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The recent mainstream interest in all things handmade has prompted a revival of global handicrafts.  A growing number of designers are choosing to work with traditional artisans in some of the poorest parts of the world, to create exquisitely-made, contemporary designed products, which blur the boundaries between design and craft.

Traditional basket-weaving skills, particularly, have been successfully reinterpreted by contemporary designers to produce modern, decorative and functional interior products.  Inspired by the combination of natural materials and ancient handicraft skills still practiced in some rural parts of the world, today’s designers in return bring a new aesthetic to traditional products and hope of new markets for these traditional crafts.

Swedish multi-disciplinary design studio, Claesson Koivisto Rune recently collaborated with young product design company Made in Mimbre to produce a collection of wicker lighting which was shown at this year’s London Design Festival.  Chilean brand Made in Mimbre employs a team of local artisans based in Chimbarongo, a traditional wicker-producing region of Chile, to manufacture the lamps.  The design of the lamps, which resemble natural forms such as acorns, ladybirds and jellyfish, were primarily influenced by the natural material and traditional wicker-weaving techniques which are under threat from mass production and man-made materials.

A collection of vibrant and striking woven vessels were recently exhibited as part of Interwoven – an exhibition exploring the diversity and the art of weaving – at homewares retailer Habitat in London.  Developed by pioneering company Gone Rural under the visionary directorship of designer Philippa Thorne, the company is redefining the traditional Swazi art of grass weaving and plaiting.  Bales of local Lutindzi grass are delivered to groups of women basket-weavers in rural Swaziland, which are hand woven into colourful baskets and home accessories.

Such a collaboration has become a real force for change, empowering over 750 female home-based workers by providing them with a sustainable, self-employed income.  The zig-zag designs pictured are clearly influenced by Thorne’s period working for Missoni, after graduating from London’s Central St Martins School of Art.

After visiting Burkina Faso 10 years ago, Danish basket weaver Eva Seidenfaden decided to use her passion for basket weaving to help the local women who are all skilled in traditional basket-weaving techniques, to make a sustainable living for themselves and their families.  Seidenfaden created Yajibelena, a self-help initiative which gives the women an alternative to low paid hard labour in one of Africa’s poorest countries.

As well as these wastepaper baskets, the Yajibelena women weave shopping baskets and bicycle baskets which are sold in local African markets and in Denmark.  50 women have produced over 3000 baskets so far.  The designs are based on a number of original Danish basket designs, but each weaver chooses the design they wish to work with, and adds their own patterns and colours.  Each basket sold pays a days wage for the maker – equal to that of a local bricklayer.

The results of these successful designer-maker collaborations ensure beautifully-made, unique products with an intrinsic, human value far greater than their form or function.

Author: Karen Sear Shimali, Director of textile company Stitch by Stitch

Made in Mimbre photos courtesy of Made in Mimbre

Gone Rural photo courtesy of Habitat Platform Gallery

Yajibelena photos courtesy of Skandium


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