The Heart of Craft

By Bella Pallett

As hands wrap their fingers around the natural ingredients that are manipulated and crafted into something sustainable and beautiful, it is clear that craft is ever-present all over the world. Each country has their own native craft that has been perfected and passed down over the generations. Here are three from completely different places across our world that have been meticulously perfected.

This year at London Craft Week, the exhibition Lines of Possibilities: Taiwanese Rush Weaving traces the history of the craft, starting with the memories woven with the rush weaving craft by the households of Yuanli in Taiwan, through to recent innovations in the industry.

With a history reaching back over 300 years and originating from the small town of Yuanli in north-western Taiwan, rush-woven mats and hats were among Taiwan’s top three exports during the colonial era.

Due to this high demand, the Japanese Governor suggested to those working in agriculture to begin learning the technique of rush weaving as a side job to earn more money and gain from the high demand. Those close to the Daan River, where the materials could be easily sourced, worked hard to manipulate and create a variety of rush weave products.

Now after a decline in the rush weaving industry, a younger generation of talented artisans have returned to Yuanli, the hometown of Taiwanese rush, to spark and revive rush weaving.

Turning a new page for the story of rush weaving due to the younger generation of craftspeople, the craft has become globally recognised and widely admired for the centuries-old innovative design that constantly transforms. Considered an intangible cultural asset, the crafts’ history and tradition make it unforgettable as it provides a fresh perspective on the history of Taiwan.

Alongside the Lines of Possibilities exhibition, London Craft Week also celebrated local talent such as Ambar, an independent London-based textile development studio that skillfully blends traditional craft with high-end technology.

The Ambar team work with a sense of curiosity and are always hunting for new forms of innovation to create bespoke collections that are always guaranteed to be of the best quality. Continuing to develop the technique in weave right in the capital of England, the craft is loved by communities as far as Ecuador and as near as just down the road.

An example of Ambar weave

Much like rush weaving, the art of Ikat weaving is a remarkable craft that holds intangible cultural heritage to the beautiful country, Ecuador. The intricate hand-weaving technique has been crafted over generations and although there are few people who now remain skilled at the craft due to its difficulty, the end result is breathtaking.

Examples of Ikat weave

This is a highly difficult craft to master as the pattern needs to be held in the weaver’s head to ensure that the wrapped part of the warp translates into the correct pattern on the loom. The complex patterns have to be memorised to allow them to be tied into the warp and magically turn into a pattern, meaning that without the tradition of passing down the craft and patterns, the craft can easily disappear.

However, there are still many Ecuadorian people who are working to keep the craft alive by continuing the tradition of passing the skills down through the generations and encouraging the continuation of the craft.

Another incredible form of craft is the Japanese style of zen weaving named Saori. Combining the words ‘Sai’ meaning individual dignity and ‘Ori’ meaning weaving, the weaving technique is designed to allow you to express yourself freely regardless of age, gender, or disability.

Saori Craft by Rumiko Torii

In traditional hand-weaving, if there is an irregular pattern or thread it is considered to be a flaw, however, in Saori there is an encouragement of free expression and it is considered bad to imitate the products of machine sewing. Most easily described as ‘the beauty with lack of intentions’, Saori products are designed to be endlessly unique and unintentionally beautiful.

It is clear that all forms of craft are essential to heritage and culture and so it is more important than ever to keep the tradition of craft alive. It is everpresent all over the world, and due to both its sustainability and beauty, it is an essential and loved art form.

If you enjoyed reading this, read Art For Change here.

Find out more about London Craft Week here.

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