Craft Workshops in Hoi An
Hoi An’s commerce is propped up by local artisans—very important to the aesthetic as well as the economic heart of Hoi An. Just look around you, Hoi An is full of craft workshops selling handmade delights from silk lanterns and pottery, to leather goods and of course the many tailored clothes.
You don’t have to be a crafty person to enjoy the experience of taking a craft workshop in Hoi An. The best thing about these tours is that you actually meet the local artisans and fully appreciate their talents as well as get a snapshot into their daily lives.
Taking part in a craft workshop and creating your own handcrafted souvenir opens many doors. You learn about traditions, connect with a culture, and acquire new skills. You come out with a great amount of respect for the time and effort it takes artisans to produce these items. Perhaps even be inspired in setting up your own art and crafts afternoon with your friends back home, sharing your new skills and stories of your travels. Hidden has compiled a list of the best craft workshops in Hoi An along with what to expect in each class so that you can choose the one that best suits you. Lantern making is a huge category so we’ve dedicated an entire article to this particular craft workshop here.
- Blue Lotus Leather Workshop
- Bamboo Root Sculpture
- Pottery Making
- Taboo Bamboo
- Sedge Mat Making
- The Timing Mask Workshop
- Wood Carving
- Hoi An Photo Tour and Workshop
- Hidden’s Thoughts
Blue Lotus Leather Workshop
The Blue Leather Lotus Workshop opened a couple of years ago by Canh, a young local artisan who, crafts as well as sells custom handcrafted leather goods. He conducts craft workshops teaching and sharing his skills and knowledge about traditional leathercraft techniques.
Canh quit his job in Hanoi in 2014 and moved to Hoi An to follow his dream. Working tirelessly on creating products and selling them on the streets of Hoi An, until he was able to open his professional studio. There are currently five people who work at the studio, creating custom pieces and facilitating craft workshops. The team also makes stunning items to order via their website for local and overseas customers. So if you can’t make it to Hoi An, then you can still get your hands on a custom piece.
There are three workshop classes available from novice to advanced, with all materials included in the price. We attended the basic beginner craft workshop at their new location on Hung Vuong Street in Hoi An. When we visited the studio had only relocated the previous week. So was still in the process of being fully set up.
The Leather Workshop
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Tuan, one of the apprentice staff, and Canh’s two well-behaved and friendly dalmatians. Tuan, who also has a background in graphic design, showed me their new premises, and the team’s great plans for their new studio. Over a refreshing drink, Tuan showed us some design options to choose to make during the session. Either a folded hand-sewn card holder or a fold-out card and money purse with snaps.
Tuan showcased a variety of leather colours to choose from. He then instructed us on how to trace the pattern onto the wrong side of the leather from a cardboard stencil. It was really important to keep our hands steady due to the many edges and dots. They all needed careful alignment to ensure the end product folded correctly.
Cutting the Pattern
After the pattern was traced, we cut it out using a metal ruler and knife cutter. Carefully holding the pattern in place while cutting around the edges in a special order. All the while making sure not to overcut into any of the corners. Then, we marked parallel lines on the wrong the side of the leather and cut into, but not through it. So the leather could be folded into place, making the shape of the purse. This was more difficult than expected! Too much pressure and you cut through the leather, but too little and you can’t fold it properly, deforming the shape of the purse.
Before applying the snaps, we gave the purse a trial fold to see whether it folded properly and to make sure the edges aligned. We trimmed a couple of corners that weren’t folding well. Once we were happy with the alignment, we marked the dots indicating the placement for the snaps and their backs. We used a hole punching tool and a hammer to create the tiny holes for the snaps to sit.
The next step was attaching the snaps. Tuan skillfully showed us how this was done using a hammer and special leather working tools. It was then our turn to give it a go, which was not as easy as expected. You can’t hit the item too hard. Otherwise, it warps the snap, so you have to knock it to fasten it into place carefully.
The Finishing Touches
Next, you fold over the leather into its final form, connecting the snaps. Voilà, your handmade leather purse is complete. Participating in this workshop made us better understand the skill level and time that goes into handmade leather items. It makes you appreciate and value their final professional pieces on a different level. Canh and Tuan are warm and friendly people and open to having a chat while teaching you the skills of the trade. It’s a great way to learn a new craft, and you walk away with a product that you made with the help of local artisans.
