Deborah White, damask weaver

In 2019, Deborah was awarded £2,000 from the Endangered Craft Fund to help restore the Royal Loom. She aims to be designing and weaving her own linen damask on the loom when the restoration project is complete.

This project was generously supported by Allchurches Trust.

Deborah WhiteStopping in on his way home from school at his father’s workplace was an everyday occurrence for the young Vincent Green. What was not quite so everyday was the factory itself, nor indeed the work that his father James undertook. More than sixty years on he still vividly recalls the dimly-lit factory, the single bare lightbulb dangled above his father’s head, the cumbrous, almost primeval wooden loom with its mysterious complex of cords and lead weights, and the race of the shuttle and the rhythmic beat of the sley. On occasion his father would stop off from his work, dismount the seat board and sit himself on a concrete block to have a quick cup of tea and a chat with his son. Any curiosity the young Vincent displayed for the craft was, however, promptly dampened by his father. Though a third generation hand-loom weaver, James remained adamant that none of his seven children would continue the tradition. And in spite of his evident pride in weaving for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II he remained firm in his conviction that weaving was ‘a dead-end street.’ The 1950s held the promise of better education and jobs, and that was the future he wished for his children.

The Royal LoomNone of his children ever did follow him into hand-loom linen damask weaving. Indeed, the industry came to a complete end soon after in 1968, closing a tradition that had spanned nearly three centuries in the Lurgan region of Ulster. The factory was abandoned and the loom itself dismantled, many of the point-paper designs and the Jacquard punch-cards heaped into piles and burnt, or left to rot in the open. The craft had indeed reached a dead-end. Fifty years later, however, a remarkable turn of events has shone a beam of hope for the craft. “Would I like to have a look at an old loom that has been lying in a barn” was a question that did not have to be asked twice. It proved to be a ten-quarter broad loom, and the owner was anxious that as a hand- loom linen damask weaver I take it into my care. Countless hours trawling through archival records, interviewing those involved in the last days of hand-loom weaving, opening up a past that had been mostly forgotten led to the realisation that the loom was in fact the ‘Royal loom’ that James Green wove on all those years ago, his name lightly scratched into the frame.

Allchurches TrustThe Heritage Crafts Association was quick to recognise its significance and its Endangered Crafts Fund grant has sparked a remarkable journey. Once supported by a network of ancillary crafts, hand-loom linen damask weaving now stands alone, the restoration of the loom necessarily drawing on a range of local artisans to make bespoke components, from Mark Hanvey, an exceptionally gifted cabinet maker to James Adair, a saddler with commissions from the Queen. Another, Andrew Hilary, a tool maker, works from the very factory in which the loom last stood! The scale of works and its complexity means it will be a long journey but one that will lead to the first broad-loom linen damask weaving in Ulster for over sixty years. It also affords a platform for my AHRC/NBC funded doctoral study of Irish hand-woven linen damask, and without the encouragement and support of the HCA none of this may have happened. So, it is thanks to them that a new pathway is being forged, an escape from the ‘dead-end’ that James Green had predicted all those years ago. How apt that it is his loom that has given us the chance.

 

Project outline

  • Project funding: £2,000 from the HCA Endangered Craft Fund
  • Project aim: To bring a historic linen damask handloom back into working order so that Lecale Looms can start production of damask linen in Northern Ireland.

This project was supported by Allchurches Trust.

 

  • Main photo: Examining the Royal Arms centrepiece of a tablecloth woven by James Green on the loom for Buckingham Palace in 1956.
  • Second photo: The main frame in the course of being re-built in the workshop.
Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper

Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper

Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper

 

Bringing a craft back from the brink

 

Marchmont VenturesThe Gimson ladderback chair is a classic of the Arts & Crafts Movement, made by an unbroken line of craftsmen. Gimson was inspired and taught by the village chairmaker Phillip Clissett, born in 1817, and the skills were handed down through Edward Gardiner, Neville Neal and then to his son Lawrence Neal. In 2018, master craftsman Lawrence was approaching retirement age and, as the last in the line of chair makers, his skills and this important lineage were in danger of being lost. Hugo Burge of Marchmont Ventures became aware of this and commissioned a film, The Chairmaker, to tell his story. From this, and the attention that the film attracted, the idea of recruiting an apprentice was formed.

