Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June News

June presents plenty of opportunities to pay us a visit here at Shake Rag Alley. The grounds (which are always open to the public to walk through) are bursting with greenery and color - and of course, the usual hum of fairy energy we normally hear this time of year!

Tour of Fairy Homes
The annual Tour of Fairy Homes returns on Saturday, June 17th from 9am-5pm. This year’s tour promises lovely fairy dwellings of all shapes and sizes; fairy abodes will once again be scattered around the magical grounds of Shake Rag Alley for you to find! The self-guided tour is free for children 11 and under. The price of admission is $5 for everyone else. You can bid on the homes in a silent auction or build your own for $20. Also returning this year is decorating your own Fairy Wand! $3 will grant you a magical wand and access to the Shake Rag vault of sparkly thingamabobs. For more information, visit the website.

Summer Youth Program
As you are making summer plans, don’t forget to check out the line-up of Summer Youth classes. There are many new classes to choose from this year, in addition to old favorites! Visit the website for more information and to view descriptions of all youth classes.

Woodlanders Rustic Arts
Last but certainly not least, save the date for our annual Woodlanders Gathering, returning on July 13th-16th! Choose from over 40 nature-based workshops at this event known by many as ‘summer camp for adults.’

Don’t forget to visit the whole line-up of Summer classes at! We hope to see you on our magical campus!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mining For Story, A Spring Retreat for Writers

Stories. Our stories. What better way is there to get to know one another, to stand together, to understand our world, than to share our stories?
Over the last few years, I have had the remarkable opportunity to facilitate a variety of writing workshops at Shake Rag Alley in the picturesque town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. In Shake Rag’s historic Cabinet Shop and Potters House and Ellery House, I have listened to the tales told by emerging and established writers, I have shared my own. I have helped writers of all levels put words to the stories they hold dear.

I am so excited to have been invited to help develop this spring’s Mining for Story, Shake Rag Alley’s inaugural retreat for writers. In consultation with the founders, staff, and volunteers of Shake Rag Alley, and with past workshop participant’s comments in hand, my colleagues and I (award-winning authors and college teachers) have developed a program of supportive, generative, immersive and accessible writing workshops.

Mining for Story is a jam-packed retreat with comprehensive workshops in fiction, memoir, and writing for young people, combined with brief seminars and introductions to blogging, self-publishing, handmade books and individual manuscript consultations. Over three days, writers will move from “Breaking Ground,” to “Digging In,” to “Excavation.” Each day will provide opportunities for further community building including shared meals, panel discussions, participant and instructor readings, and other gatherings.

The pretty and peaceful grounds of Shake Rag Alley, the handsome and art filled small town of Mineral Point, the surrounding historical mining area, will provide the perfect setting for a gathering of writers in pursuit of inspiration, community, audience, instruction, professional development, and story. Writers of all levels (from very first-timer to established scribe) are welcome. Registration is open now, but space is limited.

I do hope you will join us!
Write on,

Patricia Ann McNair
Author, The Temple of Air, winner: Chicago Writers’ Association Book of the Year, Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Readers Award, Society of Midland Authors Finalist in Fiction
Associate Professor, Undergraduate and Graduate Studies
Columbia College Chicago, Creative Writing Department

Friday, January 20, 2017

Polymer Clay at Shake Rag Alley

Polymer Clay is one of the most fascinating and versatile craft mediums around. Artists use it to make items ranging from jewelry to sculpture and even use it to create bas relief on canvas. Polymer clay artists are equally versatile and very creative, making sophisticated and magical works with a media that was originally manufactured as a children's toy. Now you can see works in Polymer Clay exhibited in art museums and in a permanent collection at the Racine Art Museum.

We are lucky to have three nationally known and two regional artists teaching workshops this year. Click on their names to read their bios and link to their workshops.

Kate Church from Nova Scotia, describes her work as "Combining the line and form of sculpture with the playful animation of puppetry. I began to teach others what I have taught myself: a method and approach to building sculptural character. Fueled by the enthusiasm of the students, I facilitate everything from discovering a new art form to finding the confidence to tackle a career."
Kate will be teaching "Building Sculptural Character" in September.  She will show YOU how to have fun building unique character, sculpting with polymer clay and cloth over lively wire armatures, producing a figure with a unique life of its own. 

