I have never been very good with my hands. I think it may be a mixture of a lack of talent, patience and perseverance. I’ve always loved the idea of craft, though. The thought of making something from nothing with knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation has a certain appeal to it.
In Britain and Ireland there are many traditional crafts that still have a firm root in the cultures. Many people, much more talented than I, have devoted their lives to honing* their crafts. But that doesn’t mean at times they can’t part from the traditional.
Bushmills whiskey is one of the oldest distilleries in the world having opened in 1608 in Northern Ireland. For a product like whiskey every part of the brewing process requires great skill – including making the barrels* they are stored in. The people who make and repair barrels are called ‘coopers’ who take a lot of pride in the process as it can greatly affect the flavour.
However, the Bushmills cooper, a man named Alastair Kane along with his son Chris, has recently found a new way to use his traditional skills. They have made an agreement with a guitar maker called George Lowden to make guitars out of whiskey barrels. These special edition guitars are beautiful to look at but before any of you guitar players get too excited, to buy one would set you back* £8.500.
If we move over the water now to Wales, there’s a quirky* craft tradition that dates back to the 17th century. The Welsh Lovespoon is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a hand-carved wooden spoon decorated with symbols of love such as hearts.
Lovespoons were traditionally given to women by an admirer to show their interest. Not only were they intended to be romantic but they were also supposed to show off* the man’s woodworking skills. This would then show the father of the young woman that the hopeful young man would be able to provide for her. The tradition can be seen in various countries such as Germany or Scandinavia but in Britain they are only well known in Wales. In Cardiff some of the earliest Welsh Lovespoons made in 1667 can be seen in St Fagans National History Museum.
Moving further north now to Scotland where one of the most famous traditional skills still has a place in everybody’s mind. ‘Tartan’ is a material with a pattern of criss-crossed* horizontal and vertical lines. Although the type of cloth can date back thousands of years in many countries, it has been associated very strongly with Scotland for many centuries now.
Scottish tartan is worn as pieces of clothing that look a little like skirts, called ‘kilts’. Nowadays, kilts are still worn in Scotland on special occasions such as weddings. There are many shops that make them like Kinloch Anderson in Edinburgh. The clothes shop has been in business since 1868 and if you want any of their ‘highland ware’ they can provide you with everything you need including the ‘sporran’, a type of bag or pouch worn on the front of the kilt or a ‘sgian dubh’ which is a ceremonial dagger* that literally translates as ‘black knife’.
The last craft I’m going to talk about is a type of art in Ireland made from a substance called ‘peat’ or ‘turf’. Turf can be found all over the hills of Ireland and is a type of earth that has been compacted over thousands of years. It is traditionally burnt as fuel in the winter but in more recent years people have turned it into a craft. Ornaments such as clocks, harps or Celtic crosses are common objects. What makes this craft different from other similar ones is the colour of the turf. The dark, rich black of the turf is extremely beautiful and, as they are quite cheap, they are an excellent idea for a present. l