1,000th member Louise Altman

We are delighted to have recently welcomed our 1,000th member of the Heritage Crafts Association, wallpaper maker Louise Altman – www.outofbounds.org.uk/hand-printed-wallpapers. Here, Louise tells us a little bit about her work and why she chose to join the HCA. if you’re not already a member, click here to find out more about joining up.


 

Louise Altman“I studied a Print Media (Book Arts) degree at the LCP (London College of Printing). The course had a very creative element but was equally technically focused on bookbinding and printmaking skills. I was always trying to make more time to get in the print rooms! After uni, I was fortunate enough to work at Book Works Studio with Rob Hadrill. It was here that I learned much finer bookbinding and making techniques that have informed all of my creative practices. I spent a few years working as a resident artist in schools where we pioneered a unique creative initiative in education, working with students and staff to promote creative thinking. Alongside this more formal career, I maintained a studio and continued to create prints, limited edition artists’ books and patterns.

“I first heard of HCA whilst reading an article on The Guardian website and was really excited to know that there was an association championing heritage crafts… Then several friends and artists have pointed out to me that wallpaper printing was an endangered skill and that I ought to let you know that I’m out here working in this medium. I’m fairly new to wallpaper printing but my designs have already been enjoyed by many and I intend to continue and develop this wonderful skill. Luckily I have been printmaking for many years so it’s just an additional learning curve to the skills I have been practising for over 20 years.”

Louise AltmanI spent some years visiting India (and still do, pandemic aside) and was lucky enough to be invited to a traditional block printing studio. This ancient art of block printing patterns onto fabrics became a huge interest. I spent some time on several trips with the artisans learning the techniques, despite the huge language barrier. I altered my studio at home and adapted a large table into one similar to the one I’d been using in India. I began printing onto fabric with half a mind to eventually print wallpaper. I joined a weekend course with Hugh Dunford Wood and learned the basics of printing wallpapers. The passion was ignited!

“It’s more important than ever before to support heritage crafts. I am an early adopter when it comes to tech and innovation but I also know that if we lose these skills we will be unable to retrieve a very unique tradition of making by hand.  I always think back to cave handprints and how we hold those early human marks in high regard. The mark of a human is impossible to replicate and we must protect it or future generations will lament our oversight.”

Louise Altman“Continuing to develop my wallpaper printing skills alongside my day job, suddenly the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown. It was being on furlough that gave me the time and space to develop a series of patterned papers which I am now producing for clients. My future plans are to develop several collections and to continue to promote this beautiful craft. It would be easier to develop these patterns for a digital wallpaper market but I want to remain a purist and hand print everything myself. I am in my element whilst printing and really enjoy interactions with clients who appreciate the work and mark of the artist’s hand.

“My process is to sketch from nature, I then turn these drawings into a repeat pattern design. This gets transferred onto a specially prepared block which I carve into to create the pattern. This block then gets handprinted onto prepared wallpapers using my adapted block printing table. Mostly I use my feet to print as you’ll see from the images. It’s a truly physical practice and I love listening to podcasts whilst I print.”

Photos by Anna Lukala – www.lukala.com

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.

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

 

 

A Stitch in Time – Scotland’s craft heritage

By Gill Colhart

Weaver at work, Dovecot StudiosColinton resident and art and craft expert Gill Colthart has been inspired by the historical drama television series Outlander to delve into the subject of Scottish indigenous crafts and here she gives us a bit of background to some of our craft heritage.

When I read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I was fascinated by the depth of her research. Considering she had never actually visited Scotland, Diana’s narrative was both interesting and accurate.  Apart from the elements of romance, mystery, adventure and time travel there was for me that something extra – and that was the references to indigenous Scottish crafts in the 18th century.

The main female character in the book, Claire, became involved with the local ladies in the village of Lallybroch, and sometimes joined them to learn new skills. In one memorable scene she came across a group of women sitting thumping and pulling wool over and back across a table whilst merrily singing together and tapping in time to the music.

What they were doing was known as ‘waulking’ which is the Gaelic name for the process used to soften and thicken fabric, and also make it water resistant. Singing together helped keep the rhythm and made the work more enjoyable  – and I would imagine that a fair amount of gossip was exchanged too! One person would start a song and the others would join in the chorus and as time progressed the tempo of the song would increase. The cloth was moved around the table clockwise as it was perceived to bring bad luck if passed the other way. There must have been hundreds of songs as it was also perceived to bring bad luck if any song was repeated during a waulking session.

Any feature on traditional Scottish crafts has to include reference to Harris Tweed®, now a world famous product. Originally much of the tweed came from cottage industries with crofters making rough cloth for their own use, with some of the surplus used as currency. It must have been exhausting work as everything from carding, spinning and weaving was done by hand by women working in very hard conditions, often outdoors in bad weather, with cloth that had been soaked in ‘household ammonia’, i.e. stale urine, in a process used to set the dye.

The appeal of Harris Tweed® is timeless. The spinning is done by machine, but the weaving is still done by hand. Classic garments made from it are of top quality and cutting edge garments are regularly seen on the catwalk and in glossy magazines. A genuine Harris Tweed® garment would be expected to last for many years, probably even a lifetime, and so the name came to be protected by The Harris Tweed Act in 1993 which dictated that Harris Tweed cloth must be: “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

In the 18th century, the production of linen was a significant part of Scotland’s economy with a high standard of workmanship expected from the workforce. Each batch of linen was examined and inspected by stampmasters of the Board of Trade; one reason being to ensure that the middle of the bale was not inferior to the outside part which was visible to the buyer. Yes there were scams even way back then! Youngsters were apprenticed to a master weaver and an apprenticeship lasted six to seven years.

