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Artisan Stories

Artisan Stories, Featured November 28, 2014

Artisan Silversmiths at Work: Balinese Garnet Locket

Balinese Garnet Locket

In Bali, Indonesia, home and work are not so separate. Though locals can be seen hard at work tinkering with silver and gemstones, the workspace is also where Buana lives with his parents, his wife, and two kids. Along with a view of the family temple, chickens and birds flutter in and out of the traditional compound and Buana’s mother fills the air with an irresistible, sweet smell, a result of her special, sticky rice cooked in a traditional wood fired oven. It all serves as the family-oriented backdrop to Buana’s work as an artisan jeweler, where he creates one-of-a-kind pieces like our sterling silver Balinese Garnet Locket.

A tight-knit community of only 15 people, including Buana and some members of his family, are needed to craft the silver heart locket made almost entirely by hand. Though the granulation techniques used to make this piece have been perfected over several centuries by Balinese silversmiths, Buana’s designs are exclusively his own, and the entire production requires unwavering skill and patience from him and his employees.

First, someone rolls out silver plat to form the base of the locket using a large, round hand crank just outside the compound. The plats are cut down to either a heart shape or small, flat bars that will establish the sides and depth of the locket.

Everything down to the hinges, cast from a hand-carved wax mold, are meticulously made by hand. Once the wire of the clasp is formed and the silver ball “catch” is produced, they are added to the a blank heart top and bottom along with the hinge. The flat silver plats rolled earlier are also cut and curled into the distinct shapes that will surround the eye-catching garnet.

Balinese Garnet LocketCommonly known as January’s birthstone, garnets are usually recognized by a deep red hue, yet the gemstone can come in almost all colors except blue tones. The stones, found in Africa, India, Russia and Central America, are a symbol of creativity, love, and friendship. They are uncomplicated to work with, making Buana’s painstaking work just a little bit easier.

To hold the garnet in place, a thick, flat section called a bezel is crafted using silver wire on top of the locket. Unflinching diligence is needed for Buana and his employees to adhere the wire and piece together all the elements of the necklace into the final product. The method involves a special flux that is added to the silver locket top with a tiny paintbrush. Tweezers help to set the wire on top of the flux, and then a hand-held soldering tool powered by a foot pump applies direct heat to the flux without melting the silver. This secures the wire design, and must be carefully repeated to apply each of the small curls on the top design and the pattern around the base of the heart.

Tiny jawan silver beads are added within the design surrounding the garnet, and along the outside of the locket. A “Tali Air” rope pattern, translated to “water ropes”, also frames the garnet. Often women are entrusted with the fine wire work and bead setting essential to bringing Buana’s unique design to life. Once all the details have been added, a chain is handmade in an outside workshop and then strung through the finished heart locket, which has been oxidized, washed and hand-sanded for a polished finish.Balinese Garnet Locket Collage 600

Buana does not have a shop of his own and works exclusively with select people, making his creations a hidden gem of their own. He is constantly working to create new pieces, and hopes his daughter will take over the business for him one day. Silversmithing has had a long and respected history in Bali, and National Geographic Store features several handcrafted Balinese jewelry pieces from the island along with the Balinese Garnet Locket, including our Balinese Amethyst Cuff and Balinese Timiang Sterling Silver and Onyx Earrings.


serenity earrings 200x400

Sterling Silver Serenity Earrings

Shop our Balinese Jewelry:

Balinese Garnet Locket

Balinese Royalty Pendant Necklace

Balinese Timiang Sterling Silver and Onyx Earrings

Crowned Carnelian Earrings

Sterling Silver Serenity Earrings

Balinese Abalone and Garnet Jewelry

Balinese Frangipani Jewelry

Balinese Amethyst Cuff

Balinese Morning Cuff Bracelet

Balinese Sterling Silver Link Bracelet

Balinese Sterling Silver Scroll Bangle Bracelets

Ubud Sterling Silver Bangle Bracelets



Artisan Stories, Featured October 17, 2014

Woodblock Printed Linens

Amid a bustling economic and artistic landscape in Jaipur, India, the process of woodblock printing artisan linens still reigns as an integral art form nearly three centuries since it was first introduced. Families of woodblock printers in Jaipur, one of India’s first-planned cities, have passed down more than 100 studied movements over several generations to master the technique and skill required to produce each of the fine linens now featured in the National Geographic Kitchen and Dining collection.

