I’ve been blacksmithing on and off since 2004. In 2017 I assembled my own forge, and soon after that, I built myself a little lean-to-style workshop so I would have a dry space to create. It is hard but satisfying work.
I burn myself all the time, but that usually happens in the kitchen, rarely at the forge.
I was first attracted to welding and blacksmithing while attending Kootenay School of the Arts, where I had intended to study ceramics. I was terrible at ceramics. Other students were throwing beautiful, delicate pots; mine were short and chunky and usually lopsided after I clumsily removed them from the throwing wheel. Fortunately for me, we were encouraged to try other media, and I fell hard for metalwork – particularly welding and blacksmithing. It is difficult to break something you’ve made out of steel.
After accumulating an eclectic and rather heavy pile of hand-made school projects, I continued to dabble in metal until 2013 when I joined Inclined Elevation for a season of welding on Muskoka’s dramatic rocky shorelines. After that skin-thickening experience, I was quickly scooped up by a special effects and set-building company in Toronto where I got to work on interesting projects like hand-maneuverable car-flipping rigs and the set for Drake’s Hotline Bling music video. It was fun, it was rewarding, and it all sort of happened serendipitously. These days I do metalwork mostly for enjoyment, to fix things, and for the feeling of empowerment it still brings.
My shop is called Persephone Forge, named after a goddess who, in Greek mythology, is a symbol of both the underworld and nature’s bounty – sometimes depicted holding a torch, other times a sheaf of wheat or a cornucopia. As someone who spends oodles of time in nature and loves to grow things, the name fits. Oddly enough, the name popped into my mind and settled there before I knew anything about the myth of Persephone.
I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a family with very little gender bias. I didn’t feel like anything was unavailable to me because of gender. My siblings and I were equally encouraged to learn to chop wood, maintain our vehicles and build things. My sister and I both became women who consider drills and sewing machines to be equally accessible power tools. On one hand, I’m proud to be a woman who works with hot, heavy materials and loud, sparky tools, and on the other hand, I think it’s kind of goofy that that’s still fairly uncommon.
Something I realized early on is that skills are so transferrable from one trade to the next. Years ago my friend Stacey taught me to sew and quilt – properly! She was a stickler for good technique: careful measurements, precise cuts, attention to detail. Later, as I worked as an industrial welder (and insisted on calling the electrode my wand), I noticed that my most valuable skills were the ones I learned from Stacey. (I also thought that making a good weld was a heck of a lot like piping icing onto a cake — that shit’s not easy.)
What I’m getting at here is this: If you are afraid to get into a particular craft or trade because you fear you lack the skills and qualifications, don’t be. If you are already a person who likes to make stuff, you have some transferrable skills. The most important attributes of tradespeople, in my opinion, are attention and care.
Scared of power tools? Scared of burning yourself or cutting your hand off? Good. You should be. Fear is a strength. This is why I burn myself in the kitchen – because I don’t have nearly enough fear when I’m baking cookies. People who are fearless around heavy objects and power tools get hurt, and hurt others. This is my observation and unfortunately my personal experience. Going slow, taking time for safety, watching your limbs, watching out for other people around you – these are important things that are sorely lacking in workplaces that celebrate machismo.
I love to make things. Out of steel, out of sound, out of wood, out of fabric, out of paper and ink. While I can’t say I mind being seen as someone who is especially talented, I don’t think that’s really true. I’m just interested, willing and stubborn. Maybe my talent is my willingness to try and learn and sometimes fail. When it comes to learning a craft or trade, mindset is everything. Gender is not.