The Heritage Crafts Association regularly produces a report looking at crafts as businesses to identify crafts that have died out or are endangered. Their latest report has now been published. In it they have identified 5 crafts that have died out in the UK within the last generation, 62 that are critically endangered and more that are classed as endangered. So, if you’re looking at trying a new hobby, why not consider a craft that’s dying out so that you can keep it going in the UK a little longer and maybe even inspire others to learn it?
From the report, I’ve picked 10 crafts that caught my eye from the critically endangered and endangered lists. Anyone fancy giving one of them a try?
For info, none of the links I’ve included are affiliate links, I don’t make any money if you click on them. I’ve just included them if you want a bit more information.
Block printing is the printing of fabric or wallpaper by hand using carved blocks.
As a business craft, block printing is classed as endangered – it’s slow and mass production of wallpaper or fabrics dominates the market, but as a hobby it’s fun and rewarding. The craft involves creating blocks from lino or wood and then applying ink to the block to then print onto the fabric or wallpaper, potentially building up a pattern or image using different colours with different blocks.
I’ve seen lino print art at craft fairs in recent years so a lot of the kit will be readily available for block printing. To block print would be a great extension for printer makers.
I’m afraid I must admit, reading about block printing did make me thing of printing with ‘carved’ potatoes as a kid!
These are a couple of random businesses I’ve found that do block printing for some examples – James Randolph Rogers and Co (https://www.jamesrandolphrogers.com/ ) and The Black Fish Press (https://www.theblackfishpress.com/ ).
Bring out your inner witch and make a broom! Traditional brooms are made using a stick, with bundles of twigs (often birch) tied to it.
Broom making is classed as endangered by the Heritage Crafts Association. It was once common as a craft in areas with birch coppices, though other areas made brooms using whatever was plentiful and suitable instead of birch. Handmade brooms have lots of uses, from clearing leaves, teasing moss out of a lawn, getting dog hair out of carpets, clearing snow, cleaning nooks and crannies etc. I can see a lot of advantages in making your own broom, including being able to make one that suits your needs and works with any limitations you may have, being a more environmentally friendly tool or just being a good way to entertain kids, it only needs a source of wood and twigs.
New for 2023 are a few painting crafts, including fairground art, canal art and vardo art. I picked one of these, but for anyone artistic and keen to maintain a style of art, these are a few now endangered as craft businesses in the UK. I picked canal art because I love the style.
Many travelling types of communities developed their own identities and cultural traditions, including arts and crafts. These helped with advertising, as well as helping individuals be recognisable. For canal art, a lot of the art was called roses and castles as an umbrella term, especially for narrow boats, but it was also very regional. The craft as a business is struggling due to issues such as awareness, too few skilled people, lack of training opportunities, focus on smaller items rather than full boat painting and availability of materials and old boats.
This is a nice link to see some of the art – https://www.theheritagecrafter.co.uk/
Coiled straw basket weaving
Coiled straw basket weaving involves making baskets using cheap materials such as wheat or oat straw, bound together with some sort of cord, like string or split bramble.
In the UK, coiled straw basket weaving is now classed as critically endangered with 6 to 10 professionals making baskets as a side-line to their main income and no professionals making them as their main income. The skill is mainly associated with Scotland and Wales. As a viable business it suffers from problems with sourcing raw materials, low demand, it’s labour intensive and has low profit margins, but as a hobby, low demand and low profit margins are less important. I included this craft on my list because it sounds like a great way to do something useful with garden or rural waste. I also included it because of the popularity of wreath making may mean there are people out there looking to expand what they know and do.
This is a great website to get a feel of the craft – https://wovencommunities.org/how-to-make/coiled-baskets/
Corn dolly making
Corn dolly making made it onto my list really because I was surprised to see it listed as endangered. I guess it’s a craft that’s hard to make into a paying business, plus it sounds like skill loss and difficulties sourcing materials also contribute to its status.
Corn dollies are symbolic items, often linked to harvest and usually made from straw. There is evidence of making a straw spirit/goddess/harvest maiden/harvest token dating back to the 1500s, but straw dollies probably pre-date this (though the name ‘corn dolly’ seems to be 20th century thing). Working with straw is definitely a traditional British craft and if you can source some straw it’s also a cheap hobby.