Woodblock Handprinted Linens

Even today, local craftsmen continue to strive for tradition over automation when it comes to making these one-of-a-kind textiles. Rather than churning out countless tablecloths and napkins using the ease of computerization, intricate detail by hand goes into making each piece.

The extensive process begins with original designs inspired by the motifs, colors and techniques of Eastern art. These can vary in media, including watercolor, acrylics, and pencil. Then, the design is replicated on tracing paper to be drawn and carved onto teakwood, a type of wood extensively used in India for sculpting and furniture-making, thus allowing the fine detail of the designs to hold.

Woodblock Printing Linens

Next, plain, white fabric is laid flat on tables and quickly transformed into an array of colors as printers dip the teakwood designs into rich shades of reds, yellows, and indigos. These colors are meant to reflect the various hues found in the lush nature that surrounds them. The labor intensive process results in a long stretch of decorative cloth ready to be cut and stitched into tablecloths, runners, napkins, and tea towels.

What comes with the diligence of doing every step by hand is a particular uniqueness to each linen: no pattern, tone or finish is the same. Jaipur is known as one of the world’s most creative populations, with many of its techniques and designs based on the Vatsu Shastra, a doctrine on how the laws of nature affect human life.

Safari Hand-printed NapkinsOur collection of Blue D’Chine handprinted napkins, tablecloth, runner, and tea towels feature a rich variety of blue, indigo and gray, while our Safari Print Napkins are of similar colors and a mixture of patterns. Shop the entire National Geographic Kitchen and Dining collection to see what else you can pair with our artisan linens.

Artisan Stories, Featured September 4, 2014

Handmade Tunisian Ceramics

For centuries artisans on the Mediterranean coast of northern Tunisia have handcrafted beautiful glazed ceramics. The small coastal town of Nabeul, the heart of the region’s ceramic industry, is home to a modern ceramic studio that uses traditional materials and techniques to create the stunning pieces featured in National Geographic’s Tunisian Ceramics Collection.

Tunisian Hand-painted Chip and Dip Set

Tunisian Hand-painted Chip and Dip Set

First settled by Greeks in the 5th Century B.C., Nabeul had gained notoriety for its ceramics industry by the Roman era. Today, artisans employ the same methods to handcraft their pieces today that their ancestors used 2,000 years ago.

An artisan hand-paints a serving platter featuring the Aqua Fish pattern.

An artisan hand-paints a serving platter featuring the Aqua Fish pattern.

First, white clay is brought in rolls, or boudin in French. Hollow pieces like pitchers are hand shaped on a modelage or potter’s wheel, while round pieces like plates and bowls are shaped using a hand gauge, or callibreuse. Unique shapes, like the oval platter, are made using a press mold, or stompage. These rough ceramics, called bisques, are then fired in the kiln at 1,870 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 14 hours.

Once the ceramics are fired, a base glaze is applied and left to dry before any of the fine artwork can begin. Each piece is painted freehand and a team approach is used to add each new color and layer of the unique designs. No stencils or decals are used in the process, ensuring the traditional craft of hand-painting ceramics is alive in modern generations.

A final glaze is added to the Aqua Fish platter before going into the kiln.

A final glaze is added to the Aqua Fish platter before going into the kiln.

Once the artwork and final glazes have been added, the ceramics are carefully loaded in the kiln so as not to touch each other, and fired for an additional 12 hours. The kiln is then left open to allow the pieces to slowly cool before handling them.

The National Geographic Store features several unique patterns in our Tunisian Ceramics Collection. The whimsical and festive Aqua Fish is featured on our Pitcher and Fish Platter. Tabarka, featured on our Chip and Dip Set, is named for a small city in northwest Tunisia where the raw raw clay comes from. Every August the city of Tabarka hosts a jazz festival and artists attending the festival were inspired to create this design. Lastly, our Hand-painted Side Plates feature four different unique designs that form a coordinating pattern of blue and white glaze.

Hand-painted Tunisian Fish Platter

Hand-painted Tunisian Fish Platter

Visit the National Geographic Store Blog again next month for a traditional North African recipe cooked in our Hand-Painted Tagine, part of National Geographic’s Society-wide exploration of global food.

