There is a lot of information and news out there these days about “handmade” “artisinal” and “hand crafted”. 

The craft movement is alive and well; in fact, it’s flourishing. We’ve all seen the overuse and total saturation of mass produced (and produced you-know-where) items that all begin to look alike. But these days, and in this economy — or in spite of it– so many of us are looking for something more unique. I think there is also a new, heightened awareness and appreciation of hand made items. 

Hand crafted can mean many things: it can be the totally hand made item, produced by one person in a studio.Or, it can be a mix of handmade and “recycled” vintage: using one “new” hand crafted item and adding older vintage pieces (think collages or shadow boxes). Or, it can mean taking an older vintage piece and renewing it by either adding or removing a design element (think shabby chic looks in furniture). But it also indicates our interest in buying local: both by actually shopping at,say, Etsy, or going to a local craft show or shop; not only are we more aware of buying food that is local, but the same holds true for our “accessories“.

The New York Times ran a very good story on November 25 about this fast growing phenomenon:  “Holiday Gifts With a Story”

Then, there is another aspect of hand crafted: those things that are made, not locally, but in other countries. But they ARE hand made, and often imported to the United States as part of a larger effort of aid to artisans.

Here, in Pittsboro, North Carolina, I found a wonderful shop called “French Connections”.

Store Front

Store Front 2

Below are pictures of hand made items in the store. Yes, the store is “French Connections”, and I have a weakness for many things French…but the fabrics, glasses, furniture and all in the store from France are not necessarily crafted by individual artisans. Appealing and wonderful, but not totally artisinal .So, I wanted to focus on the really hand made items from Africa and Mexico.

The owner, Jacques Dufour, spoke to us about his life and the shop. He is French, from Normandy, but has lived in South Africa and Senegal. His wife is from North Carolina. He has been running this shop for nine years…. and now, with the dollar SO expensive, it is very difficult to buy, import, and sell French antiques. When he started the shop he had almost exclusively French antiques and African artwork. Well, now the French “Provencal” fabrics, which lend themselves to quilting and selling on line, have become a major item. Please, go to to take a look for yourself! It’s easy to navigate and very easy to shop…

There were lots of these wonderful, fanciful metal sculptures out front. They are certainly hand made; and come from a very remote village in Mexico.

Metal Sculpture

Great printed textiles from Senegal:

African Textiles

Woven baskets from both Botswana and Ghana:

Botswana Baskets

Ghana Basket 

Beaded necklaces and bracelets from Ghana:

Ghana Beads 

Hand painted ostrich eggs from Ghana:

Ostrich Eggs

One last story from Jacques: he told of the transformative power of the cell phone…it is the lifeline and life blood of so many of these African artisans. From deep in the heart of Africa he will receive a phone call: what used to take a month or more, in means of communication, now takes minutes. And, what used to cost more than one dollar a minute is now a few cents (or free when using the computer/Skype).What the railroad and mail service was to the last century, the cell phone is to today. A craftsperson in Senegal can find out, in minutes, what the demand is in the States for any item he is producing. It is a cultural and economic revolution in the making..and we have yet to see exactly where it will lead.