Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is indeed a wonderful land with many unique characteristics. In fact, this island nation has a beautiful landscape that attracts tourists from all over the world. Besides, the authenticity in many Sri Lankan industries such as cuisine, arts and crafts, and even textiles make it a highlight in the world beyond a doubt. However, when looking at Sri Lankan fashion, we cannot ignore the Batik industry. So, here’s all you need to know about the Batik industry in Sri Lanka.
What is Batik?
Batik is simply one of the island’s finest and most popular textile trends. This art uses various dyes and colors, and there’s a high demand for Batiks due to their distinctive design. Many highly skilled and creative Sri Lankan artists engage in the Batik industry. There is also a fascinating process behind making Batik. Continue reading to know about all these amazing things!
History of the Batik Industry in Sri Lanka
Of course, the Batik industry is a well-established textile industry in Sri Lanka at present. Even though the Batik industry is very popular among Sri Lankans now, it did not originate in Sri Lanka. The Batik industry originated in Indonesia. In fact, it started out as an ancient fabric wax-resist tradition of Java, Indonesia. And yes, records reveal that Indonesia still produces top-quality Batiks.
Besides, the term ‘Batik’ also originated in Java, Indonesia. The word ‘Batik’ is a combination of the two words ‘ambatik’ and ‘tik’. ‘Ambatik’ in Java means wide and ‘tik’ means to dot. This refers to the fabric and design in Batik. History also reveals that Batik comes from the Javanese word ‘Bathikan’ which means drawing or writing.
Anyhow, Batik art spread to the textile industries of several countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. And this island received the Batik industry during the Dutch colonial era. So, we can mention that the Dutch introduced the Batik industry to Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 19th century.
Yet, there’s another historical record mentioning that Soma Udabage properly introduced the Batik industry to Sri Lanka after learning it herself in Indonesia. Besides, Soma Udabage, Vipula Dharmawardhana, Eric Suriyasena, and Buddhi Keerthisena are the pioneers of the modern Batik industry in Sri Lanka. However, it is clear that the Sri Lankan Batik industry has developed its own unique style and design over the years.
How is Batik Made in Sri Lanka?
There are several countries that practice the Batik industry and each country has its own style and process in the production process. And here we are sharing with you the Sri Lankan way of creating Batik materials!
Sri Lankan artists usually use white fabric to create the Batik design. In addition, colors like red, blue, green, and black are most common in Sri Lankan Batik fabrics. So basically, the artists leave the white part out and dye the rest of the cloth. To keep the design in white color intact from the dying process, they pour wax over those areas. Moreover, the artists first draw a design on the cloth by pencil so it is easier for them to draw and pour wax in the necessary parts. Besides, they heat the wax, up to a specific temperature before putting any on the cloth. And yes, there are different kinds of tools to use with different kinds of designs as well.
After the waxing process, the artists dye the cloth in a color solution. In order to make the cloth absorb the color really well, they also add some chemicals to the soaking container. After that, they put the cloth into a salt bath for about half an hour. These steps ensure that the dye is well-soaked into the cloth. Then, they dry the piece of cloth under the sunlight. To remove the wax in the cloth, they either boil it in hot water or iron. As the end product, they get a unique colorful material.
However, all these facts clearly prove to us that the process of making Batik takes a lot of time, practice, and also talent.
Materials and Tools Used in Batik Industry
As you already know, the Batik artists use a dye solution with chemicals to color the cloth. They usually use three types of dyes for the dye solution. They are reactive dyes, vat dyes, and Naphthol dyes. Each of these dyes has different properties and the artists choose them in accordance with the design that should be created on the cloth. In order to make the color really bond with the cloth, they use soda ash as a water softener. For the waxing process, they melt the paraffin wax and use that liquid to draw patterns on the cloth.
There are some tools that should be used in making a Batik fabric. Since the wax should be heated to a certain melting point, a temperature regulator is used with the heating vessel. Then to draw the patterns in the cloth with the melted wax, a small funnel can be used. It takes some practice to get the hold of using such a funnel to draw patterns with wax. So now, there are tools like the Batik dropper pen and liquid wax pen which makes the job quite easier.
