Become a handyman: crafts from around the world

The craft has become increasingly popular since the start of the pandemic. As we searched for new activities to entertain ourselves from the comfort of our own homes, many of us grabbed our crochet hooks, sharpened our crayons, or threaded our embroidery needles.

But all over the world, traditional craftsmanship plays an important role in a country’s culture and economy. Below is a selection of our favorite craft creations: from delicate needlework to intricate woodcarving. The perfect inspiration for your next project!

Susanis, Uzbekistan

the suzani is an Uzbek embroidery. Corn suzanis can be sewn onto a single piece of fabric (usually cotton), it is not uncommon for several pieces to be sewn together in an elaborate quilt. The three main stitches used in embroidery suzanis are in string (yourma), to cross (iroqi) and satin (bosma) stitches. The most popular motifs are flowers, leaves and fruits, although the designs often also take on symbolic properties: suns represent life, pomegranates indicate fertility and peppers protect against the evil eye.

The earlier suzanis seen today, whether in shops or in museums, date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Then, as now, they were made by young women to be included in their marriage dowry. Susanis used as bedspreads, wall hangings and throws were therefore particularly common. Today, suzanis can be bought all over the country: Bukhara is the best place to find old ones, while in Khiva you can visit Suzani’s workshop.

mandoosOman

These are Omani chests that have traditionally been used to store valuables. It is said to stem from a Portuguese tradition that Oman inherited when it invaded in the 16th century. Today, mandoos can be purchased in a variety of sizes (up to the dimensions of a jewelry box) and are usually made from walnut or rosewood.

© Martin Dougiamas, Wikimedia Commons

On the surface, they are inlaid with brass, gold or silver, in Islamic and geometric patterns, and sometimes decorated with precious stones. You will find them all as decorative furnishings everywhere in Oman, in hotels, official buildings, offices and private homes. They are sometimes called bridal chests.

Batik, Sri Lanka

Batik making is a Sri Lankan village craft that has benefited from foreign demand. The rolls of fabric undergo several stages of waxing and dyeing in the workshops of the village. Creations by uneducated but talented village artists translate into bright wall hangings, dress and shirt lengths and sarongs.

Batik is popular for souvenirs because of its exotic, colorful patterns and its light weight, which makes it easy to pack. One place to buy them is the popular JEZ LOOK BATIK in Matara, Sri Lanka, which Jezima Mohamed has run for nearly 50 years.

Kente Cloth, Ghana

Of all the crafts practiced in West Africa, few are more easily identifiable to a particular country than kente cloth in Ghana. Strongly associated with the Ashanti, modern kente is characterized by intricately woven and richly colored geometric patterns, usually dominated by bold shades of yellow, green, blue, orange and red. However, in its oldest form, before the introduction of exotic fabrics and dyes through trade with European castles on the coast, kente cloth was somewhat less kaleidoscopic, since white and navy blue were the only dyes available.

© Nancy Chuang @nancyc_huang

According to Ashanti tradition, kente design originated in Bonwire, the small village near Kumasi which is still one of the main centers of kente production in south central Ghana. Five kente stools were proclaimed by the first king of Kumasi, of which only Bonwire and Adanwomase remain active. The Ewe people of the Volta region, the other important center of kente production in the country, claim that they were the first weaver of kente and that their techniques were adopted in Ashanti after some Ewe weavers were captured as slaves. Although the Ewe claim has a certain tone of truth, the reality is that most people now associate kente cloth with Ashanti, where the skills of the finest weavers are reserved for use by royalty to this day.

Chiprovtsi carpet, Bulgaria

The tradition of carpet making continues in the village of Chiprovtsi in northwestern Bulgaria (and in Kotel in the Eastern Balkan Mountains). The rugs are woven on vertical looms, by the women of the village, who learned the traditional patterns and designs from their mothers and grandmothers before them.

Carpet, Bulgaria by Vislupus, Wikimedia Commons World Crafts
© Vislupus, Wikimedia Commons

Men produce and process wool. Weavers observe certain beliefs and practices, such as praying and asking for success before starting a new rug, and they sing and tell stories as they work.

Pottery, Socotra

Traditional Socotri pottery has been made and used in Socotra for millennia, and archaeologists have found pottery similar to that used today in some of the earliest ruins on the island. It is backbreaking work that is traditionally done only by women; they have to walk several hours just to find a suitable place to get clay and temper, and bring it back to the village to start making pottery. The type of temper added to the clay and the methods used to make the pots differ between each region of the island.

Typically, women make pots for storing or heating and drinking milk and food, or incense burners. However, today you can also buy dragon blood tree models, Egyptian vultures and even camels. Pottery is normally decorated with designs made using shells before being fired in a bonfire. It is then sometimes decorated using either the juice of crushed plant leaves or dragon’s blood resin, which is applied directly to the pot as it exits the bonfire.

Ñanduti lace, Paraguay

Paraguay is remarkable for its craftsmanship. The most famous are his traditional lace shapes, painstakingly handcrafted. One of these types of lace is called nanduti, which is the Guarani word for a spider’s web: this is usually circular in shape, then the circles are sewn together to form a large web. This lace is traditionally made in Itauguá, where there are several nanduti stores.

Lace, Paraguay by Marco Muscarà world crafts
© Marco Muscara

The traditional nanduti is white, and the most delicate examples of it are exquisite. But while foreign visitors tend to like whites and natural colors, Paraguayans like bright hues, so nanduti has been declined in placemats and multicolored decorations. Particularly beautiful are the long dresses made of nanduti, even if they are expensive because they take a very long time to manufacture. Because the nanduti is starched, hangs with good weight, and makes a great skirt for folk dancing, with rich, subtle color variations and good swing.

Woodcarving, Taiwan

Sanyi is Taiwan’s main center for woodcarving. The woodcarving industry began here during the early Japanese colonial period when the local camphor forests were heavily logged. Roots and stumps were abundant, and carvings made by local craftsmen were popular with Taiwanese and Japanese Buddhists. Americans were important customers after World War II: Catholics ordered carvings of the Virgin Mary while Taiwan-based soldiers picked up souvenirs. Every summer there are exhibitions and competitions.

Woodcarving, Taiwan by Rich J Matheson
© Rich Matheson

Over 100 shops sell woodcarvings in the city, and they range from shops full of mass-produced memorabilia to exclusive galleries, and there is also the Woodcarving Museum, which has galleries on four floors and is imbued with woody aromas. Among the hundreds of religious, practical, decorative and abstract sculptures are exquisite award-winning works by local artists. The most interesting sections are those devoted to the history of art in China, Aboriginal woodcarving and temple carving.

Fabric from Korhogo, Ivory Coast

Whatever the social upheavals that have befallen Ivorian society, its artisanal scene has always remained alive, fruitful and significant. The north specializes in Korhogo fabric, which is renowned throughout Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa as a singular, high-quality artifact. What is special is less the way the fabric itself is produced (spun and woven by hand) than the artistic techniques used to decorate it.

Kohrogo fabric, Ivory Coast, Mickey Mystique, Wikimedia Commons
© Mystical Mickey, Wikimedia Commons

The liquid is extracted from trees and plants and left to ferment until it has achieved a shiny, black, sticky property. The paint is then applied to the fabric using a stencil. As with other West African art forms, Korhogo fabric painting is highly figurative, the deceptively basic images of animals and villagers depicting important cultural, political and religious themes. Chickens, for example, represent fertility and refinement while guinea fowls represent inner beauty and moral uprightness.

Ceramics, Italy

The “earthenware” was born in Faenza in Emilia-Romagna in the 1470s, with the invention of a new style of earthenware. The terracotta would be coated with a strong white glaze using tin oxide, then quickly, almost impressionistically, deposit a colored pigment decorated with wavy rays and peacock feather patterns in dark blues, oranges and coppery greens that stood out boldly when cooked. In the following century, the style reached its peak when potters began depicting stories, mythologies and biblical scenes, making Faenza a household name throughout Europe.

Faenza ceramics, Italy, claudio zaccherini, Shutterstock
© claudio zaccherini, Shutterstock

Today, Faenza has regained much of its 16th century reputation: 500 students are enrolled in its Istituto d’Arte per la Ceramica and its experimental laboratory, and around 60 artists direct botteghe in Faenza. Look for the Vignoli sisters; Ivo Sassi; La Vecchia Faenza; and Goff remake Gaeta.

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