Still life of Venetian glass pieces, including drinking glasses and vases

8 Important Artisan Traditions From Around the World — and the People Bringing Them Into a New Era

Exquisite objects with a sense of place, plus the stories (and histories) behind them.

Consider for a moment something in your home that is handmade — maybe a piece of pottery, a carefully loomed blanket, or a turned wooden bowl. Residing unseen within that object is a long and rich history. Even if the item in your mind’s eye is a lopsided cup made by your seven-year-old, that humble thing is a repository of tradition and skill passed from maker to maker over generations — ending up, eventually, in the hands of your child’s art teacher.

But if the object happens to be something you purchased while traveling, it is likely also a manifestation of the soul of a community — a physical embodiment of a way of life, a set of beliefs, a relationship to the landscape, and even of political and social history. When we are drawn to a teacup from Kyoto, a sweetgrass basket from the South Carolina Lowcountry, or a rag rug from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, we are in part responding to the powerful sense of place that object embodies.

This long, backward-looking (and forward-reaching) path — one that an object must traverse to become itself — not only imbues an item with significance but is also the flame that keeps endangered traditions alive. Whether you’re venturing to far-off lands or sitting on the sofa with your laptop, supporting regional handcrafts can alter the shape of our future. How’s that for guilt-free shopping?

Pair of photos, one showing a dress using a Guatemalan fabric, and one showing two Japanese bowls
From left: Embroidered huipil from Ixbalam'ke, $500; Asahiyaki Geppaku chawan (bowl), about $1,700, and with gold overglaze, about $2,000.

Alyona Kuzmina. Set styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

Weaving in Guatemala

Q'eqchi' women weavers in the mountainous Alta Verapaz region of north-central Guatemala work on a style of loom that’s held in place with a strap around their back and uses body weight to keep the warp tight. This method was devised more than 2,000 years ago, but the members of Ixbalam’ke, a collective headed by Amalia Gue, are keeping up with the times, producing delicate, gauzy apparel like shawls and blouses.

Their main product, though, is timeless. The loom allows a weaver to create hip-width panels, which are embroidered together into a huipil — the wide, boxy shirt-dress long worn by Mayan women across Central America. For its styles, Ixbalam’ke uses an alluring palette of blues, pinks, grays, and browns made with natural plant-derived dyes. Although simple, these garments take several months to make — longer than garments from many “luxury” brands, which can’t be had at this price. To order, message on Instagram (@amalia_gue) or email

Pottery in Japan

When I met Matsubayashi Hosai XVI in the city of Uji, near Kyoto, he had recently relinquished his given name to assume his ancestral title. His family’s pottery business, Asahiyaki, was started by Hosai I in 1640 and has been passed from father to son, Hosai to Hosai, over 16 generations.

Matsubayashi told me of his initial terror in assuming a legacy as old as the “way of tea,” or Japanese tea ceremony. Then, one night, alone at the foot of the great noborigama kiln, he felt his previous self disappear, becoming one with those who preceded him — and those who will succeed him.

For 400 years, clay has been dug from the Uji River basin and aged for 50 years before use. The clay for these pieces was mined by Hosai XVI’s ancestors, and he uses the same brilliant blue straw-ash glaze, fueling the same enormous kiln with pine. This series from the Hosai XVI collection incorporates a rich gold without compromising the vessels’ essential humility. Asahiyaki also sells simpler pieces and tea accessories.

Pillows made with Malian tie-dyed fabric
Cushion covers from Cooperative Djiguiyaso, around $50 for small and $80 for large.

Alyona Kuzmina. Set styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

Dyeing in Mali

I met the textile artist Aissata Namoko a few years ago at the annual International Folk Art Market, in Santa Fe, while admiring the vibrant work of Djiguiyaso, her cooperative in Mali’s capital city, Bamako. Speaking in simple French so that I could understand, she told me about the crafts that Mali is known for: indigo tie-dyeing, which goes back some 3,000 years there, and bogolan fabrics, whose earthy colors come from fermented mud. Both, she explained, have teetered on extinction since the 1980s, when synthetic fabrics and machine-made patterns became more prevalent.

In 2004, Namoko stepped in. Cooperative Djiguiyaso employs more than 100 women to create pieces (cushions, dresses, shirts, bedcovers) that merge bogolan with traditional tie-dye techniques. She also set up a center to teach spinning, dyeing, and sewing — skills to help women transition into the workplace while reviving generational knowledge and keeping it connected to its origins. Her innovative thinking has actually allowed a return to intense localization. Cotton, organically grown in Mali, is processed and spun into yarn by factories there. Cooperative members then weave, wash, and dye the textiles with Malian-grown indigo.

Djiguiyaso products can be found on sites like Indigo Arts, Minzuu, and So Original or purchased wholesale through Powered by People.

Pair of photos, one showing a Scottish fair-isle sweater, and one showing baskets woven from sweetgrass
From left: Fair Isle crewneck sweater by Mati Ventrillon for Old Stone Trade, $1,250; sweetgrass rice fanner, $850; wine bottle holder, $550; “elephant ear” basket, $3,500; and basket with twisted handle, $4,500, all by Lynette Youson.

Alyona Kuzmina. Set styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

Knitting in Scotland

Many wool sweaters are called “Fair Isle,” but the real thing comes only from the isolated, windswept Shetland island bearing that name. The garments begin with the herds of sheep that graze its rocky pastures; the shearing, spinning, and knitting all take place there.

