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Local artisans repurpose flatware

The idea is actually a brilliant one for several reasons

A Virden family has found a unique and artistic way to re-purpose relinquished and often long-forgotten flatware into beautiful pieces of jewellery, while creating an opportunity to spend quality time together as a family and teach their son a thing or two about business, history and life in general. 
Greg, Tracy and Tyson Gill operate Steel Leaf Designs, a home-based business that designs and crafts jewellery from ordinary kitchen cutlery. 
Greg had always been intrigued by metalsmithing and blacksmithing, and followed through with that interest by taking a blacksmithing course back in 2017, prior to their move to Virden. Steel Leaf was born shortly thereafter. 
“We wanted to start a small business to spend time together and teach Tyson about business and managing money,” said Greg. “After looking into ideas where we could incorporate metal and Tyson’s love of thrifting, we came up with reusing items (primarily silverware) to make jewellery.”
Greg had first seen the idea at a farmer’s market in Kenora, Ont. and thought to himself, ‘hey I could do that’. 
“Flatware seemed (like an) easy (choice) at the time,” said Greg, the family artisan. “Little did I know there was a pretty steep learning curve that required plenty of practice.”
The idea is actually a brilliant one for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s the ultimate example of re-purposing a regular everyday item or vintage silverware piece that usually ends up in the second-hand store or at a household auction when the party for which it was first intended is done with it. Secondly, it creates a stylish piece of modern wearable art in all shapes, sizes and designs for the entire family; and it represents an important link to the past as each piece has its own unique history.
Their most popular piece is the spoon ring which is pretty much is as it sounds; a spoon head that is flattened and shaped into a circular band with the handle wrapped around it. In fact, according to the Gill family, the origins of the spoon ring date back to 17th century England. It was common for a wealthy family’s crest to be displayed on their intricate, specially-designed silverware and was considered highly-prized. These same wealthy families employed many servants. Popular folklore has it that servants used to steal a flatware piece from their master’s home and shape it into a ring to give it to their beloved as a marriage proposal as they could not afford to buy a ‘proper’ engagement ring otherwise. Therefore, the earliest spoon rings served as symbols of love and commitment, in defiance of strict social and economic barriers.
The Gill family also craft bracelets, pendants, keychains and bookmarks from the varying parts of the flatware, and are currently looking at ideas for earrings. They found that the feather bookmarks and the tie-dye items were well received. The whole family is involved in the creative process, coming up with ideas for different designs and variations of ways to use the flatware pieces. Each member contributes in their own area of interest and expertise, and everyone has an important role to play: from creative design, to craftsmanship, to bookkeeping, to sales and marketing, to packaging, shipping and delivery and everything in between.
They welcome custom orders and have been commissioned for an owl pendant, an arrowhead pendant and rings made out of family flatware as keepsakes. 
Greg uses a variety of techniques including hot and cold forging, pressing, etching and stock removal. Originally the items were a lot of mild (low carbon) steel and evolved into silverware and copper. 
They report that copper rings and bracelets are in high demand due to the associated potential health benefits that some people claim to have experienced.
The business is a great fit for the Virden family of three. “I like that I am able to use my interior design knowledge and Greg uses his business knowledge (as well as his interest in metalsmithing), and Tyson has just always had an interest in the value of items, buying and selling from a very young age,” said Tracy, Greg’s wife and Tyson’s mom. “He has a natural ability to talk with the customers (and) tell them about our business and products. I love that we spend time together and it is fun to watch Tyson in his element and see how much he enjoys it.”
Their 14-year-old son Tyson is head of sales and marketing for the family venture. He is the one that primarily mans the sales table at trade shows and farmers markets, and his cheery “Welcome to Steel Leaf Designs” and genuine smile as customers approach or pass by their booth, is a sure sign this eager young man has strong grasp on the business concept and a bright future ahead.
“Going to shows and markets is a great way to show people our products and it makes me feel proud when people compliment us or when they buy our jewellery,” said Tyson, who also is partially responsible for the technological aspect of the business including online sales and using social media outlets to enhance their business. “(But) my favourite part of all is going thrifting and antiquing to find the cutlery pieces.” 
Imagine the fun of discovering these elegant and abandoned treasures! Long-forgotten family heirlooms that are no longer used and have sat idly in a velvet-lined storage box in someone’s attic or dark basement corner. What once was common practice of registering china, crystal and silverware patterns for the bride-to-be at the local gift shop, has now become a thing of the past. Nary a bridal shower or wedding back in the day was complete without a service or setting given, only to sit proud and lonely in a china cabinet, for fear of damage from use. Now those fancy flatware pieces have been given a new and stylish purpose through the creative work of Steel Leaf Designs.
Along with trade shows, farmers markets, and direct selling, Steel Leaf Designs has a Facebook presence and sells through their online Etsy store. They are eager to partner with existing local businesses and have recently began selling through Prairie 204 in Brandon and Arts Mosaic in Virden.