Bamboo is ubiquitous in the Vietnamese countryside. Almost all villages are surrounded by bamboo hedges. Images of bamboo are attached to childhood, while a bamboo cane is a good companion to support old people when walking. Among them is Phu Vinh craft village in Chuong My district, Hanoi.
Every family in Phu Vinh village weaves bamboo and rattan articles for domestic use and export. Over 6,000 out of 8,000 villagers practice the handicraft, earning more than VND 2.2 billion a year.
Along with bamboo, Phu Vinh village cultivates 120 mau (approximately 432,000 sq.m) with one main rice crop and one sub-crop a year due to the submerged fields. About 2,800 tons of rice are harvested annually, equaling the income earned from weaving. Weaving has created sideline jobs for the farmers in their free time as well as for the old and disabled, women and children. By undertaking both farming and weaving, Phu Vinh villagers have enjoyed a plentiful life.
The main instruments for bamboo and rattan weaving are knives, pincers, scissors and awls. The knives are varied: big knives for felling and cutting bamboo and rattan trees, small knives for splitting bamboo slices and pointed knives for whittling and polishing slices.
At first glance, experienced craftsmen know how to classify old and young bamboo trees. Old bamboo trees are used for making edges and frames, and the young ones are used for splints. Making splints requires skilled hands. Looking at the way an artisan controls a knife with his forefinger, it is possible to determine his expertise. Splints must be smooth, polished, of the same size, and kept away from humidity.
Designing, however, is the most difficult process and is usually done by experienced artisans. For example, to produce a bamboo and rattan-woven flower vase with a form and size suitable to a particular place, the artisan has to fashion appropriate splints and materials to make the frame and dye to colour the splints. From a picture, portrait or landscape painting, the artisan can imagine how to make a design work with bamboo and rattan materials.
Design artist Nguyên Van Kinh in Phu Vinh and his brother Nguyên Van Chung are famous for their expertise. They were invited to Cuba for vocational teaching and to studying the flora to find raw materials for weaving.
Phu Vinh bamboo and rattan-woven products exceed 500 varieties. The most notable include art work such as panels, couples, birds and animal pictures. They are made of extremely thin and small splints woven with a small awl as if embroidered. Another variety includes fruit baskets, trays, plates, bags, suitcases, sandals, hats, lamp shapes and flower vases.
A third category includes large baskets, sieves, buckets and creels.
Phu Vinh bamboo and rattan-woven products are in demand by both domestic and foreign customers. Orders from Russia, Great Britain, France, Japan, The United States and other countries are placed regularly to Phu Vinh craftsmen.