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A long tradition

The history of handcrafts in South Tyrol

A long tradition – handcrafts in South Tyrol
The heyday for farm handcrafts was between 1800 and 1900, when both smallholders and full-time farmers fashioned items by hand, working independently of the expert artisans of the towns and countryside concerned with products for the iron industry.

So-called ’Kleinhäusler‘ were smallholders who did not own a lot of property and therefore carried out handwork to make ends meet. They set up small workshops or went ‘on the tramp’. When work needed to be done, it was customary in the countryside to get handworkers in, and tradesmen such as tailors, cobblers and weavers travelled from farm to farm practising their trades. They took apprentices and journeymen with them and made shoes and clothes for the whole family. They were paid in the form of food and often lodging too. In late autumn there was payment in kind of cereal, poppy seeds or bread. Farmwomen frequently cooked Sunday lunch when itinerant tradesmen were staying so that the tradesmen did not speak ill of them to others. As they got around quite a bit, tradesmen liked to exchange news, which provided farmers with a welcome break from the daily grind.

However, full-time farmers with more than eight cattle in the cowshed along with arable land did not need to supplement their income. They made things for their own consumption, particularly in the winter months. Every farm had a ‘Machkammer’, or workshop, for this, which was used to carry out repair work on farm tools. Farmers also made a variety of objects for daily use. Baskets for all sorts of purposes were woven, rakes were made or plates, bowls or whetstones of arolla pine were turned at the lathe.

The tendency was for the men to work with wood, while the women processed wool. In many cases these artisan skills have been handed down from generation to generation.
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