Artisan Stories, Featured December 10, 2013

The Art of Reverse Painting

If someone asked you to paint a face, how would you begin? You might start by drawing an outline or profile, or by painting an oval in the skin tone of your subject. Chances are you wouldn’t start by painting the pupils of the eye or shadows around the nose, but this composition-in-reverse is exactly how artisans such as Zhang Jian Hui approach their work.

Reverse-painted Glass Love and Longevity Ornaments

Our Love and Longevity Glass Ornaments are part of a long tradition of Chinese reverse painting on glass, where the minute details and highlights are added first; then the middle ground, shadows, and contours; and finally the background.

Reverse-painted Glass Love and Longevity Ornaments

Reverse-painted Glass Love and Longevity Ornaments

Reverse-painted Glass Love and Longevity Ornaments

The tradition has been practiced throughout Europe since the Middle Ages, most notably on Byzantine-era religious icons but also as folk art throughout Central Europe. Conquering Spaniards brought reverse-painted glass technique to Peru, where it was adapted by local artists and has been enjoying a resurgence since the mid-20th century.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Chinese reverse paintings on glass were extremely popular in America, where portraits of American political figures and patriotic scenes were common. In a 2010 article in the magazine Antiques and Fine Art, curators from the Winterthur Museum wrote that “today, reverse paintings on glass are among the most sought-after objects from the China trade” of that era.

The designs on our charming glass ornaments—suitable for a Christmas tree or displayed in a window year-round—use traditional Chinese motifs rather than the patriotic designs of centuries past. On one, the Chinese character for longevity, shòu, is surrounded by flowers and vines. On the other, which Zhang Jian Hui demonstrates here, a pair of lovebirds sit on a flowering branch. Not only are these designs painted in reverse, but the artist also has to paint them on a curved surface using thin brushes that are just wide enough to fit through the small opening in the blown-glass globe.

Reverse-painted Love and Longevity Glass Ornaments

Shop our Love and Longevity Glass Ornaments at the National Geographic Store, or explore more reverse-painted glass accessories with our Peruvian Reverse-painted Butterfly Box and Reverse-painted Glass Jewelry Box.

Artisan Stories, Featured November 6, 2013

Irish Linen – Threads of Culture and Tradition

The history of Irish linen production is at least 300 years old. The country benefited from a strong wild and cultivated flax crop, and accounts by English visitors noted Irishmen wearing pleated linen shirts sewn from many yards of fabric.

Irish linen patchwork cap

Linen textiles are made from flax plant fibers, and it is a labor-intensive product to manufacture. Flax fibers are longer than cotton or wool, and the plant was once harvested by hand so that the fibers remained undamaged. It’s these long fibers that are responsible for the unique quality, durability, and soft texture of finished linen. Historians believe linen to be one of the world’s oldest cloths, with evidence of its use dating back many thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, it was used for clothing, mummification wrapping, and even as currency.

Traditionally, women and children prepared flax and spun fibers into thread, and men then wove the thread into linen cloth. These tasks were carried out in homes using spinning wheels and hand looms. Natural-colored “brown” linen cloth was typically brought to markets, sold for bleaching and finishing, and then usually exported, mainly to England. This natural linen is what you’ll see in products like our Irish Linen Cap, made by Latchfords of Ireland. Irish linen was renowned for its fineness, and to enforce this reputation, the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland was established in 1711. New techniques were developed, and better flax seeds were imported to improve Irish linen-making.

Irish linen patchwork hat

In the early 19th century, linen cloth production moved from individual homes in the countryside to factories in towns. In 1861, the American Civil War disrupted cotton supplies, leading to an increased demand for linen. By 1900, about 65,000 people worked in linen mills in Ireland, and the nation was producing and exporting more linen than anywhere in the world. While manufacturing has declined overall in Ireland during the last century, textile production is still a prominent industry, and the value of Irish linen remains strong.

Irish Linen Patchwork Cap

Our lightweight natural Irish Linen Cap and the herringbone and hound’s-tooth patterned Irish Linen Patchwork Cap are assembled by hand at Latchfords of Ireland’s workshop in Donegal (Dún na nGall in the Irish language). County Donegal in the northwest is recognized for retaining traditional Irish culture through cloth goods, music, and especially language. The dialect spoken there is Ulster Irish, named for the Province of Ulster in which Donegal lies. The Donegal Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking district, attracts Irish young people and visitors from abroad to study the language.

Watch the video below to go beind-the-scenes and see how our Irish Linen Caps are made from start to finish.