I like this website – https://www.strawcraftsmen.co.uk/ – some of the examples of things that can be made with straw are stunning.
Hand fans are beautiful, but also practical ways of getting a little cooler on warm days.
Fan making is another critically endangered business craft in the UK. It began in the UK in the 17th century, though hand fans date back to about 3000BC. One of the main reasons for the craft as a business being critically endangered is low demand.
Fans are made from two parts – the monture (the solid bits that hold it together and give it strength such as wood) and the leaf (the paper). The leaf can be plain, printed or painted. Fan types include fixed, folding, brise (no leaf), cockade (opens like a lollipop) and fontage (folded type used for advertising). Fan making made it onto my list because I thought it would be great for artists or fretworkers, plus I like fans!
A good starting point is the website of The Fan Museum (https://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/ )
Horn, antler and bone working
I was intrigued to see this craft as endangered. It’s the working of animal derived materials (bone, horn or antler) to make decorative items.
The working of horn and other materials to make decorative items dates back to Palaeolithic times. For cow horn, the craft involves shaping through heat or pressure, cutting, sanding and polishing. The craft struggles with sourcing raw materials, especially ethically sourced materials.
These are two businesses, that give good examples of the craft –
Horn Carver https://www.horncarver.co.uk/
Illumination is the decoration of manuscripts with gold leaf or gold leaf and colour. It is best known for early Christian books where gold and colour was used to embellish the text.
Illumination is classed as endangered, with various reasons. As a hobby though, some of the reasons become less important. For example, a business may be expected to use pigments made from scratch, but as a hobby you can chose how far you want to take it. Gold obviously adds expense to the hobby though. I just love the look of illumination.
My background is chemistry so when I saw pigment making joining the list of endangered crafts for the 2023 report I just has to include it.
There is evidence of pigment making dating back to 9000BC in the UK. It is global and has been an important part of human expression since palaeolithic times. Pigments are colouring materials, such as fine particulates within some sort of binder to give a paint. They can be made from earth, rocks, plants and animals, though for this, they tend to be local. Pigments can be used for illumination, folk art, icon painting, fine art, printmaking, architectural decoration, dyeing textiles, re-enactment and so on. Currently there are 7 commercials pigment makers and teachers in the UK, not including artists making pigments for their own use. Pigment making from natural materials can be considered more environmentally friendly because it uses materials found locally, requires lower levels of toxic chemicals and produces less pollution, is sustainable and is ethical.
This website is interesting as a UK ochre mine – https://clearwellcaves.com/about-us/#ochresection
Scientific and optical instrument making
Scientific and optical instrument making is critically endangered. It includes things like compasses, barometers, telescopes and cameras. The one on that list that made me include it was barometer making.
Barometers measure air pressure and were an early type of weather forecaster. Traditional barometers were also works of art to be displayed. My grandparents always had a wonderful dark wood barometer in the hall. It was fantastically over the top and I loved staring at it.
Making barometers in the UK dates back to the 1700s and was once a large industry here. Nowadays there are microelectromechanical systems that do the same job as traditional barometers, but are far smaller. Also, mercury sales are now restricted, which has effectively phased out production of new mercury barometers. Traditional barometers involved precise work, combining woodwork, glass work and metal work.
There don’t seem to be any societies for barometer makers. A business restoring mercury barometers is Aaron Tomlinson Barometers (https://www.at-barometers.com/ ) and a company making new barometers is Comitti (https://comitti.com/ ) for examples.
Whether it’s compass, telescope, camera or barometer making, I think this would be a good hobby for practical or model engineering types.
To find out more about endangered crafts in the UK, this the Heritage Crafts Association full list –
Thank you to Openverse for some of the images used in this post.
Do you do any of these endangered business crafts as a hobby? Please tell us all about it in the comments below!
Dr Eleanor Rogerson founded Hobby Aids because she believes hobbies are good for you and limitations shouldn't stop doing what you enjoy. She is based in North Lincolnshire, UK.
Her background is chemistry, but after years in industry she wanted to work for herself and so went self-employed. During this time she mainly worked as a gardener. Recently she has been diagnosed with arthritis in her hands, which has caused her to discover the gap in the market to cater for hobbies for people with limitations.