Saturday, May 27 2017

VietNamNews

Saving the craft of mattress-making

Update: May, 14/2017 - 09:00
Something to smile about: A boy plays with a train made by Nam. VNS Photo Huê Phong
Viet Nam News

For many years, people in a village in Thừa Thiên-Huế Province made and sold mattresses, made from special reeds.

The village was in fact called Phò Trạch Đệm, which means mattress.

When factories started to make mattresses it became harder for people from the village to sell their reed mattresses.

Then, a clever man decided to make other things, such as lamp shades and key rings, from the reed mattresses.

Since then, things have become better for the village.

By Phước Bửu  

 Nguyễn Viết Nam was born on a mattress woven by highly skilled artisans.  

He was not the only one, of course.

The mattresses produced by artisans of Phò Trạch Village in the northern part of Thừa Thiên-Huế Province using craft skills handed over through generations have also welcomed the birth of generations of babies in the village and beyond.

For Nam, the knitting of dry, grey rush stems has been an indispensable part of his conscious life, and the awareness of his native village’s craft legacy has only deepened over time.

For decades, Nam has been struggling to expand the market for the village’s mattresses, so that local weavers can earn higher incomes and their traditional craft thrives in the face of mass-produced industrial products.

"It is not just me that was born on these mattresses, but many generations in this village. Obviously, the craft is a legacy of my community and many among us want a healthy life for this craft.

“Losing it would be like losing a part of my life and the village’s history.”

Half a millennia

The craft dates back to the 16th century, with pioneer residents from the northern part of the country following their commanders, who later became the Nguyễn Lords (1558-1777), settling down in the village.

The early residents recognised that the village had many marshes and rush plants growing naturally in them. They found that the plant had a hollow cylindrical stem and if these were flattened and dried, they would become durable.

They invented a tool like a wooden hammer to flatten a bundle of the stems at the same time before drying them in the sun.

Then they started knitting these “threads” to make mattresses and this became the village’s mainstay for generations. The village’s name became Phò Trạch Đệm. The word đệm means ‘mattress’ in Vietnamese.

For centuries, the villagers relied on this craft to augment their income from agricultural cultivation. In their heyday, they were the sole suppliers of mattresses throughout Thừa Thiên-Huế and neighbouring provinces.

They made mattresses for beds, for floors to be used as carpets, and for baby cradles. The mattresses’ characteristics were amazing. They were soft, because of the air that remained in the flattened stems; they were also able to absorb water, a useful feature for babies; they were washable; and they gave off a cool feeling during hot, sunny days.

Even today, Huế residents prefer rush mattresses for babies rather than plastic ones. However, sales of other products have declined.

Only nostalgic rural customers continue to consume the mattresses produced in the village.

"The traders pay me very little, around VNĐ 50,000 đồng (over US$2) for a mattress that I spend at least a week knitting," said an elderly woman in the village who did not want to be named. She said the traders blamed low sales for their low buying prices.

The decline in sales is forcing the craft to fade out. Most younger residents have left the village, looking for other jobs with better incomes. The craft is now in the hands of elder artisans and housewives.

Nam to the rescue    

Saddened by the plight of the villagers and their traditional craft, Nam, as the deputy head of village’s agriculture co-operative, gave the body a new direction in 2000.

He organised a team of skillful artisans to make mattresses and products, including handbags, sofa mats and hats.

Those products became popular in the market, before the handmade items were overtaken by trendy fabric hats and plastic bags. Eventually, the knitting section was eliminated from the cooperative after Nam was removed through trickery.

"I left the village to earn an income in Quảng Bình, the native province of my wife. But I have never stopped thinking of the craft," Nam said.

Far away from home, Nam designed samples using cut pieces of knitted mattresses as way to deal with his homesickness.

Last year, he decided to make a determined comeback to his home village and work on creative products made with pieces of knitted mattresses.

"Only creativity would work. I think that traditional handicrafts cannot compete with mass-produced items, so a transformation in the way they (traditional products) are used is necessary.”

Late last year, Nam had his new products make their debut and they were welcomed by locals and visitors to a festive event held in Phước Tích Village by the organisers of the biennial Huế Festival.

Today, he has almost 150 designs for sofa mats, lanterns, tissue boxes and desk lamps, and key rings in different shapes, including fish, Santa Claus, Doraemon, 12 Zodiac animals and the Dharma Wheel of Buddhism.

“I want to meet the demands of customers of all types and ages,” he said. “Whatever is good for the sale of rush mattress, I will do.”

Nam has designed many toys for kids, too – cars, planes, trains, etc.

For producing his items, Nam purchases complete mattresses from locals and cuts them into smaller pieces for his works. For complicated designs, he does the knitting himself. Luckily, Nam’s creativity and skills have been accepted in the market.  

"These are so good, and it is great that they help consume the knitted mattresses," said Nguyễn Văn Lợi, who was seeking “nostalgic products”. Pleased at his discovery during an accidental visit to Nam’s workshop, he said: "The items here are artistic and attractive for people of different ages.”

Recently, Nam has received orders from the Phương Nam arts and crafts outlet, an organic food supermarket Quế Lâm in Huế and potential traders from Đà Nẵng and HCM City, who met him at the Huế Craft Village Festival held in the city earlier this month. Nam was invited to the festival as a representative for new craft products.

Higher sales of Nam’s products mean stronger hopes of survival for the 500-year craft.

With increased interest in organic product consumption in the country and elsewhere, Nam seems to have done the right thing at the right time. VNS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 GLOSSARY

Nguyễn Viết Nam was born on a mattress woven by highly skilled artisans.  

