10 Old Trades Making a Comeback
These DIYers are on a mission to preserve nearly-forgotten skills and handmade crafts.
Photo By: Nicholas Moegly
Photo By: Courtesy of Songa
Photo By: Courtesy of Ichcha
Photo By: Chelsea Miller
Photo By: EnterPhoto/iStock
Photo By: Courtesy of Aurora Shoe Co.
Photo By: HaveSeen/iStock
Photo By: Sarah Cole, Courtesy of Green Pea Press
Photo By: Struvictory/iStock
Photo By: Deanne Revel
Photo By: Courtesy of Maskarade ©Courtesy of Maskarade
Gold Leaf Signs
Did you know that some signs used to be made in gold? Yes, really. With the advancement of printing, vinyl and graphic design this sign style went out of style. But Nicholas Moegly is bringing gold leaf back. “Gold leaf is kind of a dying art and it would be a shame to see it disappear,” said Moegly. “Spending the time to create ornate, beautiful signage and storefronts is sometimes overlooked, but it all adds to the general aesthetic of our streets and cities.” These hand-lettered signs can take days to create because of the dry times of the gold and paint but Moegly appreciates the slow pace. “One of the reasons I love gold leaf signage is because the way I do it today is the same way sign painters did it 120 years ago,” he said. “There are no shortcuts and it takes a lot of patience and focus, but once it’s complete there’s nothing that looks quite like it. There are very few people doing gold leaf anymore, so when people see a gold leaf sign walking down the street is really stands out and draws their attention.”
Songa Designs International isn’t charity. It’s a business that empowers artisans by creating jobs in under-resourced countries so workers may earn their way to economic independence. In Rwanda, Songa is preserving a skill that is almost 1,000 years old by employing women to hand-weave the Agaseke, the country’s oldest traditional basket. The baskets are made from natural fibers such as sisal plant, banana leaf and palm leaf and have 30,000 each.
Any DIYer will appreciate the attention to detail in Ichcha's handmade quilts and tapestries. They'll also appreciate the preservation of skills almost lost forever. Ichcha was created to save the art of block printing, hand weaving and hand embroidering textiles in countries like India, where families are abandoning those unique weaving styles for more lucrative trades. Today, Ichcha empowers artisans and the result is beautiful.
These days we typically don’t think about where our cutlery and kitchen tools come from. But knives are big in the DIY community right now. Not like pocket knives. Big, beautiful kitchen knives. Knife artist Chelsea Miller creates – no, forges – knives by hand, from butter knives perfect for parties to chef knives with built-in graders in the blade. Miller says her knives are created “to move slowly in the kitchen with intent to prepare thoughtful food.”
Even if you’re not familiar with chair caning, you’ve probably seen it. Think about those antique grandma chairs with the woven back and seat. Those woven patterns with all the holes used to be handmade and organizations like Alton Holman Heritage Arts in Cave Spring, Ga. are making sure it’s not forgotten by offering workshops in chair caning and weaving. The non-profit exists to preserve heritage arts passed down through generations in the South. With rattan and wicker already back in style, you may want to brush up on your caning before it comes back, too.
“We believe that a good pair of shoes should be made well and fit comfortably.” Since the 1990s Aurora Shoe Co. has been creating a line of handmade leather shoes for men and women with American-made materials. All shoes are made with Horween Leather uppers and Vibram soles by a small team of artisans. The company is also preserving the cobbler trade by offering shoe repairs such as resoling and restitching.
The tide is turning in the fashion industry and consumers are starting to ask more questions about where materials come from and how important quality is to them. With that momentum, small boutique leather shops are popping up across the country and annual events like American Field are showcasing the finest leather craftsmanship in the U.S. Small shops like Thrux Lawrence stick to smaller product lines where American made and handmade are the most important item descriptions. Company founder Tandem Launder says Thrux Lawrence was founded “with the goal to develop goods to last for years.”
In a world of media in the cloud, it’s important to know how art and media used to be constructed and printed. Cue Huntsville, Ala. community printshop Green Pea Press. Their letterpress workshops include a brief history of the letterpress, a demonstration of printing and a chance to print your own postcards, stationery and posters. And they’re not doing the work for you. Guests load their own paper and turn the flywheel by hand.
With so many ways to get a hold of someone via social media or the numerous ways to print media, taking the time to sit down and put pen to paper sounds insane. Some schools don’t even offer cursive anymore. But hand-lettering is still alive and well and shows up most often at weddings and other special occasions. Boutique calligraphy studios like Linen and Leaf are making a business slowing down for clients who don’t have the time. Linen and Leaf’s founder Katie Roden created the studio with a mission to “create designs that warm the heart and slow down the eye in the age of constant visual stimulation.” Her hand-lettering is organic, inspired by nature and has been featured on wedding sites like The Knot and Style Me Pretty.
When you think about perfume, you probably think about big companies in Paris or those Elizabeth Taylor commercials, but one New Orleans perfumery is still producing small batch perfume just the way it did more than 170 years ago. Bourbon French Parfums creates personal fragrances for each customer. The scent is based on your body chemistry, personality and likes and dislikes. The perfumery keeps your custom cocktail on file should you want to reorder or order your scent in other products like soap or bath gel.
You don’t have to travel to Italy for a handmade mask. The trade is alive and well in New Orleans at Maskarade. The French Quarter mask shop features local and national professional mask makers who specialize in traditional Venetian, leather and fantasy designs.