The Apron is the Uniform of the Artisan. At Stornish everybody now receives a new apron when they begin working with us. We get our aprons from Blackhorse Lane Ateliers who make denim jeans. They make the aprons from scrap materials from their clothing’s production ranges. They’re an inspiring business and local to us here in Walthamstow, London.
Recently, I had to replace my apron and I realised that this was my 5th or 6th apron with each lasting about 5 years. They represent my working career, and they are a literal time capsule of my making over those years. This got me thinking about the link between an apron, experience, and craftsmanship.
Martial arts belts represent the ranking and progress of students in martial arts. A black belt is iconic. This cultural marker signifies that the teacher is becoming a master. The student is becoming a teacher. It struck me that this is the same for the artisan’s apron and it can mark the transition through your career as a maker. From novice or apprentice through to a ‘Master Craftsman’.
To become a ‘Master’ in a discipline like furniture making gets defined as 10,000 hours of experience. I’ve seen people describe themselves in the U.K. as a master craftsman with 5,000 hours. In Japan, swordsmiths’ apprenticeships last for several decades. 10,000 hours represents around 5 years of working practice – about the length of time a good apron will last.
After 25 years of making things, something happens every day that reminds me how little I know. Because there are so many things to learn, I find the Japanese way to be a truer indicator of mastery.
Words: Jonathan Thomas