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Batik, meaning “writing with wax” is a method of printing on cloth where the artist creates a pattern using wax and coloured dyes on the fabric.

This painstaking and time consuming, yet creative art form has its roots in Indonesia and was spread throughout the East Asian region by Dutch explorers, who also brought this unique form of fabric printing to Sri Lanka, where it has thrived ever since. This ancient art form may be centuries old, but it still sparks an interest in both the young and the old in terms of creativity and innovation.

Just as in its origins in Indonesia and Malaysia, in Sri Lanka too Batik started out in the villages, with the village women-folk taking to this art form and using their creative skills to come up with unique designs as a means of earning money to support their families. They created shawls, cover-ups, and even skirts, shorts and shirts which they would sell to tourists. The industry has been around in Sri Lanka for more than 300 years, making its mark in our culture and economy, and becoming truly a part of Sri Lanka itself.

The Batik industry has been an integral part of Sri Lankan culture, with its vibrant colours and eclectic designs, ranging from traditional patters to more contemporary ones. Popular patterns used for Batik in Sri Lanka include animal prints such as elephants and peacocks, as well as Kandyan dancers, the Sigiriya frescoes paintings etc, and have incorporated Sri Lankan culture and those things unique to our country into Batik designs. Some of the areas in Sri Lanka that have become popular for the Batik industry are Hikkaduwa, Galle, Negombo and Mahawewa, where there are both shops and factories that not only produce clothing items, but so much more. From wall hangings to tablecloths and bed sheets, the Batik industry in Sri Lanka has evolved a great deal over the years, especially with the increasing demand for these items by tourists.

Traditionally cotton fabrics are used for Batik printing, but in recent years we find many items, especially clothing, made from silk fabric as well, such as skirts, sarees etc, which give the stylish at heart something exquisite, elegant and unique to wear. Batik sarees in Sri Lanka are very popular among both the young and young at heart ladies, especially the high society ladies of Colombo.

So how is batik printing done?

Batik uses the resist method of applying colour to fabrics. The fabric is initially soaked in the base colour. Then the resist is drawn using dots or lines with the use of specific tools. Once the design is done, the melted wax is applied onto the areas of the pattern which should not be coloured, using a hard brush. The fabric is then soaked in a coloured dye, and the wax is removed using boiling water. This process is repeated if there are multiple colours involved.

Batik has evolved into a very profitable business venture in recent years for many people, especially those looking to start small home-based businesses, as it is not only popular with the tourists but with locals as well. Many fashion designers are using Batik prints in their designs, and many of these creations are available for sale through retail shops and online stores. There are many designs of Batik sarees online in Sri Lanka, as well as other items such as beautiful and colourful Batik skirts in Sri Lanka.

Many government and private institutions have in the recent past pledged their support for the development of this industry by giving backing to Batik artists in Sri Lanka and providing them with opportunities to experiment and develop this art form with new designs, technologies and methods. This support has helped to take the Batik industry in Sri Lanka to new heights, with many of these artists coming up with unique wax resist and dyeing techniques which are not found anywhere else.

Batik is not only a hot favourite among the fashion conscious, but has become very popular among interior designers as well, as they have started using these prints for the interiors of homes, offices and hotels by way of tapestries, lamp shades, upholstery etc. The eclectic designs of these Batiks create a chic elegance and colourful ambiance, that makes a place look truly ‘Sri Lankan’.

Retail shops selling Batik skirts in Sri Lanka, as well as other items can be found from small family owned businesses to large department stores. So, the next time you are looking for something elegant and unique to wear, why not spice it up with some Batik printed clothing or Batik sarees from Sri Lanka?

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