Survey Launched to Map Out Landscape of Traditional Crafts Makers in Scotland

TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) together with Creative Scotland, Craft Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland have launched a to understand the landscape of traditional crafts makers currently active in Scotland.

The research is in response to a wider report published in 2021, looking at Scotland’s “intangible cultural heritage”, a term used by UNESCO to describe traditional cultures including music, dance and storytelling alongside the knowledge passed down through generations regarding traditional crafts practices. In the Scottish context, this includes handloom weaving, shinty stick making, traditional musical instruments, basketwork, lacemaking, hand knitting styles and woodworking amongst many others, with such crafts often having local or regional designs unique to parts of Scotland.

Craft specialists, Really Interesting Objects, have been commissioned to undertake the work, building on research from 2016 commissioned by Creative Scotland which updated a 1994/95 study and indicated a decline in traditional crafts makers and an aging demographic. The new survey aims to find out what has changed in recent years, aiming to reach as many traditional crafts makers as possible to capture information on their traditional craft and unique skills.

This new Scotland-focussed research comes within weeks of the UK-wide body Heritage Crafts raising public attention with its latest Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023, which found that 5 new crafts have been added to the “critically endangered” category, joining the list of a further 146 at-risk crafts across the UK, with one craft becoming extinct since the previous Red List was published.  For Scotland, Fair Isle chair making, Highland thatching, sporran making, wooden flute making and kishie basket making are all on the critically endangered list.

Director of TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) Steve Byrne said:

At TRACS we recognise the parallels for crafts makers with our tradition bearers in music, dance and storytelling who carry key traditional knowledge, often passed down through oral and local community routes. Many traditional skills are under threat of being lost and we need to reach people with such skills and knowledge to be able to support them, to ensure these distinctive skills are passed on to young people today and safeguarded for future generations.  At a time when we are thinking about sustainability, reuse and renewal, the skills and knowledge held by traditional makers are even more valuable than ever.

Irene Kernan, Director, Craft Scotland said:

Craft Scotland promotes a wide range of contemporary craft but many of the craft disciplines that we support have been practised for generations and have strong links to Scottish heritage and traditional craft skills.

Sustaining these skills is vital for ensuring a vibrant craft sector in the future, so we are delighted to partner on this important piece of research about traditional and indigenous crafts in Scotland today.

The first launched in late May 2023 at this year’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) conference in Birnam, Perthshire, led by TRACS and key partners, where a particular focus was given to the importance of traditional crafts with presentations by Daniel Carpenter from the Heritage Crafts Association and Dr Michelle Stefano, folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center at the US Library of Congress.

With the findings of the latest research, TRACS and partners are hoping to establish longer-term sustainable solutions for the traditional crafts sector to avoid further decline, and to celebrate and share the invaluable skills and knowledge that have been passed down from generation to generation. One potential solution could be the addition of a Scottish Traditional Crafts Forum under the TRACS co-operative network which currently supports three forums for traditional music, storytelling and dance.

The survey is live and open until 31st July 2023, and is aimed at any professional makers as well as people who practise traditional crafts part-time or as a hobby.

Traditional Crafts in Scotland Survey link: