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Hand Craft

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Ivy Chuang, Knoend.
Ivy Chuang, Knoend.
Knoend skippedICFF, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, in New York this year that just passed May 16-19. But I've followed the blogs and photo postings just to get a sense of what new and notable work was presented.

Fast Company's take seemed to be that this was the year the show lost its touch, Flavorwire pondered the trend of woodwashing, and theNew York Times recap of the show from Penelope Green followed the afternoon she spent combing the ICFF aisles with Cooper-Hewitt curator Ellen Lupton.

What caught my eye out of the midst was a photo of Lindsey Adelman's lighting – I meandered over to her website and discovered the rest of her intricate and mesmerizing chandeliers, hand-blown and hand-knotted in Brooklyn where she is based.

Knotty Bubble by Lindsey Adelman.

I drooled over the possibilities of the elegant globes floating in my dream home for awhile, and was comforted and inspired that there were other American designers honoring craftsmanship in this age of machine-made mass production. There is something to be said about the value of the human touch in designing - a connection is visible and felt, the work is honored with time and effort. Despite this intrinsic value, artisans have steadily faded and become increasingly rare. The inhibiting cost of hand craftsmanship often pushes products into the high-end category, and thus, it is no wonder that our culture of instant gratification has led to the demise of craft.

I could hardly remember a time where I have patiently saved to purchase something. With rapid product cycles and passing seasons and trends, how could I save and wait when new models emerge every six months? By the time I'm ready to purchase, the object I coveted may have been discontinued, or if it's a limited edition, was sold out to VIP customers long before it was even available to the general public.

Is craft a classist tradition, available to the upper echelon exclusively in custom work and limited editions? How do you make craft democratic?

It could be that it requires a mass production partner. Take Hella Jongerius's wall coverings for the 2009 IKEA PS Collection. As part of IKEA-Unicef program, Hella Jongerius worked to create wall coverings with an initiative that was established to help women in India start up small sewing businesses. The patchwork hangings are created in the spirit of Swedish Fairy Tales and feature a goat, a fox, and a rabbit.

Wall coverings by Hella Jongerius.
Drawing by Hella Jongerius.

The hangings use a mix of materials that are industrially made at IKEA's production facilities. The parts are then sent to India to be stitched together in a patchwork by machine and hand and finally hand embroidered for the finish. Each wall hanging is made by one woman from start to finish; a tag at the back lists the names of IKEA, Hella Jongerius and the embroidered name of the woman (in Hindi) who made it.

It's a feel good story and product it seems. However, it does seem strange to me that I can't afford and honor artisans in Brooklyn, but when I can afford craft from India, it's somehow altruistic? Perhaps emotional resonance is the most important factor, and it doesn't even matter if I am able to possess it or not.

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Ivy Chuang is the founder and design director of Knoend, a San Francisco-based studio with sustainability and innovation at its core. She is a nomad, surfer, cook and occasional artist.
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