The craft originated with women, kept indoors by the harsh weather, who knitted patterned sweaters for their seafaring husbands — who, in turn, often bartered them for necessities along the trade route, thus introducing the world to this unique style. In the 1980s the knitters formed a cooperative and trademarked Fair Isle, transforming a subsistence craft into a recognized luxury. When the cooperative dissolved in 2011, one of its members — Mati Ventrillon, a French Venezuelan architect who’d moved to the island with her husband and child on a bit of a lark — launched her own brand to keep the tradition alive.

Ventrillon’s reverence for the culture, and her good design sense, are clear from her pieces, some of which feature adapted 19th-century motifs. Recently, her work caught the eye of New York–based editor turned curator Melissa Ventosa Martin, founder of Old Stone Trade, a retailer for high-end handcrafted clothing. The pair are now collaborating on an exclusive collection.

Basketry in South Carolina

There are precious few artifacts that enslaved people in the U.S. were able to pass on to their children; in the South Carolina Lowcountry, coiled sweetgrass baskets are a unique exception. The West African ancestors of the region’s Gullah Geechee community made winnowing baskets to fan rice on plantations, coiling and stitching local rushes using knowledge they had carried with them across the ocean. After Emancipation, weavers experimented with sweetgrass, pine needles, and palmetto fronds to create more elaborate designs, turning the craft into an art — and a source of income.

As a child in the Charleston area, Lynette Youson learned to weave by watching her great-grandmother, and today she carries on the tradition with her daughters and granddaughters. The beauty and skill in her baskets is obvious — one piece is in the collection of the Smithsonian — and it’s work that runs deep and has traveled far. Youson is dedicated to preserving this cultural heritage, and regularly leads workshops for local children as well as adults from across the country. “This is my love,” she says. Youson’s work is for sale at the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Pavilion, in Mount Pleasant, or can be ordered directly from  

Still life of Venetian glass pieces, including drinking glasses and vases
Archivio Lante decanters, $340 each, and glasses, $445 for a set of six, designed by Domitilla Harding.

Alyona Kuzmina. Set styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

Glassblowing in Italy

Glassblowing in Venice dates back to the Roman Empire. By the 13th century, the art had become so vital to the city’s economy that its secrets were safeguarded by drastic means: all production was moved to the island of Murano, in the Venetian Lagoon, and glassblowers were not permitted to leave. Today, Murano remains a center for glass — so much so that it has become a bit of a tourist trap.

Still, there are a few Venetian families committed to keeping the local heritage alive at a high level, and some excellent designers collaborating with master craftspeople. None rival the Anglo-Italian designer and artist Domitilla Harding, who creates pieces in collaboration with Murano-based master Andrea Zilio.

In addition to one-off vessels for exhibition in museums and galleries, the pair now make a line of remarkably simple but completely perfect Archivio Lante decanters — inspired by bottles Harding found in the archives of a factory in the town of Empoli — as well as a coordinating set of “osteria-style” glasses. The glassware comes in a range of sublime, dusty hues that are mixed with precision by Harding herself. To order, email the artist at 

Pair of photos, one showing hand forged metal bells from India, and one showing a colorful woven rug from Morocco
From left: Hand-forged bells from Gujarat, $2 to $105, available through Maiwa; boucherouite rug (7'9" by 3'4") by Zhour Ousbigh, $349, sold via the Anou Cooperative.

Alyona Kuzmina. Set styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

Metalwork in India

If you've ever ventured through rural India, you've likely noticed the melodic cacophony of copper bells hanging from the necks of sheep and cattle—many of them crafted in the Kutch district of Gujarat. Kutch, on India’s western coast, is surrounded by water on three sides and shares a border with what is now Pakistan, where this metalworking technique originated centuries ago. Sheets of scrap metal are beaten by hand to be shaped and joined without welding, then coated with a mixture of copper and mud paste and fired in a kiln to produce the characteristic patina. The artisans gently hammer the bells to create different sizes and sounds, which help herders tell their flock from others and distinguish types of livestock.

A local economy still exists for this craft, though the market has diminished as nomadism has gradually given way to more stable agricultural lifestyles. Artisans now sell the bells around the world to people who wish to bring the music of the Indian countryside into their lives, whether on gates and doors, as wind chimes, or even on the collars of pets. The bells can be purchased through Maiwa, a Vancouver-based boutique; its social-enterprise arm, the Maiwa Foundation, provides funding for artisans in the Global South.

Rugmaking in Morocco

While Amazigh women have been making wool carpets in the villages of the Atlas Mountains for centuries, rag rugs (called boucherouites, from the Arabic for “torn fabric”) are a modern, and almost accidental, innovation. The waning of nomadism and herding in the 20th century made wool harder and costlier to obtain. This coincided with a huge influx of secondhand clothes flooding the souks from throw-away economies like our own, inspiring the Amazigh to make do with scraps — turning their imposed limitations into a vibrant, idiosyncratic, and wildly colorful new form of artistic expression.

Boucherouite rugs are akin to a jazz riff, more spontaneous than the well-established geometric patterns and motifs of traditional Moroccan rugs. They are made on a large loom from torn lengths of fabric, with smaller scraps hand-knotted to create a colorful plush pile. These rugs were originally made only for use in the weavers’ homes and not considered worthy of sale. But as visitors discovered their magic, a market was born. The piece shown here was made by Zhour Ousbigh of Cooperative Tiglmamin, outside the city of Khenifra; it is sold through the Anou Cooperative, a marketplace owned and operated by the artisans. Anou also offers workshops and artisan visits for travelers.

Edited by Hannah Walhout; Photographs by Alyona Kuzmina; Set Styling by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

A version of this story first appeared in the March 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Creation Stories."

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