By hand, from the heart

An in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple in China are be­gin­ning to de­velop a keen in­ter­est in hand­i­crafts, see­ing it as an ex­ten­sion of their per­son­al­ity and a way to pre­serve tra­di­tional tech­niques

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI -

Chen is among an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple in the coun­try who are be­gin­ning to find sat­is­fac­tion in tra­di­tional hand­i­crafts.

Zhang Yan, the founder of Yun Hand­i­craft School, said that she has wit­nessed a rise in in­ter­est in hand­i­craft among those from the younger gen­er­a­tion. The school cur­rently has around 10,000 stu­dents who are mostly aged in their 30s. The school of­fers cour­ses at its three branches in Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince.

“Since last year, we’ve no­ticed a spike in the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions from white col­lars and free­lancers who are look­ing for hand­i­craft cour­ses to kill time, slow down their pace of life and ex­plore the mean­ing of crafts­man­ship,” said Zhang, who started the busi­ness be­cause of her in­ter­est in tra­di­tional hand­i­crafts.

In 2013, Zhang and her friend from Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince came up with the idea to in­tro­duce hand­i­craft cour­ses to peo­ple like them­selves. They first started by or­ga­niz­ing classes on Suzhou em­broi­dery — it is an art form that has a his­tory of more than 2,500 years — where pro­fes­sional crafts­men would teach par­tic­i­pants how to use the rel­e­vant tools and stitch pat­terns on clothes.

Since then, the duo have ex­panded their range of cour­ses to in­clude tra­di­tional clab­o­rat­estyle paint­ing, print­ing and dye­ing, as well as pa­per­mak­ing. Cur­rently, the three branches of the school of­fer more than 20 cour­ses across three cat­e­gories — paint­ing, print­ing and dye­ing and wood carv­ing — with each class last­ing three hours.

“I was ini­tially only in­ter­ested in hand­i­crafts but now I find my­self in­trigued and ea­ger to find out more about how we can re­tain tra­di­tional hand­i­craft tech­niques in to­day’s mod­ern era and how peo­ple can ap­ply such meth­ods and ma­te­ri­als in their daily lives,” said Zhang.

Un­like cour­ses that of­fer ready-to-use ma­te­ri­als and tools, Yun Hand­i­craft School only pro­vides raw ma­te­ri­als to stu­dents so that they can learn about the en­tire craft­ing process.

For ex­am­ple, stu­dents en­rolled in the newly launched pa­per­mak­ing class start by learn­ing how to steam tree bark and cre­ate pa­per pulp be­fore end­ing up with rough pa­per. They also learn how to ex­tract color from plants and ap­ply plant ash in other cour­ses such as tra­di­tional paint­ing and dye­ing.

“We are keen to re­store an­cient hand­i­craft tech­niques and ap­ply them in the cre­ation process for mod­ern goods like clothes, ac­ces­sories and cush­ions. This en­sures that we pass the crafts­man­ship spirit on to the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” said Zhang.

In this year’s Gov­ern­ment Work Re­port, Premier Li Ke­qiang said the coun­try will “en­cour­age en­ter­prises to use flex­i­ble and cus­tom-tai­lored pro­duc­tion pro­cesses and foster a crafts­man­ship spirit of striv­ing for the best, so that more types of prod­ucts, prod­ucts of higher qual­ity, and brand prod­ucts will be made”.

It was the first time the term “crafts­man­ship spirit” — it refers to the ded­i­ca­tion that crafts­men have for their work — was men­tioned in the Gov­ern­ment Work Re­port and ex­perts be­lieve that it sig­ni­fies a move by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to en­cour­age en­ter­prises and in­di­vid­u­als to cul­ti­vate such a spirit to fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing and pro­mote in­no­va­tion.

“The em­pha­sis on crafts­man­ship by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has led to a grow­ing trend where more in­di­vid­u­als are get­ting in­ter­ested in mak­ing prod­ucts with their own hands as part of ef­forts to pur­sue the ori­gins of hand­made tra­di­tions,” said Yu Hai, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Fu­dan Univer­sity.

“How­ever, it is also es­sen­tial to com­bine tra­di­tional tech­niques with in­no­va­tive ideas to cre­ate unique hand­made prod­ucts that can be widely ap­plied and used in daily life.”

Another in­di­vid­ual who has Hugo Qiu, em­braced this new trend is Hugo Qiu, a 36-year-old part­time leather­ware maker who owns his brand Muke.

Qiu, who prefers to be called a crafts­man in­stead of the boss of his own busi­ness, first be­came ac­quainted with leather­work­ing about a decade ago when he at­tempted to cre­ate a cam­era cover for his own use. He failed on his first at­tempt.

De­ter­mined to mas­ter the art of leather­work­ing, Qiu did ex­ten­sive re­search into the craft and self-taught him­self leather­cut­ting and hand-stitch­ing tech­niques in or­der to cre­ate goods such as wal­lets and bags.

After years of prac­tice, Qiu is now well-known in the leather­ware in­dus­try and his hand­made Muke wal­lets com­mand prices rang­ing from 900 to 2700 yuan. To­day, he spends about three to four hours ev­ery day at his stu­dio that has about 50 types of leather­work­ing tools and equip­ment.

“My items may have sim­ple de­signs but they are made with fine leather and fea­ture in­tri­cate stitch­ing. They can be used for a long time,” said Qiu, who counts him­self to be rather lucky as he has a reg­u­lar clien­tele that keeps him busy with or­ders of be­tween five and six pieces ev­ery month.

Qiu said that it is the ded­i­ca­tion to cre­at­ing unique prod­ucts of high qual­ity, in­stead of earn­ing in­come from his pas­sion that truly mat­ters to him. He added that he prefers to take his time with craft­ing items so that he can be fo­cused at ev­ery step of the process, en­sur­ing that his clients as well as his own ex­pec­ta­tions are met.

For in­stance, Qiu ad­mit­ted that he is still work­ing on a wal­let that was or­dered by a client two years ago, cit­ing his own dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the prod­uct as the main cause of the de­lay.

“I trea­sure the spirit of crafts­man­ship and this is some­thing that will last un­til I die. I want to make small amounts of leather prod­ucts that hold my feel­ings and ideas,” said Qiu.

“I am al­ways de­lighted when clients send my prod­ucts back for main­te­nance. This shows that my work is val­ued and it also re­minds me why I be­came a crafts­man in the first place.”

are made with fine leather and are in­tri­cately stitched. I trea­sure the spirit of crafts­man­ship and this is some­thing that will last un­til I die. I want to make small amounts of leather prod­ucts that hold my feel­ings and ideas.”

a 36-year-old part-time leather­ware maker who owns his brand Muke.


Chen Jing'ao works on the keel of his first hand­made boat, which he used dur­ing his mar­riage pro­posal.

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