Maureen Carlson
from Jordan Minnesota, has been working with polymer clay since 1979, creating her charming and magical "Wee Folk" as well as creating a business providing books, videos, and push molds for other aspiring doll makers. She has a talent for story telling and inspiring the imagination, as well as a talent for teaching techniques.
Maureen will be teaching two classes with us in August: Stackables: A Mixed Media Figurative Sculpture, and Sculpted-Character Walking Stick. In the Stackable class you will get to use some of Maureen's famous push molds, and in Walking Stick you will learn to sculpt a face from scratch.

Carol Simmons, from Colorado Springs,  is well known for her intricately detailed work and outstanding use of color. She has taught for 15 years and has a piece in the permanent collection of the Racine Art Museum. She trained as a botanist and ecologist, and her approach to teaching color and design is very clear and logical. Carol will be teaching her technique for Mokume Gane in October. You will learn much about color, and make your own impression plate for the technique. She also has a very informative blog sharing a lot about her techniques and resources.

Kim Geiser is our neighbor from northeast Wisconsin. She is adept in illustration, mixed media,assemblage, polymer clay, jewelry making and more. Kim has published work in dozens of books and magazines and currently has a book deal with North Light books for her first book (January 2017), and you can watch her in Northeast Wisconsin on “Good Day Wisconsin” Fox 11 where she shares thrifty craft ideas. Kim will be teaching polymer clay pendents in August as part of the Art Adventure retreat.

Cheryl Smeja, from here in Mineral Point, is one of the original group of founders of Shake Rag Alley. She made a living selling sculpted leather masks and wall art, and then retired from production craft to pursue all the other crafts she has been interested in, and to help build the art center. She works on curriculum, the web site, and other internet marketing. Her workshop combines skills with wire, polymer clay, and resin.

If you have never worked with polymer clay, or if it has been a while, we hope you'll give it a try. With such a versatile product there is something here for everyone.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Visiting Jewelry Instructors 2017

Since putting together a permanent and well equipped jewelry studio, we've been working on bringing in some instructors each year who are nationally known in their areas of jewelry crafting. Once we get them here and get a class together, they have been willing to come and teach again. They tell us they like the studio, appreciate our hospitality, and love our town. I like the opportunity to learn from these master craftspeople face to face in a quiet setting with a small class size. Once you take a class from these folks you realize that they are not just good at their craft, but are excellent at teaching. I have also enjoyed meeting the students these instructors attract from all over the county and quite a few from Canada!

This year we have scheduled four visiting jewelry instructors with national reputations.

Carol Simmons

Carol is our first visiting jewelry instructor whom we met in 2011 when she needed a place to accommodate students who were wait-listed for a class she taught at Maureen Carlson's studio in Minnesota. We were thrilled to invite her here, and she has returned every year since. Being our first, Carol taught us a lot about what is needed to accommodate instructors and students who fly here and stay for a while, and she is adept at creating a casual retreat atmosphere. She will be teaching her unique Mokume-Gane technique for polymer clay which you can slice using our Simmons Slicer.

Sarah Thompson
We found Sarah while searching for an instructor who did not just wire wrapping or wire weaving, but combined it with forging and layering techniques to create the more intricate pieces being done mostly in Europe. When we spoke, she had not yet taught outside of the state of Washington, and her first book was about to be published. Talk about luck! This will be her third year with us, and about half her class was filled before she left here last year. She is incredibly patient and organized, as I guess a Mom with five kids must be. She will be making three pieces again this year.

Richard Salley

Richard is a friend of one of our board members, Lorraine Reynolds, who is a mixed media instructor at some of the same Art Retreats where he has taught. He came to us for the first time last year, and students who came were happy to find a place closer to home to learn in a smaller size class. It is amazing the level of work Richard can get you to do, even if you're a little scared. I personally made some rIngs that I never would have tackled on my own. This year we'll get to make our own stamping tools, and a silver and leathercuff that could be great for a man as well as women.