The apprenticeship opportunity was promoted through the HCA’s social media and other green woodwork networks. Two talented young makers, Sam Cooper and Richard Platt, were selected and began their eighteen months of training with a focus on equipping them with the practical skills to make rush seated ladderback chairs to a very high standard. They were supported financially by Marchmont Ventures during their training which covered their living and accommodation costs.

Spring 2020 saw them move to the newly equipped Marchmont Workshop, Berwickshire, where they will build their business. This exciting opportunity will enable them to develop a sustainable business using locally sourced materials from the estate and surrounding area. The workshop is one of seven units for makers and creators with an aim to create a community of highly skilled makers at Marchmont. Hugo’s aim, through Marchmont Ventures, is to invest in arts, crafts and early stage businesses that support sustainable creativity.

Sam and Richard are optimistic about their future making rush seated chairs and developing new complementary products. The apprenticeship has been hugely positive and constructive with both apprentices becoming highly skilled in a valuable heritage craft. As Lawrence says: “It’s a credit to Sam and Rich that they were able to grasp the craft in such a short period of time”, and it is evident that the commitment shown by Sam, Richard and Lawrence, combined with a realistic level of financial support through Marchmont, has been the key to the success of this project. The traditional skills and lineage of the Ernest Gimson and Phillip Clissett chair now have every chance of surviving and thriving in the stunning surroundings of the Scottish Borders.

“We’re very thankful to both Hugo and Lawrence for giving us the opportunity to learn the craft and the rich history it carries, as well as trusting us to continue such an important legacy. We can only hope that our story inspires other makers and their supporters to ensure endangered crafts are not lost.”

 

Apprenticeship Structure

  • Length – 18 months
  • Qualifications gained – No formal qualifications were gained as it wasn’t considered necessary
  • Financial support – Supported and funded by Marchmont Ventures
  • Payments to apprentice – The apprentices were employed throughout their training period by Marchmont Ventures.
  • Recruitment process – Advertised by the Heritage Crafts Association. Recruited through an application and interview process by the HCA, Hugo Burge and Lawrence Neal.

 

Photo © Hugo Burge

Felicity Irons and Demi Green

Felicity Irons and Demi Green

Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Felicity Irons and Demi Green

 

Do it… support young people!

 

Felicity Irons BEM is an award-winning rush merchant and weaver. Her company, Rush Matters, is a thriving enterprise supplying rush matting, baskets and other products as well as supplying sustainably harvested British rush to other makers. Rush matting is categorised as endangered on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts and Felicity is one of the last remaining skilled makers.

Eight years ago, the sheer workload and a desire to ensure that her skills are passed on to the next generation led her to advertise locally for an apprentice. Demi had just finished school, was looking around for apprenticeship opportunities and came across the advert ‘by accident’. It turned out to be a happy accident and now Rush Matters is now a team of three full-time staff with Demi focusing on making rush tableware and shipping. However, she comments that, in a small team: “we all know how to do everything”.  Felicity says that they did present a challenge to the apprenticeship recruitment system, which is usually based on interview and not on practical skills. Eventually it was agreed that Demi could participate in a week long paid trial to assess her practical aptitude, which is vital for a maker.

Demi was the first formal trainee in the business and, in the early days, it was sometimes challenging to manage the time-consuming training alongside managing the business. “There were a lot of products that were not good enough to go out” says Felicity, “but the investment was well worth it; it has massively paid back”.

After eight years of working alongside each other, the apprenticeship has been a great success. The business is getting busier every year and the orders keep rolling in as the public interest in rush products continues to grow. Demi says:

“It’s the only job I have ever done and I can’t imagine doing anything else…It is a really nice place to work and a nice thing to do with my time. We all get on really well and it is good working in a small team.”

Felicity says that Demi is “invaluable, and extremely well skilled”. Most importantly, she is confident that she can manage the workshop and her business when she is not there, which allows her to be on the river cutting rush in the summer and perhaps even to take a holiday one day!

Felicity is passionate about the importance of apprenticeships for young people and urges other craftspeople to do the same. She says:

“I don’t really feel that I am working until my hands are wet and dirty… it is a brilliant thing to do and more young people should have the opportunity to have jobs like this …  Do it, support young people. We push too many people into university and it isn’t for everyone.”