After all, it is important to use the correct materials and tools, in order to make a high-quality Batik fabric. Furthermore, there are different techniques in creating different designs of Batik. So, the price of Batik materials varies depending on the materials, and the techniques used.
What is the Most Valuable Material in the Traditional Batik Industry in Sri Lanka?
The wax mixture is probably the most valuable material in the production of Batik. It is the distinctive material that mainly creates the iconic designs and patterns of Batik arts. The main ingredient of the wax mixture for Batik arts is paraffin wax. Since paraffin wax cracks easily, the artists mix it with bee wax or sticky wax. However, it is not good to heat paraffin wax over 115°C as it could start a fire. So, this wax process should be carried out with caution. After all, wax is a must in the creation of Batiks. It is just amazing how such fascinating art can be created with the help of wax.
Present Status of the Batik Industry in Sri Lanka
It can be noticed that the demand for Batik products is increasing day by day. Especially, at present, there’s a vast range of Batik products.
In the recent past, Batik materials were only common among sarees, sarongs, and shirts. However, nowadays, from wall hangings to wedding sarees, the Sri Lankan Batik industry produces all sorts of textile products with Batik.
Further, with the upcoming fashionable options, Batik is getting recognition more than ever. In fact, Sri Lankan Batik has represented Sri Lanka in international fashion events as well. Many recognize Batik textiles as a signature fashion industry of the country. While Batik is a small-scale industry, now there are many cottage-based and mega-scale Batik businesses, here on this splendid island.
Furthermore, Batik is a trendy business among foreign tourists too. Because of the expanding local and international market for the Batik industry, the Sri Lankan government established a separate ministry as the State Ministry of Batik, Handloom, and Local Apparel Production. It closely monitors and provides opportunities to the Batik manufacturers.
This was a good measure of the government to develop the Batik industry. However, the production cost of Batik products is very high. Hence, many find Batik fabrics to be too expensive. That is certainly a barrier for Batik products to thrive in the local market.
Future of the Batik Industry in Sri Lanka
Batik is indeed one of the industries with so much potential in Sri Lanka. Besides, there’s an increase in home owned Batik businesses in the country. Therefore, it is important to regulate the market for Batik.
The reason behind the surge in demand for Batik in the local market is simply the trend that Sri Lankans have to embrace local products nowadays. On the other hand, Batik has entered as a star to the Sri Lankan high fashion. In fact, there are even designer Batik brands now emerging in Sri Lanka. They are good examples of the bright future ahead for the Batik industry. Moreover, it is a great method to take the Sri Lankan Batik industry to the international level.
Anyhow, many of the major Batik productions and outlets are limited to tourist-based areas such as Colombo, Galle, and Kandy. While it’s a good move to target the foreign audience in promoting the Batik industry, simultaneously it could be a barrier to the expansion of the local Batik market.
On the other hand, the prices for the materials that are used in the Batik industry have increased so much. Therefore, the manufacturers can’t obtain a considerable profit without increasing the price of their products which will make it affordable for only a certain set of people in the society. So, it is important that the relevant authorities pay attention to these points to maintain and develop Batik as a successful industry.
The Bottom Line
Of course, we must mention that Batik is an artistic textile industry that portrays the uniqueness of the Sri Lankan arts and crafts. Besides, the Batik industry has come a long way in Sri Lanka within a century. Yet, its uniqueness has not yet vanished. The use of vibrant, bright colors and traditional flora and fauna patterns add to the authenticity of the Batik products. In a way, Batik is like the Sri Lankan version of the currently trending tye-dye fabrics. And yes, over the years, Batik has emerged as an inseparable part of the rich Sri Lankan culture.
However, with the innovative and talented artists of the country, it is evident that the Batik industry has a clear path in the future as well. So, don’t forget the fact that you can also support the industry by buying Batik products when you are visiting Sri Lanka. While you are supporting the business, it will also be a great souvenir of your tour in Sri Lanka. Happy and safe traveling!