Dec 14, 2017
Buying handcrafted souvenirs while travelling not only gives you a story to bring home but also allows you to support the local community. Here are six upmarket gifts for which, while you’ll find other versions internationally, are best when bought in their home countries.
Masks from Venice
Elaborate masks have been a fixture at the springtime Carnevale di Venezia (Carnival of Venice) since the 13th century; today, Venetian masks are also a staple of any self-respecting masquerade ball.
There are numerous types of masks, beginning from the grotesque and mouthless Bauta; and half-masks which only cover the top part of the face so you can still eat and drink. Most masks originate from recurrent Italian theatrical characters, although the long-beaked Medico Della Peste imitates a cover worn by 17th-century French plague physicians. In the modern-day Carnival, a prize is awarded annually for the most beautiful mask.
Traditional mascherari (mask makers) originally utilised Venice’s other fabled product, glass, along with leather, papier-mâché and porcelain. The best are now hand-painted with gesso (a white paint mixture) and gold leaf. Still making them to high quality is the Ca’Macana workshop, which supplied Stanley Kubrick’s controversial movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Expect to pay anything upwards of €35 (US$40).
Silks from Thailand
While India and China are also famed for silks, only those from Thailand adopt a homely style called “mud mee”, characterised by pearlescent colours and fuzzy-style edging.
Now over 3,000 years old, Thai silk production is done by hand, from silk-worm harvesting to dyeing – each piece is unique. There are several expert ways to search out pure Thai silk; the easiest is to simply judge by cost: in a good store, 100 per cent silk items won’t cost below 600 baht (US$20).
In Bangkok, Jim Thompson’s many stores are known for their impeccable quality. They sell beautiful scarves, cushions, ties, bags and much more. For cheaper prices, head to the weekend-only Chatuchak Market, and be prepared to bargain. Alternatively, head to silk-making village Ban Sakool in north-eastern Thailand. Buying here ensures makers receive full payment for their skilful efforts.