Jeff Fulkerson

This will be Jeff's first year and we are looking forward to meeting him. We have followed his work in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, and have seen him associated with many of the best Art and Jewelry retreats and venues in the country. This year he will be teaching a piece with a bezel set stone mounted on another bezel set stone, and include a tube set stone on surrounding forged silver wire. Whew! I can't wait. He is also a lapidary craftsman and will be bringing some of his own cut cabochons.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shake Rag Alley Welcomes 2017 Winter Writers Series

Kick Off Event:

Wednesday, January 18th @ 7pm

Shake Rag Alley’s Lind Pavilion
411 Commerce St.
Mineral Point, WI 53565

Since 2011 Shake Rag Alley has partnered with the Council for Wisconsin Writers (CWW), Wisconsin People & Ideas, and the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission through the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters to offer week-long residencies to their annual writing contest winners. During their stay, the writers participate in workshops, readings and community outreach activities.

The series will kick off on Wednesday, January 18 with the 2016 winner of the Wisconsin People and Ideas poetry contest, Karen Loeb. When asked to describe what we can expect, Karen wrote, 'My presentation will be a craft talk, where I'll read some poetry and fiction and talk about how I make decisions about which genre to write in. I will also welcome questions from people in the audience.' Samples of her work, including her award winning poem "In the Science Museum," can be found at

This event takes place at 7pm at Shake Rag Alley’s Lind Pavilion, located at 411 Commerce St. Participation is free and no registration is required.

Don’t miss upcoming events in the 2017 series:
  • March 8th John Gurda, 2015 Norbert Blei/ August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award
  • March 15th Ronnie Hess, 2015 Kay W. Levin Short Nonfiction Award 
  • March 29th Allison Slavick, 2016 Fiction Contest Winner

For more information on the Winter Writer’s Series, visit our website.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Thursday Tip - Wrapped Loop Above a Bead

The Wrapped Loop is a staple of jewelry wire working. Extremely useful for hanging a bead on an earring or dangling a pendant from a necklace.

When studio jeweler and former Art Jewelry magazine associate editor Jill Erickson started teaching at Shake Rag Alley in 2015 she sent us this terrific tutorial for our monthly newsletter. 

With Shake Rag's Beads and Bangles weekend coming up on May 21 & 22, it seemed the perfect time to share this technique to get you into the jewelry making mood.

Jill has over twenty years of experience teaching art classes to students of all ages. She earned her MA and MFA degrees in painting and drawing and uses those disciplines as a foundation for her 3-D wearable art jewelry. Jill incorporates found objects and various media in her pieces -- natural history and story-telling are recurring themes in her work. Visit her website at

We love Jill's jewelry projects. They're always so fresh and current. Check out what she has in store for this year's Beads and Bangles:

Double-Wrap Leather Bracelet
Saturday, May 21, 2016, 9am-noon

Coin Mosaic Pendant
Saturday, May 21, 2016, 1-4pm

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thursday Tip - Everyday Wire Earrings

Wire is the most basic of jewelry component materials. It forms the basis of many designs from the simplest to very complicated elegant pieces and is a good material to begin with when you get started making jewelry.

Here's a tutorial that Cheryl Smeja put together for the Shake Rag Alley Monthly Workshop email newsletter back in 2013. It features four different wire working techniques used to make four earring designs - a spiral, a Greek key, a hoop and a Celtic knot.

Click here for the Everyday Earring tutorial.

Click here to sign up for the Monthly Workshop e-newsletter and get ongoing tutorials delivered right to your inbox (be sure to check "Workshop News").

And if you are inspired to do more, sign up for one (or more!) of these great wire working classes at the upcoming Beads and Bangles weekend in May:

Hammered Copper or Brass Wire Jewelry
Sat, May 21, 2016, 9am-noon
Judy promises "it will be noisy but  lot of fun" and you'll go home with lots of creative pieces.

Wire Basics - Clasps
Sat, May 21, 2016, 1-4pm
Learn basic skills for making jewelry with wire, then apply those skills to making a variety of clasps.

Working with Steel Wire: 
Get Your Hands Dirty and Fall in Love
Sun, May 22, 2016, 1-5pm
An intro to working with this humble, non allergenic, inexpensive and beautiful material.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thursday Tip - Shuttle Tatting, a Traditional Form of Lace Making

Tatting is a technique that employs a series of knots and loops to make delicate but sturdy lace. In the 19th century and well into the 20th century, it was used like crochet or knitted lace mainly for edgings on collars, doilies, tablecloths and so on. But the technique can also be used to to create jewelry and other items such as ornaments, bookmarks, baby caps and booties, wedding veils and more.

