Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tiny Birch Bark Canoe Tutorial

If you find this, or one of my other tutorials, helpful and would like to make a monetary contribution to help me keep wool in my basket and ideas flowing, I'd be so grateful.  By clicking the "Buy Now" button below you can choose your own price for the tutorial.  It's completely optional, but oh so appreciated.


As promised, a birch bark tutorial! 
Since so many people seemed to love these tiny birch bark canoes, I thought I'd share how I make them.

What you'll need:

birch bark (bark, not birch paper)
raffia or waxed thread/artificial sinew
a sturdy needle
small twigs
clothespins or small binder clips

I've found it really helpful to soak the birch bark for several hours or overnight before doing this project.  It makes the bark more pliable and seems to keep it from tearing quite so easily.  If your bark starts to dry out while you're sewing you can dunk it in a bowl of water or steam it with your steam iron (which is also a nice way to convince pieces of bark to lie flat since the bark wants to curl up.  Perfect for making gift tags.).

Cut a rectangle of bark to the length and twice the height of the boat you want to make.  The piece I've cut is about 2 1/2" x 2".  Gently fold it in half but don't try to crease it.  I lay my finger along the center and use even pressure when I fold.

Cut the top curve of the canoe while holding the top edges together, making sure to get a symmetrical cut.

Clip a clothespin on one end of your canoe to hold it in place while you cut the curves at the other end of the canoe, again making sure the two sides match up evenly.  Repeat for the other side.

You now have your canoe shape and can begin to sew.  Use the clothespins or binder clips to hold the ends together while you work or to hold the piece together if you have to leave the project for a minute.

Thread your raffia or waxed thread onto your needle and prepare to sew.  You'll be sewing the entire canoe with one length of thread so make sure  you snip a long enough piece.  I cut about 20" for this tiny canoe.

note: if you have a dremel tool with a very tiny drill bit you can pre-drill your holes.  This makes the job much easier and the bark is less likely to tear while sewing.  If you don't have one it's OK, just sew carefully and keep a distance between your stitch holes and the edge of the bark.

Begin stitching at the bottom of one end, sewing through both layers of bark.  Sew up the curve and over the top of the "point" using a whipstitch.

Hold a twig flush to the side of the canoe and whipstitch around it and the top edge of the canoe side. 

When you reach the "point" on the other end of the canoe, stitch through both layers of bark, down then back up the second curved end, making an "x" or shoelace pattern.

When you reach the top of the curve your needle should be on the unfinished side of the canoe.  Sew a twig to this side as you had done on the other side.

Sew the "x" pattern down the end curve, and tie a small knot at the end.  Trim any excess twig and you have a canoe!

I choose to add some decorative stitches under the twig supports, but you can leave it as is if you'd like.  You can add a loop to use as a hanging ornament also.

You can also simplify the process by just sewing each end and skip the twig supports.  This style is more prone to tearing so handle these with care.

I made one of these canoes out of a cereal box for the boys to play with and the cardboard is a great weight to practice with.  I think these would also be really sweet made out of felt.

This is a decorative canoe and won't float as is.  By sealing the holes and weighting it properly though, it could be.

If you give this a try, I'd love to know how it turns out.
Happy sailing!

My PSA:  I think it should be noted that I gather my birch bark from trees that fall in our woods.  You can read about that process here.  Although I've read that you can harvest birch safely from a live tree, it seems unnecessary and destructive to me.  That's not my kind of thing.  Birches are plentiful where I live, but if they're not plentiful in yours, I'd bet you can find some suppliers of sustainable bark online.


lynn bowes said...

Girl, I do wish we lived closer. I can just see a cozy workshop with a huge wooden plank of a workbench where we could bring tutorials to life. Me, you, O, Two Dog . . . . metal, fire, wool, leather, piles of acorns.

Laura said...

Great tutorial! Thanks so much. Now I need to find me some birch bark.

Amanda Pedro said...

thanks for the great tutorial. I was silently bemoaning that I didn't have any birch bark to try it and before I could think out of the box, you suggested felt. I have an aunt who is an avid canoeist and would appreciated this!
thanks and best to you and your time.

