A Craft reborn

One man in central Thua Thien Hue province has been devoted to bringing back his villages craft.

By SONG PHUOC on May 12,2017 10:42 AM

A Craft reborn

Photos: NGUYEN VAN SUM

Born in a village that has worked the craft of making mattresses from grey rush plants from almost 500 years, Nguyen Viet Nam considers the ancient techniques to be his inheritance. ‘The craft is a legacy for my community and keeping it alive is always in my mind as a matter of responsibility to our ancestors,’ he said.

He has a deep sorrow that the mattresses made in his home village of Pho Trach in central Thua Thien Hue province cannot compete with industrially-made mattresses, threatening the survival of the craft in modern times.

A Craft reborn

For years he has nurtured the idea of rekindling the use of the plant mattresses. In the early 2000s he tried using local knitting techniques in the making of mattresses as well as sofa mats, hats and handbags. At that time he was deputy chairman of the local agriculture department and attempted to make a change to the local economy by adding the craft production to the functions of the local cooperative.

Unfortunately, he failed in finding a market for the products. Vietnamese consumers at that time were happy with plastic equivalents that provided convenience and durability. ‘I tried several designs and took them to trade fairs but there wasn’t much interest,’ he recalls. ‘We racked up losses, so I shelved the idea in 2010.’

The fact they were hand-made was a problem, which is perhaps understandable in a society undergoing a transformation process from rural farming to industrial production.

Nam then had to leave his village to find a better source of income for his family. But he missed the craft during this time. ‘I spent almost six years in Quang Binh province, my wife’s homeland, but the craft obsessed me,’ he said.

Late last year, he found there was strong demand for eco-friendly, organic products so decided to return home and work on the designs he nurtured while he was far from his village. He had his first products early this year, mattresses knitted by other local people, and also knitted things himself with skills learned during his childhood.

A Craft reborn

Fortunately, Nam is artistic and skilful enough to make items in nice shapes that were durable. He has now made handmade items in different categories.

In home furniture, he has sofa mattresses, lanterns, tissue boxes and desk lamps, and ornaments and key rings in the shape of fish, Santa Claus, the Japanese comic figure Doreamon, and mice.

He also creates religious items, including those featuring the 12 animals of the zodiac and the Buddhist wheel of dharma. ‘I expect to meet the demands of customers of all types and ages,’ he said. ‘I will make whatever can be produced from grey rush plants.’

Last year, at a supporting event in the neighbouring village of Phuoc Tich for the biennial Hue Festival, Nam set up a stand selling his items and drew large crowds, as children were fond of his hand-made toys such as cars, planes and trains.

A Craft reborn

With the consumption of organic food and organic shopping becoming popular, Nam’s grey rush plant handbags were purchased by the Que Lam organic food supermarket in Hue.

After almost five months back at the job, Nam has created about 150 samples of products and has high hopes the knitting craft can survive.

Nguyen Van Loi, a visitor to Nam’s workshop, said the products amazed him with their beautiful shapes and artistic look. ‘I think these would be popular in a broader market,’ he said.

Nam gets his big chance to make a market debut for his products in April, as he has been invited to present his handmade items at a festival held in Hue to honour craftsmanship and craft villages around the country. ‘I am working hard to prepare for the event and expect that my village’s craftsmanship will prove popular,’ he said.

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