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Call me materialistic — they’re just things after all. But the pattern I noticed in the submissions to this theme is that they aren’t just things. The handcrafted heirlooms mentioned here are ties to the past and the future. The contributors who wrote about them would run back into a burning building for them. And the skills shared are among the most important gifts a family member could pass along.

Many of the captions mention a concern for a dying art, in the wake of industrialization. But as long as people are people, we’ll keep using our hands to combine raw materials, time, and care into something greater.

Published April 20, 2011

Intro Laura Brunow Miner

Guest Design Magera Moon for Etsy

Guest Curation Alison Feldmann for Etsy

Across the Board

Across the Board

Guy Okazaki, a surfboard shaper for over 30 years, learned the trade from his father and handcrafts boards out of his small shop in Venice Beach, California. He starts with a foam blank and uses routers, handsaws, and this 40-year-old Skil 100 Planer to shave down the blank. After it’s encased in fiberglass, some lucky person will go to the beach one day and catch some waves on it.

Photographer: Ben Wang

I’m an amateur photographer living in Honolulu. I love taking pictures of people doing things that they love to do.



Carefully, methodically, and very precisely, Buster Prout of Bowdoinham, Maine, constructs a gunning float, a boat used for hunting duck. This model is specific to Merrymeeting Bay. Buster Prout is the last of the bay’s gunning float builders, and for each full size boat he crafts, he creates a precise and tiny model, exactly 1/8th scale. He is a gentle man, with an artist’s hand. They are elegant crafts, and a good sculler can move the float through the rushes silently, and sneak right up on the birds. At best, a hunter might bag a limit. At worst, one spends a day in a remarkable place, in this handmade, remarkable boat.

Photographer: Heather Perry

Heather is an underwater photographer, swimmer, painter, wife, and mother, living, working, and dreaming in Bath, Maine.

Touch Wood

Touch Wood

Stuart Baird emigrated to Michigan from Glasgow, Scotland with his parents in 1956. His father was a wood pattern maker and his grandfather made custom furniture, and along the way, Stuart learned woodworking skills. After retiring as a master machinist in the Detroit area, he moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and took up woodcarving. He began with relief carvings, then moved on to carving what he loves — birds of prey. He’s shown here working with an apprentice’s piece, with a Peregrine Falcon in the background.

Photographer: Patrick Power

I am a music coordinator for a traditional arts festival, and a photographer. An Ohioan by birth, I recently moved from East Lansing, Michigan to San Francisco.

Indelible Ink

Indelible Ink

Every year I attend the Kentuck Arts Festival in Northport, Alabama to visit Amos Kennedy, printer and showcard poster artist. He brings a half-ton printing press with him, and it is so much fun to visit with him, watch people use a printing press for the first time, listen to him greet others just like me, and to purchase more of his work.

Photographer: Marcy Koontz

I am an educator living in Northport, Alabama and purchased my first grown-up camera last year.

One Step at a Time

One Step at a Time

During a craft documentation tour from my college, I visited one of the small villages in central India, where the people sustain themselves by creating beautiful textiles. Some families are national award winners while some families just make do. If just the actual block by block printing seems tedious, you should see the process that goes into making the cloth ready for inking, and the process that makes it permanent. Each step is important. They start with drab looking off-white cloth, and end with yards of beautifully printed fabric.

Photographer: Sriparna Ghosh

Sriparna is a graphic designer and an amateur photographer based in New Delhi, India. She runs her own graphic design firm called Tiffinbox.

Stringed Instrument

Stringed Instrument

The Krishnapuram Colony, in Madurai, Tamilnadu, India, was established in the 1950s as a Gandhian living and working center for hand weavers. Though the neighborhood has lost much of this original character, many houses do remain occupied by weavers. This family, consisting of two generations of weavers, makes fine silk saris.

Photographer: Richard Rapfogel

Richard Rapfogel is a recovering psychologist who has been working as a photographer for the past ten years. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Boone, North Carolina with his wife and daughter.

Fur Trade

Fur Trade

For the past 40 years, my father has been working as a furrier in the Garment District in New York City. This neighborhood was once the heart of the fur industry, thriving with craftsman from all backgrounds and nationalities. However in the past decade, the craft of making fur coats and accessories has vanished, leaving my father as one of the last few artisans left in the Fur District. The sewing machinery, tools, and collection of coats themselves are a beautiful example of American craftsmanship.

Photographer: Harriet Andronikides

I have a background in architecture but I’m an avid photographer with a passion for travel.

