Handcrafted goods are getting harder and harder to find. But there are still amazing artisan goods to be found when you travel. Especially if you are lucky enough to visit and shop for crafts in Tallinn, Estonia.
Seeing the same exact scarves, dresses, and bags in souvenir shops all over the world has made me a little jaded about shopping in port cities. From the Caribbean to Greece, So Cal, Mexico and Barcelona, I’ve seen more than one too many “handmade” (in China or India) item pawned off as a local craft to unsuspecting tourists. This sort of mass made junk marketing seems to be at its worst in areas where throngs of tourists pour in and out, off cruise ships. It’s probably profitable for the local vendors. But it makes me want to cry.
I’m a crafter and I love to find treasure and shop local. It’s heartbreaking to me when I see the same flavorless goods being sold all over the world. I’m willing to pay a little more for a quality handmade item that tells a story about where it came from, and bears the mark of the original artist. If that sort of thing even exists anymore.
I was starting to think the days of quality handmade goods collected around the world were done. Then I visited beautiful Tallinn, Estonia during the Medieval Days, when townsfolk and artists dress in costume and set up shop in the town square. They sell their handmade goods to tourists, arriving from all over the world by cruise ship, bus and ferry. These items are truly handmade. They are beautiful and unique, not some cheap facsimile.
I still cannot get over the handknit mittens and gloves that the artist was making, while sitting in her booth. These were so intricately detailed and beautiful that they made me wish I lived someplace cold enough to wear them. I could not decide which ones I wanted at the time but lucky for me this artisan has an Etsy Shop so it’s not too late to shop for gorgeous handmade Nordic Mittens
This area of the Baltic is known for its linens, and there were also linen sweaters and wraps, hand spun and dyed wool from Estonia and Latvia, and all sorts of felted wool hats and shoes. We fell in love with the felted fairy and gnome hats.
We also found delightful and creative toys here. This included several weapons carved from wood that were frightfully authentic looking!
I’m not sure I’d give my young sons those maces and axes and crossbows but they were impossible not to admire. They were incredible works of art just for the workmanship. I wish I could decorate a geeky Dungeons and Dragons themed man cave with all of them!
We also found wooden utensils and beads and lot of beautiful handmade jewelry. Of course there were many pieces made from Baltic Amber. So many shades of it!
My teenaged daughter picked up a handmade leather bound journal from one of the vendors. These were handstitched with handmade paper inside and were truly works of art.
There was so much to love, but I think my favorite was the heartwarming variety of felted toy animals. If you’ve ever sent your kids to a Waldorf style school, you will feel like you have found the mother ship.
It did my heart good to discover that real craft markets still exist. Even in port cities.