At the Swedish Christmas dinner last year at the Prince Arthur Hotel, on each table there were beautiful white hand-crafted Danish stars in two sizes. Everyone at our table was so intrigued as to how they were made that we carefully took apart one of the stars, but still couldn’t figure out how to make them.
Elsie Burgoyne, a self-taught artisan in Thunder Bay, has been making the lovely Danish stars for about 30 years. She’s the daughter of Danish immigrants who settled in the 1920s in the Danish community of Pass Lake, Ontario, about 59 km (36 miles) east of Thunder Bay.
“My parents brought the Danish traditions with them,” says Burgoyne. “During my childhood we didn’t do Danish stars, but we did hand-make Christmas decorations for the tree, like braided baskets from cut pieces and weaved, paper angels, and cut-out shapes of birds from colour books.”
The iconic three-dimensional star is a classic Danish Christmas decoration made by weaving folded paper strips and used as Christmas tree ornaments and decorations. When Burgoyne first started making stars, she ordered special papers from Denmark but now cuts her own pieces.
“The strips have to be exact because of the folds that need to be made. In the beginning it would take me 20 minutes to figure out. Now I make a Danish star in 10 minutes,” said Burgoyne, adding she prefers to use Scandinavian colours of red and white.
She created about 120 white Danish stars for dinner guests to take home at the Swedish Christmas event; has made stars for the Pass Lake Historical Society; and, each year makes the star decorations for the Danish tree at the annual International Gallery of Christmas Trees at the Valhalla Inn (not happening this year).
It’s hard to imagine that only four paper strips are used to make a Danish Star. “I cut the four strips 17 inches long and l/2-inch wide. I also have made stars out of foil, wrapping paper and birch bark,” said Burgoyne. “If people are interested to learn how to make Danish stars, I’d suggest Googling for the instructions, plus they can find online places that sell packages of pre-cut paper strips. Stars can be made in different sizes, with the six-inch diameter star being most difficult.”
A talented self-taught craftsperson, Burgoyne also knits and creates freehand pottery. About three years ago, she taught herself needle-felting and now makes Christmas gnomes, fish, and life-size birds like cardinals, doves and chickadees. Needle-felting uses a needle to agitate the wool to bond into felting, similar to felting that results from using a washing machine and hot water.
“You start with a little needle and ball of yarn about the size of a marble. Poke at it until it has the shape. Each item takes about 48 hours to complete,” she says.
Along with her knitting, the felted items are sold at the Fireweed Store in Thunder Bay as well as from her home.