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A Deep Appreciation of Craftsmanship

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Recently I've been watching a programme on Norwegian TV called "Nordisk Håndarbeid" (Nordic Crafts). It's presented by an Icelandic lady, who is a textile artist of fabric crafts. She creates beautiful works of art from fabric, wool and other materials and she has travelled all over Scandinavia meeting other artisans and craftsmen (and women!) to learn about their way of working. The crafts were stunning, some new techniques, but most of them were ancient techniques kept alive by these people who dedicated their lives to immersing themselves in it.

But the most profound and lasting memory of her programme for me was that wherever these people working in Scandinavia there was a deep appreciation of their work and skills, and they were able to make a good living from it. She compared this to artisan friends doing the same thing in other parts of Europe and they resoundingly said that they could only do it as a hobby and had to get "another" job to sustain it. It made me think about the Nordic attitude towards manual crafts and skills and the respect that is shown to people who have worked hard and long to hone their art and skill.

Many of these ancients crafts in Scandinavia date back as far as the Vikings. It goes without saying that they were great carpenters, after all they built ships that could withstand many months at sea in some of the most treacherous and stormy conditions. But they also had a deep love and appreciation of the finer arts, such as metalwork and weaving, wood carving and painting.

Oseberg cart
The Oseberg Cart in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

Just a few minutes in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo will confirm that the Vikings had skills that went far beyond raiding. The beautiful pieces of craftsmanship that they treasured show that. Some of them were traded in far off lands and others were made at home. Many are familiar skills that we can easily recognise and that are still practised today.

Nordic crafts
Nålebinding is an ancient technique for turning textiles into a rope.

Over my own working life I have been at the receiving end of comments and attitude that have not always been complimentary from people who believe that one has to have a university degree and specialise in banking, technology or the tertiary sector to earn any kind of respect. But since moving to Norway I have realised that all the skills I have and skills of those around me who work with their hands have such a huge and lasting benefit to society. They are the people who keep the ancient cultural arts alive. They are the ones who link us to our historical past through means of art, crafts and the clothes we wear, and the food we eat; a part of living history if you will.

Nordic crafts
The beauty and individuality of a handmade item is something to be cherished. Photo courtesy of Handmade in Norway

As I realised this I also noticed how much people are able to charge for quality workmanship in Scandinavia. The true value of a beautiful piece of handmade knitwear or handcrafted felt, or beautiful made candle or silverware is reflected in the price and Scandinavians are more than willing to pay for it. There are many hours work and specialised talents to make such things, and it may mean that the hand knitted mittens, or embroidered tablecloth have to last for many, many years, but it should be something that is cherished and passed on. And if the artisan themselves are paid well for their work they are able to pass that skill that onto the next generation by way of apprentices. And so the skill is kept alive and the wheel keeps turning.

So I urge you, where possible, to consider each item you are buying and try to support those often quiet, but cleverly skilled people who might be making the perfect gift just round the corner from you; the artisans at the Christmas markets and craft markets that are so popular at this time of year and take a moment to think about the hours and love that have been put into each stitch, or twist of metal, each knit and stir of the pot to bring a fine quality item to you, something that can be loved appreciated and hopefully passed on. You are keeping those skills alive! Thank you

And don't forget that many artisans also sell online. Etsy is a great place to start hunting for wonderful and unique treasures. It's the home of my own online shop and also somewhere that I use regularly for special and unusual gifts.

Would you like to join others who cherish the idea of Nordic Living? We'd be delighted to welcome you to the Living a Nordic Life Facebook Group

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