As with many other industries, linen workers also had their own terminology. There was a dirty muddy fermentation process called a ‘retting pit’ and ‘heckling’ was the word for the last step when dressing flax prior to spinning. The story goes that the linen workers in Dundee were politically active and given to voicing their opinions at political meetings – giving rise to the modern usage of the word ‘heckling’.

Tweed and linen are simple and practical fabrics so it may come as a surprise to know that a more luxurious fabric – silk – was made in Scotland. There were three factories in the Dunfermline area and one of them, the Winterthur Silk Factory, provided the duchesse silk satin used by Sir Norman Hartnell to make the Queen’s wedding dress. Princess Elizabeth was granted 200 extra ration coupons, but had to return others that had been gifted by members of the public, as they were not transferable. Apparently, a back-up piece was woven just in case the original did not arrive in London and a local girl who was married in 1964 was given it to have made into her wedding dress.

During WW2 silk was produced for the war effort, and synthetic silk was used to make parachutes. My Mother packed parachutes when she was based in Orkney with the WRNS, and it would not be surprising to find they came from the a Dunfermline mill.  I wish I still had some if it and would love to know its provenance.

There are far too many highly respected Scottish indigenous crafts to cover in one article –  Paisley shawls, Mauchline Ware, Darvel lace, shinty sticks, Orkney chairs, drystane dykes and Fair Isle knitting are just some examples but there are many more.

What is good to know is that with the current resurgence of interest in traditional crafts, many people and organisations are keeping the old skills alive.  A good example is the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh which can be found in the premises of the old Infirmary Street baths. Originally established in 1912 by the 4th Marquess of Bute who recruited weavers to produce large tapestries for Mount Stuart House, his home on the Isle of Bute, it is now a world renowned centre of excellence. Dovecot not only continues a century long heritage of collaboration with international artists to make handwoven tapestries and rugs, but they also employ master weavers. They have a wonderful viewing gallery from where you can watch a master weaver at work and they also curate fascinating exhibitions and workshops. I definitely prefer perusing beautiful craftsmanship to the memories I have of standing shivering in a cold changing room. Maybe that is why I went on to be an art and crafts teacher but never did learn to swim!

The Highland Folk Museum is the UK’s first open air museum. Situated in Cairngorm National Park at Newtonmore, it has an extensive collection of traditional artefacts including pieces of tartan and traditional hand woven blankets. It is an ideal venue for a family day out as there is something for all age groups to enjoy.

If you are interested in learning a new skill there are a number of organisations who offer traditional craft workshops, including many private workshops run by extremely experienced creators.

Learning in lockdown – passing on the ancient art of woodblock printing

By Sarah Edmunds

In recent months there has been a meteoric surge in the pursuit of arts and crafts as we spend more time than ever at home. Global crisis aside, the creative and curious amongst us have used this time as a force for good, taking up lapsed hobbies or learning new skills. In response to a chaotic world which we cannot control, there has been a heightened need to return to slower activities with tangible outcomes – away from our screens.

In the world of printmaking, there are many different genres, with block printing being one of the oldest, dating as far back as the 2nd century CE, originating in China. Many will associate this form of printing with world famous ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ a Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai. With a few simple materials the myriad of possible woodcut effects are endless and the results can vary from delicate to dynamic.

Shore break by Rod Nelson

‘Shore break’ by Rod Nelson

Two expert printmakers, Merlyn Chesterman RE and Rod Nelson, have championed the ancient art of printmaking for the past thirty years. They became friends through a common enthusiasm for the work of Japanese printmaker Shiko Manukata. Much of their work draws on the vibrant living traditions of China and Japan using techniques and tools that are still in use in modern printmaking – the bamboo leaf covered baren and pink painted woodblocks both originate from China.

Merlyn Chesterman at Art in Action woodblock printmaker

Merlyn Chesterman

Each has exhibited widely, published books, taught and have become experts in their field, and most recently they have produced a two hour masterclass DVD published by and available from Artisan Media called
Making Woodblock Prints. The nine topics include essential tools, cutting a block, developing your own marks, introducing colour, layer blocks with colour, cutting an underblock, inking the block, proofing and editioning, and advanced printing techniques.

“Let us consider for a moment Hokusai’s woodcut ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ – probably the most famous woodcut print of all time – there is hardly anyone who is not excited by this masterpiece when seeing it for the first time (or even for the hundredth). It is visually as accessible to a six year old as to a Professor of Art. He knew that he was good.” Rod Nelson.

Rod Nelson Woodblock Printmaker in his studio

Rod Nelson

It was these 17th century printmakers that so enamoured the post impressionists; Monet, Degas and Van Gogh. Japonism was closely associated with the group and Monet in particular amassed a collection of around fifty prints by Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige. Monet examined these prints intensely and their influence is felt in his art and gardens at Giverny, in the flower covered lake and Japanese footbridge. He welcomed Japanese visitors, buyers and admirers with whom he forged lifelong friendships. Van Gogh’s Iris paintings were directly influenced by ukiyo-e prints seen in the dark contours and expressive brushstrokes.

“Woodcuts are images that simply can’t be made in any other way. They sit on the boundary between art and craft – and anyone making woodcuts will quickly experience the delights and terrors of both.” – Rod Nelson

 

Jay Blades in Conversation

On 15 June 2020 we ran an online event with Jay Blades (BBC Repair Shop, Jay Blades’ Home Fix) where Jay and host Robin Wood MBE were joined by 98 HCA members and fans on Zoom to listen to Jay talk about his inspirations and experiences and to ask him questions.

We have created a number of short videos from the event which you can watch on our YouTube channel:

Or you can watch the whole live stream on our Facebook live: