The Craftsman: Issue n.009 — June 2018

Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter
7 min readJul 4, 2018

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“The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps… so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.” — Dylan Thomas

Photo of Tom Gyr by Gianfranco Chicco

Tom’s Studio: The Most Beautiful Pens in the World

Tom Gyr makes arguably the most beautiful calligraphy pens in the world. Tom trained in graphic design and fresh out of university started a furniture company in Newcastle, but that folded pretty quickly because he had no channel to showcase his products (now he has Instagram). He later moved to London to do web design at tech startups, in particular at a popular one doing food deliveries, but was soon disenchanted by the unsustainability of businesses driven by profit and obsessed with scale but not much more.

“I’m driven by creating something that’s unique, and personal and interesting… and that fulfils me. My workshop is a place for experimentation, for playing with so many options, different materials and combinations. And you can’t really do that if you’re working for a business that is driven by profit because you have to be certain about the fact that it has to make money.”

Sustainability and provenance are two key characteristics of Tom’s making style, both in stark contrast with today’s prevailing disposable culture — while dated, according to this New York Times article from 1988 about 1.6 billion pens end in landfills every year in the US alone. If you look at the materials that Tom uses, you’ll find eco-resins derived from tree sap rather than petrol, or that all copper shavings from turning a pen in the lathe are then re-cast into the body. For a recent series of pens made for the Chelsea Flower Show in London, Tom embedded locally foraged flowers into the resin. Other pens were made using Oakwood from a 200 years old fallen tree from Florence Nightingale’s estate. Unconventional materials are a constant source of inspiration too. During my visit to Tom’s Studio I found pens made with multiple layers of Colorplan papers, or using solidwool. I saw bits and bobs that ranged from trimmings of Alpikord, excess material from kitchen fittings, to colourful layers of compact resin and glass fibre leftover from a local surfboard maker. I got the impression that Tom tries to turn anything he finds in his 60 year old lathe and he didn’t deny this.

It’s still unclear what this business will look like in 10 years time. Will people still write? One thing is for sure though: there’s still going to be a high end market demanding beautiful handmade products that offer a superior user experience, and that is enough for someone not blinded by scale and profit.

Find out more about Tom Gyr’s work including photos, inspiration and tools in the longer version of this article.

Photo courtesy of Atelier Musubi

Atelier Musubi: Well Made Products With Social Impact

Atelier Musubi makes pen cases and diaries covered in fabric featuring traditional Japanese designs, and while that was enough to irk my curiosity, it was learning about their social mission that convinced me to reach out to them. Daryl Lim, a vintage fountain pen collector, founded Musubi to have a direct positive impact in the world by making beautiful products that support disadvantaged communities.

Daryl uses traditional sashiko-ori fabric from struggling multi-generational craftsmen from the Fukushima area, who saw their businesses collapse after the nuclear disaster in 2011. The notebooks are made in Singapore, where Daryl resides, by craftsmen with physical or intellectual disabilities. The craftsmen that make the pen cases in Indonesia are women from abusive family backgrounds. In both cases they are trained to achieve a skillset necessary to gain financial independence, access opportunities they previously lacked, and get away from unfavourable circumstances. Musubi’s processes are designed to enhance what society would traditionally consider disadvantages amongst their craftsmen. For instance, the repetitive task of sewing book blanks is a perfect fit for their artisans with intellectual disabilities, many of whom prefer to work on a single task precisely and repetitively.

They pick their tools and methods following the rule that whatever makes the final product a better one is the correct method to use. Given the delicate nature of the Tomoe River paper used in the diaries, considered one of the best papers by fountain pens lovers, pages have to be hand-sewn together to get a clean line, better durability and the ability to open the diaries perfectly flat. The pen cases instead require the use of laser cutters to cut the fabric in order to achieve more complex shapes and structures, guaranteeing a kind of consistency that would be difficult to achieve by hand. The result is that by focusing on high-end, obsessively-detailed products, they are overturning the stereotype that goods made for charity are of poor quality, often purchased not because the buyer wants them but rather because the buyer wants to do good. The company is not a non-profit though, as their goal is to demonstrate to other businesses that it is possible to create and sustain a fully-functioning business without compromising on quality while maintaining a total commitment to social causes.

