Why UK Craft?

As many designers who reside in the country can attest, the UK has long offered a cultural appreciation and welcoming community for craftspeople. Because of this, one may ask themselves how this attitude entered the psyche of the British Isles and why it persists?

British Designer Toogood Clothing Collection Lookbook Image
Image via Toogood

The story of Great Britain’s current place in design finds its origins in the beginnings of industrialization over 200 years ago.

As machines, factories and capitalist economies began to take hold of the empire, their popularity changed the relationship between people and how their goods and architecture were produced.

19th Century British Rope Factory Illustration
“Spinning Room in Shadwell Rope Works” by Cassell Petter and Galpin ca. 1880 via Encyclopedia Britannica

The personal infused handmade clothes, buildings and household items of old gave way to mechanically mass-produced goods.

By the middle of the 19th century, a subset of the population began to long for the simplicity and charm of arts and crafts made by artisans opposed to the identical, characterless products and designs of machines.

Christopher Dresser Industrial Toast Rack Design
Toast rack design by Christopher Dresser ca. 1878 via The MET

Rejecting the aesthetic values of industrialization, they romantically looked back to the pre-industrial era, seeking to revitalize the traditional artistic values of medieval and folk designs.

Grisaille Stained Glass Window Pane
Grisaille Window Panel ca. 1330 via The MET
John Scott Bradstreet Designed Stained Glass Window from Arts & Crafts Movement
“Stained Glass Window” by John Scott Bradstreet ca. 1908 via The MET

Spearheaded by the art critic, John Ruskin, and the artist, William Morris, these origins of British reactionary sentiment marked the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Artists and craftspeople shifted away from chemical and synthetic materials, opting to utilize organic substances and slow, detailed processes to create their work.

William Morris Wallpaper Design from the Arts & Crafts Movement
“Strawberry Thief” Wallpaper by William Morris ca. 1883 via Morris & Co.

At the forefront of this movement was the redefining of the “craftsperson.”

19th Century Issue of The Studio Magazine Celebrating Arts & Crafts
The Studio Magazing ca. 1893 via University of Maryland

Crafts, such as glass-making, leatherworking, embroidery and more, had always found themselves in the shadows of the more powerful and respected disciplines of fine art, architecture and industry design.

Through the proliferation of the Arts and Crafts movement, the goal was for the crafts and those skilled in them to be elevated to the same level as the other disciplines.

Charles Ulrich Painting Celebrating Italian Craftspeople and the Arts & Crafts Movement
“Glass Burners of Murano” by Charles Ulrich ca. 1886 via The MET

From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, 130 Arts and Crafts guilds, associations and communities were founded across the British Isles; artists practicing under the movement’s philosophies gained notoriety and success.

The Arts and Crafts movement remained an influential center of British art, its ideals spreading throughout the empire and to other European countries and North America.

Phillip Webb Designed Cabinet from the Arts & Crafts Movement
“The Backgammon Players” by Philip Webb ca. 1861 via The MET

Although the ideas of Modernism came to take hold of the worlds of Art and Architecture in the 1930s, the Arts and Crafts movement continue to inspire crafters and designers to the current day.

Kennet and Jacqueline Besheer Tile Design Inspired by Arts & Crafts Movement
Art Tile by Kenneth and Jacqueline Besheer ca. 2010

Because of the movement’s influence on British culture and society, designers and artisans have settled in the UK becoming a part of this 170-year-old history of arts and crafts celebration and appreciation.

Jewelers Pippa Small and Ram Rijal, clothing designers By Walid, Sabina Savage and Toogood, ceramist Akiko Hirai and textile designer Catarina Riccabona, among so many others, find themselves carrying on the legacy of the United Kingdom’s prolific and influential artists and crafters of the 19th century.

Pippa Small

Ram Rijal

By Walid

Sabina Savage


Akiko Hirai

Catarina Riccabona

Search Products