 

Apprenticeship Structure

  • Length – 1 year
  • Qualifications gained – NVQ Fashion & Textiles
  • Payments to apprentice – Paid at above the apprenticeship minimum wage. Now in permanent full-time employment.
  • Recruitment process – Interview and one week paid trial to assess practical aptitude.

Red List 2021 support from the Pilgrim Trust

We are pleased to announce a new six-month research project funded by the Pilgrim Trust, which will provide a major update and expansion of our groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, first published in 2017.

TPilgrim Trusthe 2019 Red List of Endangered Crafts brought the plight of these skills to national attention, with coverage across the national press and BBC Radio on the day of publication. It identified 71 endangered and 36 critically endangered crafts, which, for a number of reasons, including a lack of effective training routes and an ageing workforce, faced an uncertain future.

We have spent much of 2020 supporting the sole traders and micro-businesses that make up the UK heritage crafts sector through a particularly difficult time, as opportunities for direct selling and teaching their skills have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 edition of the Red List will consider the knock-on effect of this on the viability of the crafts skills themselves.

HCAThe Sound of Craft Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis will take up the role of Research Manager for the project, thanks to funding of £15,000 from the Pilgrim Trust. The funding will also contribute to a series of endangered crafts symposia gathering together experts in particular craft disciplines to more fully investigate the rarer skills and local variations that make up their craft.

The 2019 version of the Red List is available to view at www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/redlist. If you would like to contribute information for the new version, please email Mary Lewis at redlist@heritagecrafts.org.uk. The updated Red List will be published at a press launch in May 2021.

Mary Lewis, HCA Red List Research Manager, said:

“COVID-19 has only exacerbated the challenges facing endangered craft skills, and our mission is to bring to light the knowledge and practices that are now on the brink, so that as a society we can have an informed debate on which parts of our intangible cultural heritage we want to keep as a resource for the future. Over the next few months I will be reaching out to craft practitioners to renew and supplement the existing data, with both accuracy improvements and real world changes. Please feel free to contribute by contacting me at redlist@heritagecrafts.org.uk.”

Sue Bowers, Director of the Pilgrim Trust, said:

“We are delighted to support the continuing development of the Red List which is so important in tracking the state of heritage crafts in the UK and creating the platform for discussions about how we can bring about positive change in the future.”

 

About the Pilgrim Trust

The Pilgrim Trust aims to preserve and promote Britain’s historical and intellectual assets and to provide assistance to vulnerable members of society. Sixty percent of its funding is directed towards projects aimed at preserving the fabric of architecturally or historically important buildings, or projects working to preserve historically significant artifacts or documents.

www.thepilgrimtrust.org.uk

Taking Heritage Crafts International

by Innan Sasaki, Warwick Business School, and Davide Ravasi, UCL School of Management

Heritage and heritage crafts are sometimes misunderstood as part of a purely nostalgic and inward-looking industry. But those who work in the industry know that heritage crafters don’t simply preserve the past; they revive it, bringing it to new audiences and in many cases, encouraging it to evolve with the times. Just think of the Chinese-Scottish tartan created by the Scottish Tartans Authority in 2006. Incorporating the colours of both the Chinese and Scottish flags, the new design was a forward-looking product that embraced international links between the two countries and took advantage of the Chinese affinity for quality tartan. The culturally-specific nature of real, woven tartan, usually reserved for traditional Scottish celebrations, has found new customers in adapting itself for an international market.

In recent years, we have been studying how heritage crafts industries have made themselves more adaptable, responding to external influences on the way they do business and the way their products are received. We studied, in particular, how small traditional crafts producers in Japan have marketed products that typically only native Japanese customers would fully connect with, to customers from many other countries. Historically, the Japanese crafts industry produced materials for the court and imperial or religious ceremonies, such as kimonos, lacquerware, and Buddhist altars. In an age when hand-made products are less-economical than their mass-produced counterparts, producers have endeavoured to find new ways or marketing and selling their wares. Regardless of how alien their products were to the cultures of foreign customers, the firms we studied all experimented with a variety of different ways of marketing products to new customers with varying degrees of success.

We observed three distinct ways in which Kyotoite heritage craft producers had expanded their marketing methods to target customers from entirely different cultures. Although the reception to heritage industries will inevitably vary from country to country, we believe that the strategies outlined below can provide inspiration to producers around the world in finding new customers for not only for their products, but also for their country’s culture.