Basic Class – Half Day
Never tried leatherwork, but interested in doing so? Then this is the class for you. Aimed at people who have no prior experience. They teach traditional techniques, making small items from scratch, including a coin purse, keyring, cardholder, or a larger item, such as a passport cover or wallet.
Price: 1,035,000 VND (45 USD) . Class schedule: 8:30 am to 12:30pm or 1:30 pm. OR 1:30 pm. to 5:30 or 6:30 pm. (Classes run 4 to 5 hours in length)
Intermediate Class – One Day
This workshop for people at a beginner level who have some knowledge of basic leatherwork. In this class, you make personalised items, such as a coin purse, cardholder, or wallet. All from scratch using traditional handcraft techniques. You have the option of making one larger item, such as a computer case or handbag.
Price: Approximately 1,500,000 VND (65 USD). Class schedule: 8:30 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. (one-hour lunch break)
Advanced Class – Two Days
Blue Lotus Leather also holds extended two-day workshops for people who have previous experience, or beginners wishing to gain a higher level of skills. You learn about the tools of the trade, types of leather, as well as various techniques, and get to contribute to the design of the handcrafted items you make from scratch.
Price: Approximately 2,800,000 VND (140 USD). Class schedule: 8:30 am. to 5:30 pm (one-hour lunch break)
Bamboo Root Sculpture
In this craft workshop, a local sculptor assists you in creating charming characters out of bamboo roots. Within the session, you make a complete piece starting from raw bamboo to a carved bust.
This is one of those craft workshop experiences where you find yourself making something out of what would otherwise be discarded. Bamboo roots are found everywhere around Hoi An, and the results of the finished pieces are startlingly beautiful.
The fine root strands of the bamboo really lend themselves to sculptures of worldly-wise long-bearded figures, of which Vietnam has an abundance.
They teach you how to use tools and test your skills with the chisels prior to commencing work on your handcrafted piece. The creation of the outlines of the faces are the easiest. You get a real feel for the craftsmanship needed when working on the smaller details like the eyes and mouth. A professional artisan guides you throughout the process and helps out with some of the more intricate details.
The Thanh Ha pottery village formed at the end of the 15th century and its ceramics have continued to be produced in the region for centuries. The locals here have been successful in preserving this traditional profession, passing techniques inherited from their ancestors down through the generations.
Their “claim to fame” (and rightly so) is that the skilled craftsmen from the village of Thanh Ha were invited by the Nguyen Dynasty, to create special pieces for the Imperial Palace of Hue. A very prestigious invitation that they are extremely proud of. Today the pottery remains an incredibly important part of the handicraft culture in Hoi An, as well as the economy, with the manually crafted pottery being sold here and abroad.
At first glance, you may overlook the special nature of this place but look deeper. You can see living history through watching the elders mould pottery while their grandchildren work the pottery wheel. The village also houses a modern, architecturally beautiful museum, displaying past and present pieces from the village.
The Miniature Pottery Village
The miniature pottery village is worth a wander to discover the architectural wonders of the world. All beautifully crafted, popping out of their slightly unkempt grounds. Kids love the freedom to explore the grounds and are made to feel so welcome by the artisans, getting hands-on action making pots on the spinning wheels. It makes for a very refreshing very low-key tourist attraction.
The pottery-making workshop is around 2 kilometres from the Old Town. A local craftsperson will teach you how to create a clay item using a pottery wheel. You also get a chance to visit Terracotta Park along the way and explore the pottery village.
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet. In the best growing conditions, it can skyrocket to three feet in height in 24 hours (and no that’s not a typo!). Some say you can literally see it grow before your eyes. Here at the Taboo Bamboo workshop, you see its multitude of uses. The owners home is built from bamboo, so are the sinks, even the toilet is bamboo! He also offers rides in his electric car—and you guessed it… it’s made from bamboo!
The family business has been built on skills and knowledge passed down over three generations. The family has been building bamboo houses and items for many years, and they wish to continue the craft by sharing their skills through their workshops.
