Five traditional crafts that deserve a revival
In today's increasingly virtual world, there's something appealing
about making things by hand, using centuries-old techniques.
Here are five traditional crafts to try.
Blacksmiths use fire, hammers and an anvil to hot-forge iron and steel,
shaping and joining the metal to make everything from gates and
staircases to chairs, fire irons, curtain poles, doorknobs, jewellery
and sculptures. You need a small forge to heat the metal up to 1,000C
(1832F), an anvil complete with the various cutting and bending tools
that slot neatly into it, a pair of pliers, a vice, and a selection of
hammers and punches. The skills need learning, and can take years to
perfect, but it's worth it. Smithing produces metalwork of unique
character, very different from cut-and-weld manufacturing.
The British Artist Blacksmiths Association has details of courses:
British Artist Blacksmiths Association
Once, anyone with an education could write a fair hand. Now computers,
printers, emails and text messages have rendered the whole business
pretty much redundant. But the rarity of beautiful handwriting is part
of its appeal. Calligraphy is an exacting but rewarding craft demanding
knowledge of its history, an aesthetic sensibility, and a bold yet
delicate hand.Some modern scribes go as far as writing in 16th-century
script on calfskin vellum with hand-cut quills and homemade inks. But
your style need not be confined to the past. Modern, inventive hands
are every bit as calligraphic as formal historic scripts such as gothic,
copperplate or Spencerian.
Calligraphy courses are not hard to find: contact the Calligraphy and
Lettering Arts Society (clas.co.uk) or City Lit (citylit.ac.uk)
The Calligraphy & Lettering
Arts Society (CLAS)
Apart from a brief conversion to pottery thanks to the Romans, we largely
ate and drank from wooden plates and bowls in this country until the early
1700s. Every village had its wood turner with his polelathe – a homemade
assembly of timber beams and posts using as its driving power a springy
sapling, anchored at the base. From the sapling's free end hangs a length
of cord wrapped once around a spiked chuck hammered into the block of wood
you're turning. When you push down on a foot treadle attached to the other
end of the cord, the chuck revolves. Release the treadle and the block
spins back again. On each downward stroke, a chisel or hook tool shapes the
wood. It's highly skilled work, and hugely rewarding.
The Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood Workers has a list of
Association of Pole-lathe
Turners & Green Woodworkers
Willow baskets – for carrying vegetables, laundry, coal, fruit,
bicycles, shopping, letters – were fixtures of British life until
plastic arrived in the 1950s. The craft of basketmaking hasn't
changed in thousands of years. You require very few tools: knives
for pointing the ends of the willow rods and trimming the finished
basket; a bodkin to make openings in the weave; a cleave and shave
to split rods into three or four finer skeins; a beating iron to
hammer the weave down.
The base is made first: a round or rectangular frame of sturdier
stakes interwoven with finer willow rods. Then you insert the upright
stakes to form the side frame, and lay the first weave. Then you start
weaving, in one of a range of styles: randing, slewing, fitching, waling.
Finish with a border around the top. You need strong hands, a good eye
for straight lines, and lots of patience.
The Basketmakers' Association lists courses: basketassoc.org
Britain boasts a staggering 125,000 miles of dry stone walls. A few
are ancient, dating back to 3,500 BC. Most are field walls which were
built in the early- to mid-1800s, in the wake of the Enclosure Acts.
For a century they were well-maintained, but these days, farming lacks
the resources. Now, dry stone walling is making a comeback. It's like
doing a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Base stones, big and heavy, are laid in a
shallow trench; large, flat stones go on top, and finally upright cap
stones are placed on top of those. Your only tool is a sharp-edged
hammer, but good wallers aim to cut stones to shape as little as
It's arduous but satisfying work, generally undertaken in beautiful
surroundings, and the result is something natural that, properly looked
after, should stand for centuries.
The Dry Stone Walling Association offers short courses: dswa.org.uk
Dry stone walling
Five traditional crafts
that deserve a revival
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