Shop more of National Geographic Store’s selection of caps made of the finest Irish fabrics, like our Donegal Tweed Wool Patchwork Walking Hat, Herringbone Donegal Cap, Irish Linen Patchwork Cap, and Irish Donegal Tweed Cap. All of our hats are perfect for adapting to warm temperatures or rainy days, and try pairing one with our Irish Donegal Tweed Patchwork Scarf for the ultimate finished look.

Artisan Stories, Featured July 30, 2013

Lao Jewelry

The story behind Lao Jewelry making is rich in history and tradition.

The area of Luang Prabang in northern Laos is a mix of traditional and French colonial influences, with Buddhist temples and monasteries alongside early 20th-century European architecture and contemporary Lao buildings.

As the capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the mid 20th-century civil war, Luang Prabang was home to artists and craftsmen who worked under the patronage of the royal family. Silverwork has a long history in the country, and jewelry designs show the influence of trade with China, Tibet, and India. High-grade silver jewelry was an important part of a bride’s dowry and, as precious jewelry is all over the world, a symbol of high status. Many hill tribes used it as currency, and even today some indigenous people carry silver bars and beads to use in trade.

In the video below, artisans demonstrate the intricate process behind Lao Jewelry making.


The floral motif on our Lao jewelery, including the Lao Flower Bracelet and Lao Flower earrings, is of the indigenous dok phikoun flower. Buddhist monks taught that the blossom represented good luck and longevity, but for many years only the royal family could use the motif. The dok phikoun was used decorations in the palace at Luang Prabang, from the king’s elephant’s war saddle to jewelry for the princess. These two pieces are left bright, which is traditional for Lao jewelry used in weddings. Other pieces, such as our Sterling Silver Lao Bracelet, are oxidized to bring out their details.

Lao Jewelery Silver Necklace Earrings

After the civil war, many of Luang Prabang’s artisans moved to the capital of Vientiane for safety—being aligned with the royal family had become dangerous. Siamese armies had burned and looted Vientiane in the early 1800s, and the forest had begun to overrun the city by the time the French arrived at the end of the 19th century. They rebuilt the city and restored many of the ancient Buddhist temples, and today Vientiane has become not only the political capital but also the cultural and economic center of Laos.

Shop the National Geographic Store for traditional handmade silver jewelry pieces from Lao.

Artisan Stories, Featured May 6, 2013

Mexican Handcrafts: Chamula Embroidery

Mexican Handcrafts Chamula Embroidery

Throughout Mexico diverse regional Mexican handcrafts and folk arts abound. From brightly colored fabrics to distinctive handmade goods, traditional Mexican handcrafts lines tables in outdoor marketplaces, hang in shops, and come alive in the city streets.

Oaxaca, a southern state the western Isthmus of Tehuantepec, is known for its expertise in handmade and hand embroidered textiles. In Chiapas just to the southwest, textiles—especially woven and embroidered garments—are the most important of an array of handmade crafts made in the area. The ethnic diversity of both states and their mix of indigenous cultures make the region a melting-pot for one-of-a-kind fabrics, garments, and accessories.

The vivid pink Chamula cotton blouse and black Oaxaca Broomstick Skirt in our Mexican Market Day Outfit are inspired by that diversity. Both the blouse and skirt are hand-dyed in Oaxaca. The skirt is finished there, while the blouse travels to villages in Oaxaca and Chiapas, where women embroider it in a style named for the Chiapas highland village of Chamula.



Typical Chamula embroidery is geometric and often has what are referred to as “little brooms,” or tassle-like embroidered accents. Through job skills training, women from neighboring villages have learned the Chamulan style of embroidery, adding to their repertoire of stitches and gaining new embroidery skills. Our cotton blouse embraces a lighter take on the traditional satin blouse of the Chamulteca woman, which features a densely embroidered chain-stitch neckline.

In fact, much like the festive scene brought to life in Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s Danza en Tehuantepec, women’s traditional ensembles are comprised of vibrant embroidered blouses paired with long wool skirts. The pairing may even conjure images of Rivera’s wife, prominent Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who was known for her eclectic wardrobe filled with traditional hand-embroidered Zapotec blouses and skirts.



World Traveler: We took the finished Chamula Cotton Shirt and Oaxaca Broomstick Skirt on the road to Lisbon, Portugal, for our Spring 2013 catalog shoot!