The Bamboo Craft Workshop
During the two-hour session, you learn about bamboo as a sustainable material. As well as traditional uses of the material in Vietnamese culture, and marvel at the unique facilities made from bamboo. In the class, you get to try your hand at working with bamboo. You learn various techniques and participate in making your own one-of-a-kind handcrafted souvenir. Taboo Bamboo can accommodate groups up to 20 people, and classes are suitable for ages five and above. All materials are included in the workshop price.
Hidden Hint: If you want to undertake a larger project, enquire about the longer and more intensive workshop to create your own bamboo bike!
Sedge Mat Making
This craft workshop focuses on how to weave sedge grass to create a sedge mat. A sustainable material locally grown and farmed. A local craftsperson guides you in using this material creating a traditional handcrafted item.
The class runs from a home in a local village creating jobs for local residents and supporting the local industry. The weaving process relaxes you, but because everything is done manually, it does require great attention to detail. You choose your preferred design and then crouch down working side by side on a floor loom with a local artisan.
The patterns themselves are intricate and they guide you in selecting each strand of sedge for its colour, weave it in and out through the large floor loom (with assistance from your host), each strand you weave slowly building the mat. The end result is you create a unique handmade product, no doubt having a good conversation and a few laughs along the way.
The Timing Mask Workshop
This family-run business has been creating traditional style Tuồng masks for years. They chose the name “The Timing Masks” to honour the many years it took their father to master the craft.
The History of the Masks
Tuồng masks were originally used in classical Vietnamese theatre (Tuồng), in spring and autumn. Visiting groups came to entertain villagers after the completion of their farming work. The masks are very symbolic. The colour of the face depicts the background or personality of a character. White is used mostly for women, red for war heroes and black for hot-tempered martial men. The age of the character represented by thick lines around the eyes (very similar to real life!)
Mask Making Today
The family now runs craft workshops to share the skills of traditional mask making. You have the option of creating a mask from scratch, which means you make the base with papier mache and then paint the base with your desired design. Or you can choose to paint a premade base. You can paint any design you like or learn a traditional design to paint on your mask. It’s a child-friendly activity, but if you choose to make the mask base, too, it does take patience and more time.
How to Book: walk-in for groups under five people, book ahead for larger groups
The wood carving craft workshop gives you the opportunity to make a tray, a buffalo, or a fish. All while under the guidance of an experienced woodworker.
For more experienced carpentry there are opportunities to carve more sophisticated products. Learning advanced techniques, such as inlaying mother of pearl, from the experienced craftsmen. Just let them know ahead of time that you require more of a challenge.
The session starts with learning how to use the chisel and hammers, giving you a feel for the wood before you start your project. Your instructor assists you along the way and works on any tricky areas for you. Once you’re happy with your carved piece, you sand it and end the workshop with a completed item to take home.
Hoi An Photo Tour and Workshop
Price: Prices start at 1,300,000 VND (55 USD) Time: Varies. See website for further details.
If photography is your thing or you have an interest, try a class while in Hoi An. Professional photographer Etienne Bossot and his team run photography workshops to suit all skill levels.
The tours take place in a variety of locations priding themselves as being “off the beaten tracks.” Etienne and his team have built up strong relationships with the local people which helps to break down any cultural barriers. Everyone is treated with respect. Nothing feels staged or overrun by tourists. So the overall experience is authentic, as well as informative and fun. Be prepared to get amongst it all, maybe even standing in the surf to catch the sunrise. There are endless beautiful photo opportunities on these tours.
The tour also includes a composition workshop so you can learn about using light, colour and composition to capture amazing images. Then use this knowledge on their sunrise tour at a local fishing village or sunset tour in the countryside where you visit the local farming community. Specialised workshops on food, street, workflow and wildlife photography are available, along with private classes and extended multi-day photography tours for the creative enthusiast.
In fact, there’s so much on offer we had to experience it ourselves and have dedicated a complete article to them here.
There’s no denying the “feel good” factor about these craft workshops. Although it’s nice to go shopping and sightseeing, actively participating in a workshop gives you a wider appreciation for the time and effort put into these goods, so readily available throughout the town. Our experiences trying out all these crafts for you was so much fun. We met many different local characters, so eager to meet you and proudly, while patiently, teach you the beginnings of their craft. We advise you to pick at least one craft workshop for your visit to Hoi An. You get so much more out of it than just a handmade souvenir.