Traditional crafts and digital tools – Estonia

Marion Ründal, Creative Waves

Estonia has many people engaged in traditional crafts – most do it as a hobby but quite many have found a way to make livelihood out of their interest. Some are selling finished products (jewellery, folk costumes, household items etc), some sell their competences organizing workshops and trainings and some even have built up a tourist attraction out of their traditional way of life including traditional dressing styles, cooking, households, raising animals and crops etc

According to modern digital era various digital tools are used to preserve, teach and sell crafts. All kind of different digital tools are used depending on the purpose. Since nowadays practically most people use smartphones which allows to take photos, record a sound and a video, upload and download materials or even arrange virtual meetings, there is vast collection of different materials available.

As said, there are three main purposes to use digital tools in connection with crafts. Widest is advertising products. Most commonly for that homepages and Facebook pages are used where pictures of finished products are uploaded and displayed, often with the price. Often small producers are united (by location or by sector), most notable probably is Eesti käsitöö (Estonian handicraft, also in English) which converges more than 200 individuals and companies producing traditional craft items. Webpage includes list of physical stores, webshop and consulting opportunity for those wanting to buy folk costumes.

Second objective is to teach different techniques of various crafts. For that objective the main tools are blogs, video channels and Facebook groups. These are become more popular during the years of pandemic when gathering in person was restricted. Making training videos requires more skills and equipment than ordinary person has but it is not too time or money consuming to acquire. For example, there is Saara kudumiskool (Saara’s knitting school, in Estonian only) which uses all different tools: Facebook group with almost 3000 followers, blog, professionally made videos, webshop etc.

Third line of using digital tools in connection of crafts is preserving the knowledge and techniques of traditional arts. Mostly high-quality video and audio is used to record masters at work, videos are uploaded to web and links are displayed on webpage. This course of action needs high level of professionalism and good equipment and skills. Often interviewees are older people who do not feel comfortable with camera, so additional work is need to communicate with them. A quite good collection of craft masters at work is presented on the homepage of Eesti Rahvakunsti ja Käsitöö Liit (Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union, also in English) where short movies of Estonian traditional craft techniques are displayed. Not only traditional knitting, crocheting, sewing etc, but also fewer known activities as dyeing yarn with mushrooms or making a folk pipe. All videos are also subtitled to English.

There are growing number of enterprises combining craft trainings and providing traditional life style as experience to tourist. There are such kind of tourist farms all over Estonia but two regions particular have built up whole industry based on their traditional way of living: Setomaa and Kihnu.

Setos as ethnic and linguistic minority living in an area covering South East Estonia and North West Russia are renowned, admired and loved for their impressive vocal heritage, traditional villages and food. For their geographical location, religion and roots, seto culture is often viewed as existing on the border of two worlds. Setos have kept close ties to their traditional roots throughout the history and boast their own unique lifestyle including their own language and clothing customs. Setos are also well known for their ancient polyphonic singing tradition that is kept alive and well by older and younger generations alike. VIDEO

The seventh-largest island in Estonia, Kihnu is an ancient island of seafarers and fishermen. The cultural heritage of Kihnu – the clothing, language music, and handcrafts are all on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The island of Kihnu is home to a close-knit community of about 700 inhabitants, who value old traditions along with their local language and songs. Singing and dancing are integral parts of life for the locals. Throughout centuries, the men of Kihnu have spent most of their time at sea, while the women have become keepers and carriers of cultural heritage, which includes handicrafts, dances, games and music of the island. To this day, you can see the women of Kihnu riding motorbikes wearing Kihnu homespun striped skirts. Nas Daily, a popular Arab–Israeli vlogger with eight million YouTube subscribers, have explored the Estonian island of Kihnu – watch HERE.