6 Unique Crafting Techniques From Around the World

25 May 2023

As a fair trade organization, what we do and what we stand for is rooted in the ten principles outlined by the Fair Trade Federation, from promoting environmental stewardship to building transparent trading partnerships. The ninth principle is to respect cultural, racial, and ethnic identity. Fair trade not only preserves, but celebrates our differences, keeping timeless traditions and art styles alive while protecting the rights of people of all cultures and races.

Would you believe that some of the artistry found in our fair trade handcrafts has origins thousands of years ago? Our skilled artisan partners use many different art and craft styles to create their one-of-a-kind items, from embroidery to basketry and more. Here are six unique crafting techniques from around the world that you'll find at serrv.org.

Responsive imageBatik using a tjanting pen


A method of resist-dyeing applied to fabrics and other materials to make incredible detailed patterns and motifs, batik art has been practiced for over 2,000 years! To create their beautiful batik handcrafts, our artisan partners in Indonesia apply hot pine wax or beeswax to the surface of the craft using a tjanting pen, which is a specific batiking tool. Then, they dye the wax-covered craft until it reaches the desired color. After it's the right color, the artisan removes the wax by pouring hot water over the craft, and then places it in the sun to dry. This process is repeated for each pattern and color.

Many of our popular and unique holiday decorations, like our Batik Trees and Batik Reindeer, as well as some of our handmade fashion items, feature traditional Indonesian batik.

Responsive imageBlock printing textiles

Block Print

While block printing has its origins in 2nd Century China, our artisan partners in India have also perfected this unique crafting technique. Using blocks made of hand-carved wood or metal, our partners dip each one in ink, then stamp eco-friendly cotton, sometimes using the same block many times. Each ink color requires its own stamp, so for table textiles like our Sitara Vine Collection or our Vasanti Cotton Bedding, artisans will use many stamps!

Dabu block print, on the other hand, is a mud resist block print technique where artisans cover parts of the fabric in the mud paste, then block print and dye the fabric. They allow it to dry before removing the paste, which leaves behind incredible block printed designs untouched by dye. Some of our most popular handmade Indian textiles, like our Indigo Dabu Placemats and Napkins sets, are crafted using an indigo dabu print technique.

There are several variations of block printing that our partners use. If vegetable-based dyes are used, we refer to this as kalamkari, which translates from Telugu to "pen craftsmanship" and started in the Middle Ages in India and Iran. You'll find a wide range of kalamkari textiles at SERRV, from handmade tablecloths to sustainable kalamkari scarves.

Responsive imageHand-thrown ceramic


One of the oldest crafting styles around (starting 30,000 years ago!), ceramic crafting is a truly timeless technique practiced all over the world. Our partners in Vietnam and Nepal produce many of our fair trade ceramics, but our partners in Peru are also skilled potters.

Each ceramic piece is shaped out of natural clay. For our hand-thrown ceramic stoneware pieces from Nepal, such as our popular Himalayan Ridge and Jannu Ridge ceramic mugs, artisans use a potter's wheel and shape the clay by hand. Our handmade ceramic collections from Bat Trang, Vietnam such as the bold Lak Lake or bright Dragonfly, are crafted using liquefied clay poured into slip casts. With both crafting styles, the clay is then air dried, and each piece is bisque fired to harden it before it's glazed, painted, and fired a second time.

Responsive imageTraditional embroidery


When you think of traditional crafts, embroidery is often top of mind, and rightfully so! People around the world have embroidered fabric since Ancient Egypt, making this another time-tested crafting technique. Embroidery seems simple on the surface compared to some of the other techniques—using a needle and thread, designs are stitched into fabric—but often, the designs are anything but simple!

Our partners in Ahmedabad, India craft incredible examples of handmade textiles featuring traditional embroidery, including the bright and cheerful Shalimar Meadow Collection. Sometimes, the embroidery is adorned with sequins, beads, mirrors, or other small decorative accents. Our Glittering Patchwork holiday decorations are a beautiful example of this adorned embroidery.

There are actually several different specialized embroidery techniques. Kantha embroidery, for example, is featured on some of our most popular handcrafts, including our one-of-a-kind Kantha Dish Towels and Kantha Quilts and Throws. Using thick, coarse thread, our artisan partners stitch layers of fabric together using a running stitch, often on colorful upcycled saris.

Another popular type of embroidery is zari embroidery. Originating in Persia and traditionally used to embellish silk saris and other garments, this beautiful style of embroidery is crafted using threads made of silver and gold. We carry a few fine examples of zari embroidery in our handmade Christmas ornament collection, each highlighting the true craftsmanship involved in this delicate crafting technique. Another very similar type of embroidery is zardozi embroidery. While both zari and zardozi use metallic thread, zari embroidery is done with an embroidery tool known as an aari hook, while zardozi is done using a traditional needle.

Responsive imagePyrography


Some of our partners etch and burn various materials, including wood and gourds, to create detailed and delicate engravings. Pyrography as a crafting technique has been around for over 2,000 years, with some of the earliest examples from Peru, which is also where our gourd-geous fair trade gourd Christmas ornaments come from!

First, the artisan sketches the design on the material they're burning. For our partners in India, this may be a piece of sustainable mango wood selected for one of our Indu kitchenware pieces, whereas our Peruvian partners use natural gourds. Next, using a hand-held burning tool, the artisan carefully etches their design into the surface.

After the design has been burned, the artisan may also paint or dye the craft. Pieces like our Happy Snowman Gourd Ornament or our Cardinal Gourd Birdhouse have added wood or clay embellishments.

Responsive imagePaper quilling


One of our most festive crafting techniques, quilling is the coiling and shaping of narrow strips of paper to create a detailed design. This craft became popular in the 16th century, though quilling techniques have been around since Ancient Egypt. Today, quilling is done around the world, and the quilled handcrafts we carry are made by our artisan partners in Vietnam.

While the materials required for quilling are fairly minimal, there are a variety of tools required including a slotted end tool, toothpicks, and paper piercing tools. Using these tools, artisans roll thin paper strips into tight coils and shapes. For some of our handmade Christmas ornaments, like our popular Quilled Peace Sign or Quilled Angel Ornaments, this paper is recycled. Many of our other ornaments, as well as our colorful Easter Eggs, use solid colors. These coils are pressed and glued together to form intricate and whimsical designs replete with texture and interest.

Preserving Craft Traditions

Learn about even more craft techniques at serrv.org! See photos and videos of the tools and processes our partners use to create each fair trade item by visiting our Techniques page. Think something's missing or want to share your favorite technique? Send us an email at marketing@serrv.org. We'd love to hear from you!

As always, thank you for choosing fair trade and supporting skilled artisans, farmers, and their families.

Tags:   Artisan Stories  

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