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Sri Lanka Handmade Crafts: The Art of Batik

Kandy is a former royal capital in Sri Lanka, and is therefore an important centre for Arts & Crafts. Following a day visiting the Temple of the Tooth Relic, some exploration of handmade crafts was in order. As a fabric addict, I was keen to discover an ancient yet contemporary technique for fabric transformation: the Art of Batik !

Photo Thierry Mignon

What is Batik ?

Batik is a very time-consuming handmade technique where hot wax is applied to fabric before dyeing. Once the wax is dry, the fabric is dyed and the wax boiled off. This process is repeated several times, in order to create a design with several colours. A simple batik might have one or two colours, however a more complex one will show a range of colours with more advanced designs.

Fabrics suitable for batik are cotton and silk, any synthetic fibre would burn in the process. Also, you need to set the colour in the fabric between each dyeing, and natural fibres are best for that. Between each dye, you must let the fabric dry, and sunshine brightens the colours ! In this labour of love, the number of colours is an indicator of how much work was required. The more colours there are, the more time it took!

A Brief History of Batik

Without going too deep into the details, you probably know batik from Indonesia… You know those beach clothes and sarongs from Bali ? Maybe it’s a distant memory or one you prefer to forget, but you know the style I mean…

The technique of Batik likely originates from Ancient Egypt or Sumeria, however it spread across South East Asia and some parts of Africa. The Dutch introduced batik to Sri Lanka and it developed its own style.

Photo Thierry Mignon

Batik Today

In Sri Lanka, batik is a reasonably large industry, with factories or small workshops, which produce large quantities of batik clothes, decorative homewares and pictures. Modern chemical dyes expand the range of colours available. It is still very much a handmade technique, where Sri Lankan ladies spend hours applying hot wax to pieces of cotton or silk cloth.

The slightly disappointing thing is that most of the “modern” designs come from Java… A lot of it is representations of elephants or Buddha statues. It’s a shame, in my view, because there is plenty of good design in Sri Lanka.

 

The work of the ladies in the workshop is remarkable but the style doesn’t really rock my boat. I wish I’d found more contemporary designers using this ancient and delicate technique. If you know of good modern places where the Art of Batik is refreshed, please let me know !

There are other handmade handicrafts to explore in Sri Lanka, read this post to help with your shopping choices. If you are interested in other handmade experiences in Sri Lanka, please read my posts about a tea factory and a spice garden.

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Are you interested in handmade crafts? When you travel to Sri Lanka, don't miss on shopping for batik.

6 Comments

  1. Gillie

    April 21, 2017 at 12:39 am

    Fascinating!. I love batik fabric. Years ago my mum and I tried doing it at home. What a mess!

    1. Delphine

      April 21, 2017 at 4:52 am

      Hi Gillie, yes, the process looked a bit messy, with hot wax and fabric sitting in various dye baths, best to have an outside laundry!

  2. Sushmita Thakare Jain

    April 21, 2017 at 2:25 am

    Have heard a lot about the art of batik, thanks for adding more information to it dear! Such a informative post dear thanks for sharing dear:)

    1. Delphine

      April 21, 2017 at 4:51 am

      Thanks Shumita, I’m glad this article was useful!

    1. Delphine

      May 17, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Thank you Soumya, batik can be really beautiful!

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