From the intricate ash baskets of the Wabanaki to the graceful silverware of Colonial silversmiths, the New England region has long been home to makers of beautiful objects for everyday life. That tradition of craftsmanship continues today in studios and workshops across our six states, many of which have been featured not only in Yankee but on our TV show, Weekends with Yankee.
In the show’s fifth season, which debuted on public television stations nationwide in April, we pay a visit to Meb’s Kitchenwares of Woodstock, Connecticut (episode 504: “Only in New England”), maker of artful wooden utensils, bowls, cutting boards, and more. That inspired us to share some of our favorite regional creations in a special gift guide celebrating the endless variety of New England craftsmanship.
On a chilly New England evening, what could be better than wrapping yourself in light, soft, handwoven wool? Founded in 1992, Swans Island Company made its name with blankets and throws distinguished by their fine weave, subtle colors, and impeccable craftsmanship. Much of the fiber comes from local farms, and is custom-spun by New England mills before being hand-dyed and woven by Swans Island artisans into modern-day heirlooms that will last for generations.
See our visit to Swans Island Company in episode 407: “Handmade in New England.”
What began as a cabinetmaking business for Meb Boden and her husband, Tom Vaiciulis, became a craft-centered labor of love almost 20 years ago. They shifted to making hand-carved works of art that also stand up to the daily demands of family cooking, including a wealth of ladles, spoons, tongs, salad servers, and other utensils. As with everything that Meb and Tom design and make, their utensils are carved from sustainably sourced New England hardwood and speak to their love of living simply and in connection with their environment.
Watch co-host Richard Wiese try his hand at making a spoon with Meb and Tom in episode 504: “Only in New England.”
The history of tourmalines in Maine goes back to 1820, the year it joined the Union and the year that this gem was first discovered in Maine’s western mountains. Tourmaline — which ranges in color from black or white to brilliant shades of pink, green, and blue — is today the state’s official mineral, making it the ideal gift for someone looking to have a little piece of Maine to call their own. Founded in 1908, Cross Jewelers is the go-to for Maine tourmaline, which it transforms into a variety of exquisitely crafted rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and more. Our favorite, for maximum Maine flavor: the sterling silver lobster claw pendant with green tourmaline (representing a lobster’s natural color) or pink tourmaline (a nod to its rosy post-steaming hue).
Learn more about Maine tourmaline and Cross Jewelers in episode 404: “Treasures from the Earth.”
You’ll join the ranks of such famous fans as Caroline Kennedy and Sandra Bullock when you bring home Simon Pearce’s sparkling wares, all of it hand-blown by skilled artisans in company workshops (including Pearce’s original studio, founded in 1981 in a historic mill building on the Ottauquechee River). In designing everything from tumblers and pitchers to candlesticks and giftware, Pearce finds inspiration in Vermont’s hills and mountains, countryside, and changing seasons, something that is especially evident in his signature glass evergreens — handblown beauties that are just waiting to reforest your mantel.
Tag along on a visit to Simon Pearce’s Quechee workshop in episode 303: “New England Celebrities.”
Headquartered on Portland’s historic Custom House Wharf, Sea Bags makes rugged and stylish totes from a surprising material: old sails. As the company likes to describe it: “Our materials retain the essence of what they once were, where they’ve been and what they’ve done. It’s this previous life that makes each bag unique.” Spinnakers, dinghy sails, racing sails — they all find new purpose as totes, bucket bags, duffels, and other handy accessories. Plus, they come with the eco-friendly bonus of cutting down on material going into landfills (more than 700 tons to date).
Don’t get your twine in a twist — let Mystic Knotwork do it for you! Matt Beaudoin’s team of artisans follow in the tradition of his grandfather, Alton Beaudoin, whose expert knotwork led to the Smithsonian Institution recognizing him as a master of cord and rope tying. Mystic Knotwork turns out a variety of accessories and decor — sailor’s bracelets, wreaths, lanyards, and so on — but we particularly love the nautical-inspired knotted mats. Made of manila rope dyed in on-trend colors or left natural to silver like cedar shingles, they are built to withstand New England weather and decades of boot-scuffing.
The project started simply enough — just something to keep glassblower Eben Horton busy during a slow economy. Inspired by a similar project in Oregon, he began using down time at his Wakefield studio to craft glass balls modeled on Japanese fishing floats. But after he started hiding them on Block Island for others to find, the Glass Float Project took on a life of its own. These days, Horton, his wife, Jennifer Nauck, and their assistants make 550 floats per year to squirrel away on the island. “The wonderful thing about this project is that there is a certain mystery that revolves around it,” he has said. “People want answers for everything in life, it seems, but even I do not know how many floats are still waiting to be found.” Fortunately for those unable to join in the hunt, Horton also makes glass floats for sale, in both crystal-clear and brilliantly colored versions.
Learn more about Eben Horton’s Glass Float Project in episode 308: “Farms and Foraging.”
Rhode Island School of Design alum Matt Cavallaro founded Nest Homeware in 2013 and quickly found fans with his cast-iron creations, which have the rugged good looks of cookware forged by ingenious gnomes. Handles are made to look like tree branches, and burnished surfaces glow like the sun. Cavallaro designs every piece, and while he uses an out-of-state foundry, he and his partner, Rue Sakayama, apply the finishing touch in Rhode Island: seasoning the cast iron with flaxseed oil in his workshop oven. Over time, and with use, the color will darken, deepening to the rich black of antique cast iron, even as the design marks these pieces as unmistakably modern heirlooms.
Cereal is more fun when an alien spaceship lurks beneath the frosted flakes. At their workshop in southern Maine, Lars and Connie Turin create fine vases, bowls, and other works in clay to suit grown-up tastes, but it’s impossible to resist these porcelain bowls with their rollicking designs: aliens, sea adventures, town-and-country scenes. The colorful sgraffito motifs feel like instant kid classics.