Tin thread bracelets are a search query that keeps popping up in my blog stats. I've also received several e-mails about where to buy tin thread (or pewter thread if you prefer) as it's not readily available outside Scandinavia. So for some time I've been thinking about writing an article with resources concerning this type of jewellery. And why then not do it already today? I did and here it is -- all about tin thread in english.
What is tin thread?Tin thread or pewter thread is a gimp, that is a core around which fiber or fine metal wire is wound. In this case it's a fine silver-tin wire spun around a cotton core. There are also gold-plated thread aswell as copper and enamelled copper threads available today.
Metal threads made like this were common throughout Europe since the Middle Ages, but mostly they were made using precious metal. In Scandinavia, where gold and silver threads were used, it seems like the Sami where the only ones making tin thread. Originally reindeer sinew was used as a core, but nowadays a textile core is used. While the threads can now be made with machines, some sami artisans still make their own tin thread by hand.
The thread come in different sizes and to make it complicated, the width measurement is often based on the thickness of the core, which determines the width of the finished thread, not the whole tin thread. If the thread is said to be 0,3 mm then it will in fact be about 0,7-0,8 mm. 0,35 mm tin thread is 0,9-1,0 mm thick and 0,4 mm thread is 1,05-1,15 mm in diameter.
What's the history behind sami tin thread bracelets?Tin thread has been used in traditional Sami embroidery since at least the Middle Ages. Nowadays it's mostly used in bracelets and jewellery where tin thread braids are stitched onto reindeer hide. The jewellery is often called a traditional Sami handicraft, but isn't as old as the embroidery. It was most likely first made for the tourists that began to holiday in the northerns mountains around the early 1900's. In Sweden this type of jewellery, mostly bracelets, is made by non-Sami and Sami crafters alike.
Making these bracelets was popular when I was a kid (80's, early 90's). I also think it had a certain rise in popularity during the 70's as well, when all things traditional craft where in vogue, but I'm to young to know that for sure. Some years years ago tin thread braiding again became popular, but this time it was more about colours. Instead of just natural or dark brown or black dyed hides, craft stores began selling dyed and patterned strips of hide. And there was also a wide variety of colours in the threads, not just the traditional tin threads, but enamelled spun copper threads. The "tin thead bracelet trend" seem to be constantly evolving: a couple of years ago I noticed that the red, moss green, black and blue was gone from the craft chain catalogue I got. Instead there was silver and lilac hide -- lamb, not reindeer -- matched with the silver-grey tin thread. They pitched it as"folklore gone glam". And last year I could find bright, almost neon tin thread and hides as well as patterned reindeer hide. Of cause, there's still the more traditional dark brown and black reindeer hide too.
I do not know how many more years it will be trendy for crafters and hobbyist jewellery-makers to make these bracelets, but I do know that it never really seems to fall out of fashion: there are always a few people making these, especially in the North.
How do I make tin thread braided jewellery?
As far as I know there aren't many instructions in english for making tin thread bracelets. I have found three project in english at Not Only Quilts: Sami bracelet -- the tutorial, Simple Katarina bracelet och Macrame. Some years ago I did spot a US place that taught tin thread bracelet making, but I can't recall their name and don't know if they still do it.
As you can translate websites using Google Translate, instructions and tutorials in swedish can be useful too. You can find a couple of how-tos at e.g. Slöjd-Detaljer, YLE and Min Fritid. You can also make braided or knotted jewellery without the hide foundation -- see Med glimten i ögat and YLE.
Panduro Hobby have a free pdf pamphlet with how-tos in swedish, danish and norwegian here.
Books in swedish include Tenntrådsflätning by Maggie Alexandersson (Brevskolan) and Tenntrådsbroderier by Mona Callenberg (ICA Bokförlag). The latter is more about tin thread embroidery than about tin thread jewellery, though. Gällivare Textil have published a pamphlet called Gällivare Textils Mönsterbok för skinnsömnad och tenntrådsbroderi. And for those who learn best from watching others, Agnetas Allehanda have made instructional DVDs.
For some pure eye candy, my favourite place to go is Sarakka Design.
Where can I buy tin thread?
Outside Scandinavia it appears to be tricky to find tin thread and tin thread jewellery supplies. You are really stuck with two options: ask your local craft store or bead shop to carry it -- or buy from a scandinavian seller.
A few places in Sweden, that I know deliver internationally, are Agnetas Allehanda (wellknown source for materials and courses), Kero and TNKreativt (formerly Luletråden). There are more places, I guess, both in Sweden and in the other Scandinavian countries, but these are the better known sources. Gällivare Textil is also a shop I've heard good things about, but I'm not sure if they deliver internationally. One shop that do offer international delivery, but which I doesn't know anything about is Sörbyns Tenntråd. I also think Slöjdmaterial i Luleå and Smyckestillbehor.se (scroll to end of page) sells internationally, judging from the fact the websites are in english as well as swedish.
Then there's the chain where much of my own thread comes from, Panduro. It's a Danish chain of craft shops, based in Sweden nowadays, and they also have international websites, which you can find here.
These sellers all have supplies ranging from threads and reindeer hide to reindeer horn buttons and jewellery kits. Some of them also carry books or how-to pamphlets.
NB! Be prepared -- some shops charge a rather hefty shipping cost, especially if buying whole rolls as they are pretty bulky. It's probably best to contact the shop first to get an estimate if you are unsure about the costs. Remember that if you're outside the EU, you can deduct the moms (VAT/sales tax) off the retail prices (sometimes you can view the prices without moms directly and wholesale prices for businesses are always quoted without moms). That's 20 % off the listed retail price.