The art of Batik can be found in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand and each country produces their own cultural variations in design. Sri Lanka is more famous for the flora and fauna designs and cultural motifs.
Batik products have now expanded to table linen, evening wear and even accessories. As the price for Batik increases due to the material used and the tedious process, many consumers are turning to purchase cheaper and printed Batik lookalikes, which could harm the art form and industry. As long as the fashion houses and Batik production houses continue to innovate, and look into expanding the handmade Sri Lankan Batik market globally, we might not see a flunctuation in the industry but an increase in demand, which could help preserve the delicate art form of Batik.
At first it was only an art form practiced as a hobby by the elite in the Kandyan Court, with it soon being introduced to the artists of the era, Sri Lanka created regional flags, tapestry and even clothes for the Kandyan aristocrats. By the 1970’s, the industry grew from being a hobby art form to a cottage industry, mainly catering to the tourists visiting the island and batik bed linen, beachwear and even the famous souvenir wall hangings of Peraheras, Stilt fisherman, village scenes drawn in Batik were introduced. More recently Sri Lankan designers from leading fashion houses have taken the art form to international catwalks and created occasion and resort Batik designer wear which are mainly produced by local batik houses.
Batik has been kept alive and is thriving thanks to the National Crafts Council, Institute of Textiles & Apparel (SLITA), Sri Lanka Handicrafts Board, Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB), and the family run by rural Batik houses and is being sold locally catering to the tourist market.
What starts off with a design that is closely tied to Sri Lankan culture, nature and even mythology, artists hand draw the motifs on either stretched cotton or pure silk and then pour the hot wax by hand from utensils that have been passed down through generations, such as the funnel shaped applicators which determine the thickness of wax lines drawn, and even brushes made out of coir used to brush the edges of the material being waxed. When the required area has been waxed, the cloth is then prepared for dyeing which usually starts with the lightest colour and graduates to the darkest colour in a three step process.
The first step is a chemical process which helps the material absorb the dye, the next is a salt bath to ensure colour is retained in the material and then the cloth is dipped into a large vat containing the dye itself and is soaked and stirred with a wooden paddle for roughly half an hour. The fabric is then hung out to dry in the tropical sun and once dried; the wax is removed either by ironing the fabric or boiling the fabric in hot water. The wax and dyeing process is repeated till the fabric is dyed in darker colours and the designs are completed.
Batiks may cost more but taking in the labour of love and tedious hours and the fact that it eventually produces an unique, hand dyed garment or material with a bit of culture and heritage to own and reflect our Sri Lankan-ness