Produced in limited quantities using traditional handicraft skills, by artisans in villages across Oaxaca and Chiapas, our Chamula Cotton Shirt and Oaxaca Broomstick Skirt not only celebrate artisans and traditional Mexican handcraft techniques, but also create economic opportunity and community.

Shop the Mexican Market Day Outfit at the National Geographic Store. Together or as separates, the Chamula Cotton Shirt and Oaxaca Broomstick Skirt reflect a flattering, breezy Mexican style that’s perfect for warm-weather exploring. Complete the look with our Oaxacan handwoven plastic tote.


Artisan Stories, Featured February 4, 2013

Cameo Jewelry

Cameo Jewelry from the Italian town of Torre del Greco

In his home cameo jewelry making studio, Gennaro Borriello holds a plain, sun-bleached piece of shell. Turning it over and over, he uses sharp hand tools to carve away a little bit here, smooth a little bit there. Soon, a woman’s ivory-white profile emerges from a deep pink background—a cascade of curls, a slightly upturned nose, fabric draped across a graceful neckline.

Borriello is a master cameo jewelry carver, part of a centuries-old tradition in the Mediterranean town of Torre del Greco, just 10 miles from the ruins of Pompeii in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. When excavation at Pompeii began in the mid 1700s, it became a must-see destination for England’s elite. Cameos from the area’s seaside villages were a popular souvenir, and a subtle way to show off one’s well-traveled status back home.


Cameo Jewelry making involves many steps. In the mid eighteen-hundreds cameo jewelry reached new heights of popularity. Cameo artisans work conch shells with sharp hand tools, used to carve and smooth. Cameo jewelry artists use the pink and ivory of the conch shell to carve away the shape of a womans profile


Today, the Mediterranean coral and shellfish beds near Torre del Greco are subject to strict environmental protections, so Borriello and his team use red helmet shell, a conch that is abundant off the shores of Mozambique.cameo jewelery making

Head to the National Geographic Store to read our cameo Cultural Facts and Artisan Story about Gennaro Borriello, the town of Torre del Greco, and the history of the cameo jewelry.

Shop the National Geographic Store to browse our cameo jewelry in the . Our one-of-a-kind cameo jewelry collection features a combination cameo pin, cameo earrings, and a cameo brooch framed with freshwater pearls.

Artisan Stories, Featured January 15, 2013

Block Print Bedding Start to Finish

Hand Block-printed Indigo Bedding

block print bedding

Block print bedding. In Rajasthan, India block printing turns sheets of fabric into beautiful hand crafted bedding


The family that makes our block print bedding has been part of northern India’s textile cottage industry for 200 years. The elderly father oversees the operation while training his sons, who will eventually inherit the workshop.

The workshops in this area specialize in the use of alizarin (an organic red dye), indigo, and a range of vegetable-based colors. Early travelers through regarded indigo dyers as magicians because of a unique chemical phenomenon: When the dyed fabric is removed from the vat, it first appears white, then green. Exposure to oxygen is what quickly brings out indigo’s well-known blue hues.

Nature also exerts her influence on the block print bedding dyeing process. Because so much of the work is done outdoors, the artisans plan their workday around the climate’s temperature extremes. And because the fabric is dried in the desert sun, projects need to be scheduled with monsoon season in mind. One year, an exceptionally long and lingering series of storms delayed shipment of the finished product for a few weeks. Although such setbacks can be challenging for artisans and customers alike, we think that the centuries-old craft tradition that these vibrant textiles represent is well worth supporting.

Take a tour of the process, from start to finish, below!


Step one. artisans use hand-carved wooden blocks to create a patten. They dip the block in a wax and then apply it to the white cotton fabric. Step two.The wax mixture is a combination of earth and tree gum. When the fabric is ready to be dyed in an indigo bath, the sticky mixture will resist the dye, leaving a white pattern behind. Step three. A sprinkle of sawdust ensures that the patterns don't smudge as the rest of the textile is being printed. Step four. Next, after an initial dip in an indigo dye bath, the process is repeated with a different block, which creates depth in the final design. Step five. After a final dye bath, artisans shake off the sawdust and prepare the fabric for a final rinse before laying the sheets in the sun to dry, as seen in the features slide.

Shop all of the Hand Block Printed Indigo Bedding Collection at the National Geographic Store!