Family Business

Family Business

While trekking across the hills of Vietnam, I found a small village in a valley of blossoming plum trees. I discovered the Flower Hmong people who, until recently, still hand-crafted every bit of their own clothing. Hmong textile art is still the predominant work of the community, and encompasses everything from making fabric to sewing clothes. Their signature style includes hand-embroidery of bold geometric designs in bright beautiful colors, and uses pattern to narrate folklore from Hmong history.

Photographer: Thi Minh Khue Nguyen

I am a sociology lecturer in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Woolen Memories

Woolen Memories

When my 90-year-old grandmother started to lose lucidity, my mum and I gave her little tasks to do, in order for her brain to remain as active as long as possible. We pretended that I had hundreds of friends celebrating birthdays all over the world and that her kettle holders would be the only suitable present for them. She worked like a machine, knitting the colorful wool with her small hands that got older by the day. The one on the right, made when she was 95 years old, is my very favorite.

Photographer: Lara Callegari

My name is Lara, I am 29 years old and I am originally from Italy, even though I have been living in London for ten years.

Dear @Pictory:

My wedding dress (is my most valued handmade possession) - can’t link, it’s not been worn yet :-) .

Iron On

Iron On

I hand-washed it and ironed it just the way she would have. She never thought much of her efforts, but my mom made an art form of everything she crafted and cleaned, including this blue gingham apron.

Photographer: Cindy Krikawa

A New Yorker who is a collector, crafter, explorer, gardener, photographer, and writer, but not necessarily all at once.

Top Chef

Top Chef

Among her seven siblings, my mom is definitely the best cook. I can taste the difference in something that has been prepared by her. In this photo, she is making a type of Malay pastries. She does it with such grace in her nimble hands, and keen mind.

Photographer: Song Kean Tang

I have lived in Penang, an island state of Malaysia, all my life. I am working as an telecommunication engineer for a US company. Taking good photos is my passion.

Blue Ribbon

Blue Ribbon

When their youngest child left the house, my parents finally had the time to pursue their own interests. I never would have guessed how quickly they would have purchased the neighboring farm, putting their dream to make cheese into action. But when they returned from a research trip to Italy, something went wrong.

The sudden death of my father made the dream seem impossible. But my mother felt that owning a farm left her no option but to make it work. Five years later, my mother is the head cheese maker at Cricket Creek Farm, producing award-winning cheese. Most people retire at 65, she is just getting started!

Photographer: Julia Sabot

I am a photographer in Brooklyn who loves to take pictures of everything and anything. I have been freelancing for a few years, and hope to have my own little studio some day.

Spice of Life

Spice of Life

My family has spent a lot of time living in Pakistan, and though it’s not perfect, it’s a country of many treasures. This is a picture of my maid, Sakina, as she used two rocks to grind herbs and spices in her small and modest home. This is a method still used in homes where a mechanical grinder is a luxury and not a necessity. According to Sakina and her mother, herbs ground on a rock maintain the rich flavors that are often lost by all our machines.

Photographer: Hena Tayeb

I’m in my mid twenties, have been married three years, and just had my first baby. A beautiful baby boy. I love finding unusual abstracts in places you see everyday.

Mr. Smith

Mr. Smith

Once a year Greenport Village, Long Island has a festival where visitors can get a glimpse of a blacksmith at work. Here he is fashioning a hook from a longer piece of iron, which glows hot from the fire as he brings the hammer down.

Photographer: Edward Brydon

I am scientist in New York City who uses photography to exercise my right brain.

Stoking the Fire

Stoking the Fire

The making of handmade glass beads is a very old tradition in Turkey. In this photo from Kurudere Village, men are melting glass pieces and then reforming them to make beads. Then women in the village make necklaces and bracelets from those beads. There are only three glass bead making shops in the village. Will they still be around in ten years?

Photographer: Emre Kuheylan

Emre Küheylan was born in Turkey, 1982. He is a representative and interviewer of PhotoWorld Magazine. His editorial and documentary works represented by Gruppe28 Die Fotografenagentur / Hamburg.



Patrizio lives in Fermo, a little medieval town in central Italy, and has been making shoes since he was six years old. His region holds a long tradition of shoe-making, but in the last 20 years the industry has shifted to China. He is the last shoemaker in town. “So Patrizio, why do people pay so much for industrial, low-quality shoes?” I asked him. “People are stupid, would they have been smart I could have my own private airplane!” he said.

