Cassandra Mae Harris loves vintage flatware. So deep is her fondness for it, she has made a business of molding it into inspired pieces of custom jewelry. Inside her rustic little Ipswich work shop, she designs and draws and cuts and hammers and polishes her days away. With a view of her family’s Christmas tree farm out back, Harris surrounds herself with sterling silver, dried herbs, warm woods, and soft lights—a magical little nest in which to get creative. And that she does.
It was in 2013 that Harris made her first spoon ring. She had just turned 21, and had been collecting sterling silver spoons, with a particular penchant for pieces by Towle Silversmiths—Newburyport’s own. Fortuitously, her father had been saving a gift for her to be given on her 21st birthday. In fact, he had been saving it since he was 14 years old, at which time he thought: Should I ever have a daughter, this will be hers. It was a cuff with a turquoise stone…by Towle. It seems Not So Flatware by Cassandra Mae was preordained.
For her first real attempt, she visited Todd Farm, bought seven spoons, and went home to try her hand at ring making. Only two of the spoons resembled rings in the end; the others broke in the process because her tools were so rudimentary. “I didn’t have any tools, I was trying to figure out, size-wise, what would fit my sister’s finger. I had socket wrenches, which I used to [pound them into shape.]” She laughs thinking of her older pieces, describing them as octangular-shaped. Today, she prides herself on how round and smooth she is able to make her rings—thanks to her custom-designed tools, which she refers to as her “secret.” Tired of wrestling with wrenches, she drew a sketch of what she needed. “I couldn’t find anything online that was what I wanted,” she recalls. So she passed the drawing on to her fiancé (conveniently, a machinist), who made just what she was after. And Not So Flatware was off and running.
Harris hand cuts and hammers each ring—in fact, she does everything by hand. “I draw everything out with a Sharpie and just start creating things.” At times, with very old pieces, she has to apply heat to get them to be pliable, but generally she just bends them into shape. And, she adds: “I polish to an extreme—I don’t want any burrs. I am very particular about them being soft.”
Not long ago, she moved into making cuffs, then pendants—many of which are fish-themed. She was attracted to the work of a Cape Cod jeweler, whom she credits with making the original Cape Cod single-ball bracelet. “He has a fish-style cuff, which actually inspired me to make my first pendant from a spoon bowl.” Eventually she also made some earrings—from “bonbon” spoons. On the horizon? She thinks about getting into stone work—an interest spurred by a set of handmade Navajo spoons, each inlaid with a turquoise stone.
As a work venture, Not So Flatware started simply enough: “I just threw everything on Etsy, thinking, ‘These are fun, somebody might like one.’ I wasn’t thinking it was going to be a business.” Today, it is a more-than-full-time job and a one-woman operation. In addition to being an artist who needs to create and produce daily, she operates as a graphic designer, marketer, social media master, web developer, and sales manager. But it is paying off. Her line can be found at DeScenza Diamonds in Peabody, and soon (fingers crossed), in Salem’s Roost & Company and Baubles Fine Jewelry at MarketStreet in Lynnfield. This past year, she started showing at places like Pettengill Farm’s Vintage Bazaar, the Bluefin Blowout in Gloucester (her fish pendants are especially popular with the tuna tournament crowd), and the South End Open Market in Boston, among others. She typically sets up a “booth” that is something of a replica of her Martha Stewart-esque work shop—very inviting indeed.
The spoons themselves vary widely in terms of cost. She has found smaller ones for $15 but has also spent up to $120. “Generally, the ones with the very cool patterns are expensive,” she says, adding the age of the spoons greatly effects the pricing. People who deal in antique flatware know the value of it and charge accordingly. Harris tends to source pieces from scrap collectors. “They are going to melt them so I try to get there before they do.” She also has a connection who scours auctions for her. “She knows the things I have an eye for.” Estate sales are yet another source. When looking for something very specific she might turn to eBay, particularly when a piece sells well and she needs to replicate it using the same pattern. “Sometimes it’s a little hard because I get to a point where I can’t find [what I need] anywhere. But then, suddenly it pops up.” When that happens, she laughs, thinking: “I hope I didn’t just suck up the world’s inventory of antique spoons!”
One of the many things Harris loves about antique silverware is that it tells a story. Nearly every spoon is engraved with information—sometimes the manufacturer or the name of the pattern—that Harris notes and researches. Other times, she is able to identify its origin because she is so familiar with certain patterns. Many sets come with the original owners’ names stamped on them. “Locals know Towle—they did spoon rings in the ’60s. Usually [people] would get a set for their wedding, and then they would get a small spoon pinkie ring to match their set.”
Such sets tend to become family heirlooms. Harris recalls a friend’s story of how she inherited her grandmother’s pieces, and, after years of sitting unused in a drawer, she decided to have Harris turn them into rings for her and her sisters. It was special, given the siblings are spread out across the country and rarely see one another. “This reminds me of gram” was the general sentiment shared by the family. In essence, Harris gave the flatware a second life—still meaningful, just in a different form.
Not So Flatware in a nutshell? “It’s been an adventure,” muses the thriving entrepreneur.
Not So Flatware by Cassandra Mae