Meet Charis Fleming – bladesmith and The Knight’s Vault shop manager

Ever visited our Grassmarket store? Then you’ve probably met our shop manager Charis Fleming! When she’s not working at The Knight’s Vault, you can usually find Charis making her own blades. Did we mention she’s Scotland’s only female bladesmith? We caught up with Charis to find a bit more about her and her passion for the industry:

How did you get into the bladesmith craft?
I started when I was 12-years-old – my next door neighbour was a bladesmith specialising in wood-carving and camping knives and he kindly agreed to teach me. Since then, he has introduced me to many knife-makers and bladesmiths in Scotland. Every one of them has a different style and method to the way they work and I learn something new every time I see them.

What training have you had?
I began with traditional forging then moved on to more modern techniques using machinery instead of doing it all by hand. I then began learning leatherwork to make sheaths and woodwork for the handles. I also understand the basics of heat-treatment which is when you place the blade inside a furnace to increase the temperature, then back down again. The blade needs to be hard enough to use, but not hard enough that it’ll break!
Currently, there are no bladesmithing courses in Scotland, which is something I hope will change in the future! The only blacksmith courses available are on making iron fences and horse shoes.

What do you enjoy most about the industry?
One of my favourite things is how welcoming and tight-knit the industry is. It’s such a small line of work that everyone knows everyone and is happy to help when they can. People collaborate, trade, and work together as much as possible.

What’s your favourite item sold at The Knight’s Vault?
By far, my favourite item is our beautifully handcrafted Outlander backsword. As well as its striking design, this sword has a huge historical significance. The backsword was used by the Scottish Highlanders in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as the Jacobites during the rebellions. This is an incredibly important time in Scotland’s history as the defeat at Culloden Moor meant clans were disbanded and many Scottish traditions were banned, including the playing of bagpipes. If the Jacobites hadn’t been defeated, Scotland may be a very different country today!

What does a typical day consist of at The Knight’s Vault?
I usually spend a few hours in the shop before we open to reply to emails and enquires, sorting through new website orders, or packing swords ready to be shipped. The shop then opens at 11am and I am ready to help with customers and make sure the shop runs smoothly. If it’s quiet, I clean the swords or organise stock, reorder from suppliers, or unpack recent deliveries. I also run the shop’s website and Instagram page, so I photograph new items and upload them onto our website and promote them on social media.

What are your interests outside of work?
Bladesmithing is always on my mind – I’m constantly researching historical weapons and new techniques to expand my knowledge. I have a keen interest in history and art and briefly studied History of Art and Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. These days I tend to visit Edinburgh’s museums and galleries whenever I get a chance.

Do you have any advice you would give to other women interested in bladesmithing?
Don’t ever be afraid of asking for someone’s help – I’m certain that any bladesmith I know would be more than happy to offer advice and support. Try to find your style, whether it’s entirely historical or something a bit more bizarre – do this by researching as much as possible and introducing yourself to makers in the industry. And, most importantly, never let anyone stand in your way or make you feel silly for doing what you do, if they try to – remember that you make swords…and that’s pretty amazing!