Given that we are always intrigued by art and craft forms that aren't taught just everywhere, it's not surprising that we became fascinated with tatting. So when we learned that Marilee Rockley, a leader in the modern revival of tatting, lives just over the way in the Milwaukee area, of course we had to contact her. And when she agreed to teach we were delighted. 

That was back in 2012. Marilee has been teaching Shuttle Tatting at Shake Rag Alley each year since. (See Marilee's blog post on her 2015 class.)

Learn to Tat:

Here's a pdf tutorial Marilee shared with us last year for her "Roundabout" Tatted Earrings pictured at the top of this post. 

Marilee has lots more technique Tutorials and other Free Patterns on her blog, Yarnplayer.

Or, why not take a class with Marilee, undoubtedly the best way to learn. She has two classes scheduled at Shake Rag Alley in 2016:

Marilee Rockley has been tatting over 30 years having discovered tatting as a girl when she found a small needlework how-to book stashed among her mother’s art books. Between those sketchy instructions, library books, and trial and error, she soon taught herself and fell in love with the art. Magazine articles featuring her tatted jewelry have appeared in Bead&Button and Belle Armoire Jewelry. She is the author of the book Tatted Jewelry published 2011 by Annie’s Attic, as well as 3 self-published books: Marilee’s Beaded Tatted Finery (2014), Up and Tat ‘Em (2010) and Boutique Tatting (2008). Marilee designs original patterns and also hand dyes unique cotton threads. As a go-to source of information about tatting history and methodology, Marilee is on the forefront of the tatting revival. Take a look at Marilee's latest designs on her blog, Yarnplayer.

Tatting is a beautiful craft that is fun and easy to learn. Plus, the materials are inexpensive, widely available and highly portable. For a rewarding hobby you can do anytime, anywhere, learn to tat!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Beginners Guide to Choosing a Shake Rag Alley Workshop

Have you been thinking about taking a workshop at Shake Rag Alley but feeling somewhat overwhelmed and unsure of which class would be right for you? If you are new to arts and crafts, it can definitely be a bit daunting to sift through the 200 or so workshops on the Shake Rag schedule. Hopefully this post can provide some guidance.

If you are just starting out it makes sense to look for a class that not only interests you and covers the basics, but which is also within your budget and doesn’t require purchasing a ton of supplies or tools that you may not want if it turns out this art medium simply isn’t your thing.

Look at the Workshop Events

Among Shake Rag Alley’s wealth of offerings, perhaps the first place to look is in the four annual workshop events – Garden Getaway in March, Bead and Bangles in May, Woodlanders in July, and Art Adventure in August.

Beginning Cement and Mosaic classes
are featured at both Garden Getaway and Art Adventure
Garden Getaway (2016 dates - March 19-20) consists of half day classes with a gardening theme and is the first introduction to Shake Rag Alley workshops for many students. None of the Garden Getaway workshops assume any prior art experience. Tools and materials are supplied for most workshops and when students are asked to bring tools they are usually common household items.

Cement/mosaic garden projects are featured as are rustic arts such as Bent Willow Trellis but there are other options as well. You can expect to complete a project in class.

You can get an introduction to lots of jewelry
techniques at Beads and Bangles
Beads and Bangles (2016 dates - May 21-22) is a weekend composed entirely of beginning Jewelry classes. Tools are supplied as are materials in most cases, so no purchases necessary. You can get an introduction to beadwork, or wire work, or enameling, or Precious Metal Clay, or even some basic metalsmithing techniques. Since metalsmithing classes are held in Shake Rag’s Jewelry Studio you may also get exposure to the use of jewelry making equipment.

Most classes are only half day and you’ll go home with at least one finished piece of jewelry you’ve made yourself.

Woodlanders workshops cover a wide variety
of crafts utilizing natural materials

Woodlanders (2016 dates - July 7-10) features rustic arts and nature crafts. There are over 40 workshops creating a wide variety of projects from jewelry to blacksmithing to rustic furniture, baskets and gourds, and more.

