The best arts and crafts classes for travellers
Do more with your next overseas holiday, and learn a new DIY skill from traditional artisans
If you want something more from your holidays than sipping beers on the beach or taking on extreme sports challenges, then you’re not alone. Travellers have long dipped into local culture with cooking classes and tastings of wine, beer and chocolate. But, perhaps because of a DIY-mad millennials or the current vogue for worldly, fair-trade goods and fashion, there are increasing options to learn regional crafts, too.
Some courses consist of an hour or two of demonstrations by a local craftsperson – a Japanese paper maker, a North Carolina woodworker – with a chance to try your hand at their art and create your own memento. Other classes might take all day or a few days, depending on your level of interest and available vacation time. Some programmes employ refugees or people who might otherwise be living in poverty; all let you interact with locals in a deeper way than a stop at a souvenir stand.
“We try to create immersive experiences with not only hands-on crafting but also cultural and culinary opportunities,” says company founder Angela Ritchie. “You’ll get to take home a handmade souvenir, but you also leave with a collection of local experiences and fresh ideas.”
Here are several places you can exercise your creativity as well as your curiosity. Booking in advance is recommended.
Indian block printing
Visitors to Bagru, India, about 30km southwest of Jaipur, will see yards and yards of vibrantly coloured woodblock-print textiles drying in the sun in a giant communal field, as has happened for centuries in this textile hub. Studio Bagru holds one- or two-day workshops demonstrating how artisans chisel teak into intricate blocks, then painstakingly use them to stamp patterns on cotton using natural dyes (indigo, mud, vegetable). Students then stand at long wooden tables, imprinting scarves, shawls or bags with paisley, leaf or elephant patterns.
Address: 1st Floor, G7/B, Vinobha Marg, Opp. Magpie Villa, C Scheme, Ashok Nagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Cost: About US$85 for one day, about US$155 for two days. Fees include a traditional thali lunch and chai; transportation from Jaipur available for about US$25.
Italian leather crafts
Founded in 1950 to teach a trade to second world war orphans, Scuola del Cuoio, a Florentine leather workshop and school, makes its home under the arches of the old dormitory of the Franciscan friars at the storied Basilica of Santa Croce. Students pop on white smocks and choose from a rainbow of richly scented hides before cutting and stitching a book cover during three-hour courses, or they sew and finish a belt over six hours. Want to be the next Salvatore Ferragamo? You can also buckle down at an intensive 10-week course covering bag-making basics.
Address: Via San Giuseppe, 5R, Florence
Costs: Book-cover-making about US$160 to US$270; belt-making about US$308 to US$470
Lao weaving and dyeing
Ock Pop Tok is a fibre-arts centre that employs weavers and dyers from nearby villages who teach batik, basket making, silk weaving and other traditional crafts, including some aimed at kids. Courses run from half a day (dyeing a cotton napkin) to three days (weaving an ikat scarf). An on-site cafe serves spicy East-meets-West food, and the textile-filled, five-room Mekong Villa offers lodgings.
Address: 125/10 Ban Saylom, Luang Prabang, Laos
Cost: From about US$24 to US$146
Moroccan pottery making
Fifteen minutes outside central Marrakesh, Beldi Country Club, a Kasbah-style hotel and garden complex, has small glass-blowing and pottery-making workshops spinning out the region’s trademark candy-hued tagines and teacups. In the pottery shop, kids and adults get messy turning clay pots, cups or bowls on the wheel, which the staff will then glaze and fire.
Address: Kilometer 6, Route de Barrage, Cherifia, Marrakesh, Morocco
Cost: About US$20 for adults, about US$10 for children
Appalachian mountain crafts
Address: One Folk School Road, Brasstown, North Carolina, USA
Cost: Rates run from US$354 to US$898
Macrame and more
Students can learn how to do macrame and other West Coast-cool crafts at Makers Mess, which holds classes in a slick Silver Lake storefront. Participants scoot a brightly hued Eames chair up to a long wooden table for hands-on instruction in producing marbled clay coasters, felted pet portraits, leather sandals and, yes, macrame. Classes last two to five hours.
Address: 602 N. Hoover St., Los Angeles, USA
Cost: From US$46 to US$230 (for more complex crafts, such as making leather sandals)
American glass making
In a bright, industrial-chic workshop at Corning Museum of Glass, New York state museum, you can try glass blowing, etching and fusing. Slip on safety goggles for highly supervised 20- to 40-minute classes at one of the world’s largest showplaces for glass, where students turn out a pendant, a picture frame or even a wine glass.
Address: One Museum Way, Corning, NY, USA
Cost: Typically US$13 to US$32
South African wire beading
Streetwires Artist Collective is a19-year-old nonprofit workshop and boutique set amid the coffee shops and galleries of Cape Town’s buzzing Woodstock neighborhood employs disadvantaged artisans who use colourful beads and wire to string and shape life-size lion busts, holiday ornaments shaped like the African continent, and mini soccer cleats. Ninety-minute classes help children and adults construct keychains, bracelets or small bowls.
Address: 354 Albert Rd., Cape Town, South Africa
Cost: About US$20; book in advance for weekday-only sessions
Argentine fileteado painting
Stroll older Buenos Aires neighbourhoods such as San Telmo and La Boca and you’ll spot business signs and the occasional vintage bus festooned with swirling calligraphy letters, carnival-esque colours and elaborate scrollwork. That’s fileteado, a homegrown painting style started by 19th-century Italian immigrants and continued by artists such as Alfredo Genovese, who teaches frequent two-hour group classes at his Fileteado Porteño Workshop. Participants craft a small decorated plaque.
Address: Admiral FJ Segui 1465, Buenos Aires
Cost: About US$110
On The Silver Jewellery Boat, a 60-foot longboat parked in England’s scenic Worcestershire Canals (about 45 minutes from Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare), silversmith Jonathan Kettle teaches small groups day-long courses as on making rings, crosses and bracelets. Participants also get cake, tea and, in cooler months, a chance to cozy up by the tiny wood stove on board.
No fixed address
Cost: About US$110