Strategy 1: Selective Targeting

The first of these strategies observed the cardinal rule of business; knowing your customer. Many of the firms we studied knew the importance of identifying, targeting, and selling products to international communities that would appreciate Japanese culture and the hand-made products in their original form. After a decline in domestic demand, some of the producers with whom we spoke decided that they were keen to expand the reach of their marketing efforts to other countries.

For example, Kyoto Maimu, a firm making bags and other accessories made of kimono fabric, was struggling to sell their products internationally despite adjusting their design to suit what they perceived to be the tastes of western consumers. The firm eventually shifted back to producing a traditional Japanese design and refined their targeting to concentrate on Italian and French markets, which research and test sales indicated as the most receptive to their products. Their outreach was also helped by targeting culturally specific, international events such as conventions on Japanese pop culture and Anime comic contests where visitors were most likely to engage with the products they offered.

This method has its advantages. Selling products that exist only in your own country means that there is little to no competition in the foreign countries you market to. However, sometimes a degree of adaptation may be necessary to better fit local needs and preferences.

Strategy 2: Cultural Adaptation

The second strategy focused on adapting the design and/or presentation of products with foreign customers in mind so that their appeal, and potential customer base, was wider. To do so, firms often sought the help of foreign distributors, serving as ‘cultural intermediaries’, companies in possession of both a knowledge of Japanese culture and the local market, who could guide adaptation of craft products tom local tastes and uses.

This strategy was primarily driven by the idea that while selective targeting can achieve a certain level of success in exporting heritage crafts, making some small but strategic adjustments to the design, packaging, and features of the product may considerably expand the potential appeal to local customers. For example, Maruwa Shougyou offered its furoshiki (a square piece of cloth that, in Japan, had been used to wrap and carry things for hundreds of years) in a larger size, and successfully marketed it as a tablecloth in the US and Europe. Kyobutugu Kobori, a producer of altar fittings for Buddhist temples, modified their products to serve the rapidly diffusing yoga studios in Western countries. These changes often led to double-digit growth of international sales over several years.

Local distributors also helped educate local customers about the unique properties of heritage craft objects, passionately shared stories about the cultural traditions they were part of, and help customers distinguish original, authentic products from cheap imitations. On occasions, they also repositioned objects in ways that made them more relevant for local needs. A Swedish retailer, for instance, offered numerous examples, including the use of hashi [chopsticks] as hair accessory, ochoko [a sake cup] to hold eggs, washi [traditional Japanese paper] as interior design, and kimono fabric and obi [a broad sash worn around the waist of a Japanese kimono] as curtain or table cloth.

Strategy 3: Cultural Transposition

The third and final strategy saw the firms we studied collaborating with foreign designers in order to help further bridge the gap of cultural understanding between consumers and the crafts producers.  We observed the producers working with designers in their target markets to create unique products that were inspired by Japanese craftsmanship but tailored to meet the needs of the foreign consumer. Cultural transposition means applying traditional techniques more flexibly, so that entirely new products are created.

For example, in 2012, the lacquerware producer, Isuke Shouten, began collaborating with foreign designers to propose new products to be marketed in new areas. The firm’s owners invited French designers to Kyoto and asked them to provide designs that they thought might sell well in French and broader European markets. The French designers collaborated with the Japanese craftsmen to develop a new series of products that combined the functionality of modern design with the sophistication of traditional materials. The new products, such as a lacquerware wine cooler, were soon displayed at international trade shows in other countries, reaching the interest of new customers, and also began to sell well domestically in Japan.

Although recently the heritage crafts industry, like many others, has suffered due to the unprecedented circumstances in which we all now find ourselves, imaginative and adaptive thinking can help businesses of all sizes to survive. These strategies can help new customers to see the cultural value of the products that heritage crafts producers have created. Heritage crafts have their part to play in the global economy and with the right planning, international customers can support and enjoy national heritage just as much as local ones.

The study mentioned in the post is reported in Sasaki, I., Nummela, N. & Ravasi, D. Managing cultural specificity and cultural embeddedness when internationalizing: Cultural strategies of Japanese craft firms. Journal of International Business Studies (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-020-00330-0