mark had said they could run a private class if people could get a group together. I ran the idea past the “adults” of the family of replacing Christmas gifts (we still get together on Christmas) with the Beaver Hide class. A bit to my surprise everybody was very interested. I called the folk school and spoke with Betty, she got in touch with Bert and Mark, and after a couple exchanges of emails a date was set in January.

We rented a log cabin on a lake so all 16 of us could fit and be together. The class was on Saturday and we woke up to -27o F, a fitting day to sew some beaver hide. Once again Bert and Mark were at their finest. They were patient and engaging with this group of young adults–nine “kids” ranging from 15 to 26. The instructors explained the entire process, then the students stretched the skins, marked out the patterns, cut the fur and started sewing. Some were perfectionists and others were competing for speed. We had a great day with a couple of the “adults” staying with the “kids.” It was great to watch them all interact without the aid of their electronic devices. They sewed most of the morning, and then we ran across the street for a fabulous lunch at the Ely Steak House and were back at it for the afternoon. We ended up with seven hats and two sets of mitts–all works of art. We went back to the cabin for some more fellowship and then headed back to SE Minnesota the next day.

The class was amazing, Bert and Mark were fabulous, the facility was great, Ely was beautiful, but most of all the memories of that day continue. There is rarely a time we are together that the weekend does not come up, and it is great fun to see everyone using their creations on our cold days. They are quite proud of their work, and it will last much longer than a gift card.

I continue to let people know about these hidden treasures people call folk schools. They are keeping tradition alive before it becomes just a memory. We look forward to the opportunity to do more classes with the Ely Folk School.

The Chmeliks – 

Greg & Julie, Dalton & Dallas, Tristan, Lori Jo & Mike, Danielle & Alex, Shivohn & Drew, Mike & Teresa, Joe, Cecelia and Darlene (Grandma)

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