Artisans are people who make things by performing skills that involve using their hands.

The mattresses produced by artisans of Phò Trạch Village in the northern part of Thừa Thiên-Huế Province using craft skills handed over through generations have also welcomed the birth of generations of babies in the village and beyond.

You and your brothers and sisters are one generation; your parents and their brothers and sisters are another generation; your grandparents and their brothers and sisters are yet another generation, and so on.

For Nam, the knitting of dry, grey rush stems has been an indispensable part of his conscious life, and the awareness of his native village’s craft legacy has only deepened over time.

Indispensable means very necessary.

Your conscious life is made up of the years you can remember. It usually means ever since you were about three years old.

A legacy is what remains behind from the past.

For decades, Nam has been struggling to expand the market for the village’s mattresses, so that local weavers can earn higher incomes and their traditional craft thrives in the face of mass-produced industrial products.

Decades are periods of ten years.

To expand the market means to sell things to more people and in more places.

Incomes are amounts of money people earn.

In the face of” means “up against”.

When something is mass produced, many of that item are made. This usually happens when things are made in a factory.

The craft dates back to the 16th century, with pioneer residents from the northern part of the country following their commanders, who later became the Nguyễn Lords (1558-1777), settling down in the village.

Pioneers are the first people to do something new.

Residents are people who live in a certain place.

The early residents recognised that the village had many marshes and rush plants growing naturally in them.

A marsh is a swamp.

A rush is a kind of plant that grows in the muddy soil found in swamps.

 They found that the plant had a hollow cylindrical stem and if these were flattened and dried, they would become durable.

If a container is hollow it has solid walls around the outside but it is not solid on the inside. Rather it has a chamber of air on the inside.

Cylindrical means in the shape of a cylinder, which is long and hollow.

If something is durable it can last a long time.

Then they started knitting these “threads” to make mattresses and this became the village’s mainstay for generations.

If making mattresses is the mainstay of a village, it is what the village relies on for most of its income.

For centuries, the villagers relied on this craft to augment their income from agricultural cultivation.

Augment” means “add to”.

 In their heyday, they were the sole suppliers of mattresses throughout Thừa Thiên-Huế and neighbouring provinces.

The village’s heyday is the time when it was strongest.

Sole means only.

They were soft, because of the air that remained in the flattened stems; they were also able to absorb water, a useful feature for babies; they were washable; and they gave off a cool feeling during hot, sunny days.

To absorb water means to take in water.

However, sales of other products have declined.

Declined, in this case, means “gone down”.

Only nostalgic rural customers continue to consume the mattresses produced in the village.

Nostalgic means longing for the past.

Rural means from the country and not from the cities and big towns.

Saddened by the plight of the villagers and their traditional craft, Nam, as the deputy head of village’s agriculture co-operative, gave the body a new direction in 2000.

A plight is a sad situation.

Those products became popular in the market, before the handmade items were overtaken by trendy fabric hats and plastic bags.

Trendy fabric means material that is popular.

 Eventually, the knitting section was eliminated from the cooperative after Nam was removed through trickery.

If something is eliminated it is got rid of.

A cooperative is an organisation in which people share their work and the money they make from their work.

Trickery means dishonesty.

Far away from home, Nam designed samples using cut pieces of knitted mattresses as way to deal with his homesickness.

Homesickness means a longing for home.

"I think that traditional handicrafts cannot compete with mass-produced items, so a transformation in the way they (traditional products) are used is necessary.”

To compete means to be in competition with others, in other words, things made by hand in the village being sold beside the same things made in a factory.

Transformation means the changing of something from being one thing into being something else.

Late last year, Nam had his new products make their debut and they were welcomed by locals and visitors to a festive event held in Phước Tích Village by the organisers of the biennial Huế Festival.

A debut is a first appearance.

A biennial festival is one that is held every second year.

For producing his items, Nam purchases complete mattresses from locals and cuts them into smaller pieces for his works.

Purchases means buys.

 For complicated designs, he does the knitting himself. Luckily, Nam’s creativity and skills have been accepted in the market.  

Complicated means very involved and sometimes confusing.

Nam’s creativity means the use of his imagination.

Recently, Nam has received orders from the Phương Nam arts and crafts outlet, an organic food supermarket Quế Lâm in Huế and potential traders from Đà Nẵng and HCM City, who met him at the Huế Craft Village Festival held in the city earlier this month.

Organic food means food grown without artificial fertilizer and chemicals but rather with the help of natural things.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

  1. A woman who has a husband.
  2. A period of ten years.
  3. A form of toy made from reed mattresses that is especially for kids.
  4. A religion practiced in Viet Nam and elsewhere in the world.
  5. Little people who were born recently.

 

 

 

 

 

m

b

a

b

i

e

s

e

b

i

t

l

e

a

r

r

w

d

r

u

u

u

s

n

w

r

d

i

n

e

t

i

d

n

s

c

u

i

o

m

d

e

c

a

d

e

b

u

s

a

f

a

g

a

a

y

h

t

e

p

y

i

w

e

c

a

i

t

i

e

l

c

i

y

h

i

l

g

s

n

s

d

g

o

a

c

i

n

n

k

i

c

m

h

i

a

u

n

t

e

u

c

h

a

a

l

e

s

d

p

a

l

c

a

r

s

o

r

n

s

 

ANSWERS:

© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Wife; 2. Decade; 3. Cars; 4. Buddhism; 5. Babies.

 

 

 

Send Us Your Comments:

See also: