I was scrolling the internet for photos of women blacksmiths when I found the SIB website. I was thrilled to find a group sharing the same philosophy! And so nice that the incredible webmaster Joy actually replied to my email. Since then I’m a proud SIBling – and the start of the Belgian branch ☺
I have a fulltime job so I’m only blacksmithing for fun and friends. But I am absolutely hooked! I have a blacksmith herstory that started 27 years ago with a gap of nearly 20 years.
In 1994 I wanted to participate in a 5 days crafts workshop in glass. Because it was fully booked they offered me to join the blacksmith class– with lots of vacancies. Until then I had never met or seen a blacksmith or ever thought about it. But when I picked up the hammer and got covered in the coal dust I was addicted for good ☺! The teacher shared his passion and gently taught us step by step how to work on the hot iron.
I enrolled the next year in the Academy of Arts in Antwerp in a 5 years evening class blacksmithing with high expectations... Turned out I was the only woman there and was completely ignored by the teacher. When the group went for a drink in a café he asked the older students “what is that woman doing here?”. So I spoke up and said “I’ll be learning blacksmithing” to which he did not respond. I cried that night walking home. It should not have to be a fight to be educated.
I went back anyway. Despite loudly shouting Kieken! (stupid chicken) to me whenever I made a mistake -which was all the time- I passed as the best pupil that year and in the end the teacher and I grew really fond of each other. As many blacksmiths are, he was tough, rough and macho on the outside but had a very warm heart on the inside. I did take heavier bars and created bigger projects though than the guys to prove I was able.
We lived in a top roof apartment in the old town of Antwerp, so I had no shop at home. 6 years later we moved to the countryside and all our money and energy went into rebuilding our old house and raising our son who was born in 2005. I had no forge and my hammer and tongs got rusty.
In 2019 I started a blacksmith evening class again, not in an art school but in the job training centre Syntra in Hasselt. I bought a forge and a good second hand anvil and restarted blacksmithing at home. I’m still organising my tiny workshop that just had a new roof, so no more rain leaking in! I have to pull my forge-on-wheels outside on the street, so I’m always on ‘display’, which I like very much. Amazing how many people had blacksmithing great-grandfathers, or think I'm barbequing.
I’m 56 years old, lesbian, cis, married to a writer. I studied social cultural work and have been active in the peace movement (went to Greenham Common!) and taught feminist self-defence for years to women and girls. The last 18 years I have had a full time job in a landscape management organisation.
So why was I scrolling the internet for photos of female blacksmiths? You’ll see it at my Instagram site: I created a wall of inspiration in my shop. Makes me smile every time I look at it! And there is still room for more inspiring SIBlings.
Love, Ilse Ideler