You can sign up for one, two, three or four days. Rather than class fees, you pay a day fee that includes lunches, snacks and evening activities. Most classes are half day, so even if you can only spare one day you can fit in two classes.

Any of the Woodlanders classes would be perfect for a beginner.

Altered Mint Tins is just one of many
beginning classes offered at Art Adventure

Art Adventure (2016 dates - August 25-28) consists of four days of classes in a lot of different media – collage and assemblage, jewelry, cement/mosaic, creative writing, altered art, fiber art and more. Some are half day and some are a full day or longer, but ALL are appropriate for beginners. Sign up for as many or as few as you like (no event fee).

Inexpensive half day options range from Altered Mint Tins to Leather Cuffs, Cut Paper Collage, and Whimsies (Gourd Figures), just to name a few.

Take a beginning watercolor workshop with Dawn Flores
And finally, keep in mind that most Shake Rag Alley workshops are designed for a wide range of experience levels. So even many of the longer or seemingly more advanced classes are quite appropriate for Novice and Beginner students

The minimum required skill level is listed with each class on the website, along with a link to a description of the skill levels (Novice, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced). 

The difference between Novice and Beginner, is mostly based on the materials a student needs to provide. Novice classes usually include all tools and materials, while Beginners need to provide a few things of their own. Also, whereas a half day Novice class may focus on the class project and thus give you a taste for working in a particular medium, a longer Beginner class will probably provide you with a more comprehensive foundation.

So if you get excited about a workshop that is a bit longer or seems more involved don’t let the fact that you’re new at this stop you. Just go for it! Unless the class description specifically lists prerequisites you don’t have or states that it is aimed at intermediate or above, you’ll be fine. But if you have any doubts or questions about a class, call the Shake Rag office at 608-987-3292. The staff will be happy to chat with you about the particulars of any class.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Garden Getaway – Shake Rag Alley’s Rite of Spring

Students made both a rectangular AND
a round planter (there are bowl used as molds
hiding under those mounds of hypertufa)
Ah, Garden Getaway, Shake Rag Alley's annual harbinger of spring that comes just at the right time, just when the long Wisconsin winter begins to seem really gray and dreary. By mid to late March, who isn’t looking forward to warmer days and a little greenery? And what better way to gear up for spring than getting your hands busy with some gardening projects.

Garden Getaway signals not only that spring is on its way, but also that the Shake Rag Alley workshop year is now fully in high gear.

Hypertufa planters curing
in Popcorn boxes!

Often a first introduction to Shake Rag Alley, Garden Getaway workshops are very approachable. All are half day and materials are supplied, perfect for all experience levels from novice on up. Students leave each workshop with either a completed hands-on project or armed with new gardening know-how.

Last weekend's 2016 Garden Getaway featured perennial favorites like Willow Garden Trellis and Hypertufa Planter, but fun new projects were also on the schedule.

Instructor Jim Arendt helps a student with her Willow Garden Trellis

Concrete "stump" planter
As usual, the Longbranch basement was abuzz with Judy Sutcliffe's cement/mosaic projects. When dry, these "Stump" Planters look like the real deal, but they are artfully made from concrete. Very fun!

New this year was a Mosaic Garden Trowel, another very creative project. In fact, Judy's sample trowel was the hit of our booth at Garden Expo in Madison. Here's one from class that's almost complete.

Over in the Smeja Annex, students were learning to bend wire to make a Wire Bird Mobile. Not quite as easy to do as Cheryl's experienced hands made it look, but they succeeded beautifully.

Wire Bird Mobile

Wire Bird Mobile

But the stars of this year's Garden Getaway were flowers - flowers, flowers and more flowers.

Painted Garden Canvases, floral paintings made by Flower Pounding (extracting the natural dyes in flowers by pounding!), and Zentangle® Inspired Botanical Notecards,

Regardless of previous painting experience, everyone had a ball and came away with lovely flower paintings. Many of the students had never painted anything before so this was really a treat!

Painted Garden Canvas

Flower Pounding

Flower Pounding
Botanical Notecards

Click here to see our complete gallery of Garden Getaway photos.

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