Photographer: Andrea Zanchi

I’m Andrea and currently I live in Italy. I fell in love with photography during my legal studies and when I got my degree I wasn’t interested in law anymore. So now everything I do is aimed to try to become the best photographer in the world and try to live with what I love.

Time Honored

Time Honored

This kind gentleman in back streets of Hyderabad, India, repaired my battered old watch for the princely sum of 10 rupees, about 20 US cents. Despite looking like he had problems with his eye sight, he had the nimble dexterity of someone half his age. A true craftsman.

Photographer: James Kerr

I live in London.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

When I graduated high school, my parents bought ten acres of untouched land in Texas and set out to fulfill their life-long dream of building their own home. Over the past seven years, they have managed to construct a collection of buildings, all with their own two hands. The building behind them is what they call their “closet-guest loft,” which they proudly built with reused materials for a mere $350. I always enjoy coming home to find new additions to their growing complex of buildings, excited to see what’s next on the drawing board for them.

Photographer: Magera Holton

Designer based in San Francisco, but Austin will always be home.

Dear @Pictory:

This table (is my most valued handmade possession).

Truck Stop

Truck Stop

Poverty forced me into greatness in the form of do-it-yourself auto repair. I bought this truck for $1600 because that’s what I had left over from student loans. I knew that one day I would have to make up for that deal, and that day came. A little research, a lot of time, and no confidence had me under the rear end of this one and a half ton vehicle. At 90% completion, an air valve snapped and sent a piece of plastic into my eye, cutting it and leaving me with a eye patch for 24 hours. Despite the nurse’s pessimism, it healed within those long 24 hours and I was able to finish. A 14-year-old fuel pump with no intention of going peacefully was finally removed and replaced. The truck started up with a soothing roar that I never heard out of her before. I was so happy, I could of left her in the driveway and floated to work.

Photographer: Tyler Colin

A young, post college, man trying to sort it all out in Anchorage, Alaska.

What Lives in the Body

What Lives in the Body

Once a week for two years, I have sat down at a table in a natural history museum, picked up a scalpel and a pair of tweezers, and—gently, carefully, meditatively—created a study skin out of a bird, or two, or three, that has been killed by its unsuspecting flight into a window of a skyscraper. On this day I prepared a Wilson’s flycatcher (a slight, somewhat unprepossessing bird notable for being new to me and for turning out well despite being incredibly small), a Savannah sparrow, and a Gray-cheeked thrush. They were all good to me; no one’s skin tore, no one’s wings sat crookedly. It was quiet, without even the radio on to disturb the hush, and there were no visitors all day. I felt restored when I left.

Photographer: Meera Sethi

Meera is a writer who lives in Chicago. She is good at making risotto, lemon-yogurt cake, and mistakes.


What is your most valued handmade possession?”

We asked on the Etsy facebook page. Add yours now, or just read the ones below.

My mom made one of my wedding accessories out of my late sister’s wedding dress so I could have my sister there on my wedding day.”

—Chrissy Carini

When I was a child my grandmother was always crocheting…she taught me. When I was a teenager she had a stroke and had to “relearn” to do everything, including crochet….my most treasured handmade possession is the granny square afghan she managed to finish one month before she passed away…”


For my 23rd birthday a close friend of mine gave me a book, in which she had painted about 14 watercolor portraits of my beloved dog, Edith. Some were from photographs; some were abstract; some were invented, like the one of Edith standing in the kitchen cooking eggs, wearing a fringed Spanish hat. It wins, by far.”

—Michaela Brangan

I have a beautiful wooden Barbie doll house. My parents bought it for me when I was 3 from a local man who hand made them. You can see the care he put into every detail in the house. There is real carpet on the floors (linoleum in the kitchen) and real wall paper on the walls. The roof has wooden shingles that looks like it would have taken forever to place each one in perfectly. I played with it throughout my entire childhood and loved it and now my daughter has it and it will be something that I am sure she will cherish as well. I think with handmade items you can feel the love and work that was put into them which make them all the more special. My dollhouse will definitely become a family heriloom :)”

—Autumn Burton

My husband made my workbench for me. It’s my most treasured handmade item. Made especially wonderful because he made it while I was at a not-so-successful craft show, and I was depressed. Seeing it when I came home, in the middle of the CLEAN garage, with a sign on it that said “I (heart) U”, was a tearful moment. His support keeps me going most days.”

—Christine Izak Fields

Showcase 26 of 37

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