Moogie said...

What a perfectly detailed tutorial! Thank you so much, we will definitely be making some of these.

kristin said...

thank you lisa!! these disappeared so quickly from your shop and i was sad to miss the chance...but i did find some fallen birch trees on my last trip to my cabin "up north"...i'll let you know how it goes. :)

Paul Baxendale said...

So Cute!!! What a great tutorial!!!

KarenB said...

I agree with Kristin. Your canoe's disappeared really fast. I'm saving this for a time when I can come up with birch bark. I used to live in New England with a yard full of birch trees. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Lisa ~ OMGoodness - absolutely fabulous!
How kind, how nice, of you to post a tutorial for us.
Extra gift under the tree from Santa for you I'm sure...Candy

Margie Oomen said...

i think this might just be my favorite tutorial of 2010
over the holidays i might just make an entire fleet of them for all the snails in the spring

joanie said...

Such a pretty tutorial. I love these, I wonder if I can find any large enough pieces of bark, and some really small oars :)

Unknown said...

You are just too adorable! I love this I have to hunt down some birch bark.

Abby said...

This is one of the sweetest tutorials I have seen in a long time. If birch bark were more plentiful here (like, if there were any at all?) I don't think I could resist trying this.

lynda Howells said...

Fantastic tutorial. I am off to the woods tomorrow, where we have a lot of fallen birch trees. I have been doing some experiments with birch bark in my art...this could be an another amazing findxxxthank you for sharing.x lynda

Kathy said...

Great tutorial....and really fine blog.......I a off to ravage my birch tree.

kate dolamore said...

Thank you for this lovely tutorial! I wish I had birch trees here, they are few and far between. I may just do the cereal box or think of something else... this would be so cute on the dream catcher I am making.

Simona Inserra said...

thank you! wonderful tutorial!

Patricia said...

Lisa, thank you so much for sharing this tutorial. I can't describe the delight my kids and I experienced when I opened the package from you today and saw the teeny tiny canoe. I can't believe how lucky I am to have one made by your hands. The care that you express with your stitching, your respect for the natural world--such a rare and beautiful combination. We have lots of birch bark back home in Ithaca; we'll have to see if we can find any in MD. xoxoxo!!

Halligan Norris said...

this is the best diy I've seen this holiday season. Holy Moly.

nicole said...

this is amazing! I am going to link to this tutorial. wonderful blog too!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday today. Thanks for sharing this tutorial about the tiny boats. How awesome. Im going to try making one of these. Well see. Have a nice day!

Fée des Bois said...

Thank you for your great tutorial!
I really love your work !
Thank you sooo much !

jonahliza said...

this is so beautiful. thank you for this post, and inspiring blog <3

Maria Blanca "AyamontinoMaria" said...

A great tutorial with a great result! Congratulations..Hugs

Apol Massebieau said...

Wow! I love this. I'll try to make some with my little girl. Thank you for the inspiration.

kris@thebigboat said...

I just found you through Maya! I love the little birch bark canoe, and plan to make some in our summer escapades "up North".

LindyLaine said...

Just spotted a link to this from your current blog entry, I've been wanting to make a teddy in a canoe for ages, will definitely try this soon, though it'll probably have to be in felt as I have no idea where to find the bark around here. Thank you :)

Unknown said...

I so love these just gotta find the.bits to do it my boys would love these. Thank you for sharing from.the uk ;)

Unknown said...

You mention that they would tear easily if you didn't add the twigs. What if you just sewed across the two side edges without adding the twigs? Would that help it tear less, or make it even more fragile? I was thinking of making these as a party favor for my daughter's canoeing birthday party!

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

Tallessyn - they should be fine for light handling if you just sewed the ends. Some bark pieces seem to tear more easily than others too. It's definitely worth a try. Good luck!

Unknown said...

Hi I found you on Google images -- after I blogged about someone making a birch canoe for me when I was a kid. I know you posted this blog a few years ago. Are you still making these birch canoes? Do you have an Etsy store?

Thanks so much!


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