“Musubu” means to bind together, both in physical terms (to weave or to tie) and figurative terms (to draw two people together, in marriage or friendship). “We chose this name because it represents both the materials we use and the social mission of the atelier — to connect our artisans, for whom their disadvantaged backgrounds leave them disconnected from society at large, to the wider world.”

Photo by Gianfranco Chicco

Sushi Tetsu in London: Come for the Omakase, Stay for the Jazz

I had been waiting for a chance to eat at Sushi Tetsu since I moved to London over 5 years ago (they opened 6 years ago). It finally happened thanks to luck (I had their phone number saved in my favourites) and Twitter (where Sushi Tetsu announces any available spots or cancellations). The sushi bar has only 7 seats, enough for chef Toru Takahashi to be able to prepare food for everyone without too much waiting (9 seats would be too many as his wife and business partner Hiromi-san confirms). It has taken Toru-san almost 20 years of honing his skills at prestigious restaurants in Japan and in London before he felt confident to open on his own, a goal he had from the very beginning of his professional life in the kitchen.

The food, masterfully prepared in front of you, was sublime and the atmosphere was even more remarkable. Both Toru-san and Hiromi-san were excellent hosts and engaged in amiable conversation throughout the 3+ hours I spent there. The music — jazz — was a perfect complement to the whole experience and the chef claims he wouldn’t be able to work without his hand picked tunes. I had the sushi omakase paired with different glasses of sake (nihonshu) suggested by Hiromi-san. The fish was the best available at the market and some of it was further prepared by Toru-san, like the soy marinated tuna or the shrimp and sea bream broth (heavenly!). But you could tell how serious the whole affair was by the cooking point and temperature of the rice (you were encouraged to eat it straight away without waiting too much from the moment the chef placed each piece in front of you) and the tamago at the end of the meal.

My favourites were the aforementioned broth, the torched botan (Scottish) ebi, the torched kama toro (fatty tuna collar) with a topping of yuzu koshu and the hotate (scallop). Find more photos on my personal Instagram.

12 Jerusalem Passage, London EC1V 4JP, United Kingdom

BBC launches 2018 FIFA World Cup Using an Animated Tapestry

The World Cup is now well underway (just don’t ask me how my home team — Argentina — is doing) and to promote it the BBC created a video trailer using a printed 7 metre long tapestry with each scene embroidered into it, that was later animated by Blinkink.

“The team have modernised the traditional tapestry technique by creating a dynamic film in which every single frame has been individually embroidered. More than 227,000 metres of thread were used to create over 600 unique frames of tapestry, that if laid end-to-end would measure over 1,200 metres in length.”

Watch the video and read more about this here and here.

The Tool Book: A Tool-Lover’s Guide to Over 200 Hand Tools by Phil Davy

The title of this book might as well be “Tool Porn” or “Tool Fetish”. It’s a catalog featuring colourful photos, brief descriptions and practical advice on more than 200 different tools you might find in and around the house, a carpenter’s workshop or in a DIY space. It was more of an impulse purchase while looking for something else. The book is prefaced by Hollywood actor and master woodworker Nick Offerman, who regarding tools remarks how “since we humorously cognisant monkeys first began to swing a stone at the end of a stick, we have been quietly and confidently passing along our collective knowledge to the next generation, again and again over the millennia, each apprentice acquiring an eventual mastery, occasionally adding slight improvements, until we humans can now print a book like this one.”

You can find the books on Amazon or at your favourite bookshop:
The Tool Book: A Tool-Lover’s Guide to Over 200 Hand Tools (US / UK)

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Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter

Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter. Conference director for hire, digital-physical experiences, marketing & storytelling. Japanophile. ✌