Walking down Galle Fort or the Galle-Hikkaduwa stretch, rows of tiny, colourful batik shops catch everybody’s attention.
Home to many batik factories and a rather flourishing industry, batik is considered to be an integral part of Sri Lankan culture.
However, batik is said to have been introduced to our country by the Dutch, and we are currently one of the few countries that practise the art of batik making including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, and Nigeria.
Modern batik in Sri Lanka has evolved over the years and at present times, it is everywhere. It has become very common in high fashion clothes, bags, and even shoes. This week, The Sunday Morning Brunch spoke to Sonali Dharmawardena, the founder of Acushla Batiks – currently referred to as the “Sonali Dharmawardena Clothing Store” – and a pioneer in the Sri Lankan batik scene, about her designs, the creative process, and the basics of batik making.
The Sonali Dharmawardena Clothing Store creates fascinating clothing collections and spellbinding batik accessories. Dharmawardena has worked with many creative mediums such as pottery; jewellery; and fine arts in oils, watercolour, and pencil; until she found her place in batik design.
Her love for fashion and art is infused in her one-of-a-kind designs. Batik has become a joyful medium for her to experiment with new technologies in order to make innovations and express and share her unique sense of style and design. She has taken one of the oldest Sri Lankan artisan crafts and put her stamp on it.
How do you make batik?
Batik is the art of using wax on fabric when dyeing in order to avoid dyeing a certain section of the fabric. This is also referred to as wax-resist dyeing. The material usually used is cotton as it captures the dyes without fading much with use. Dharmawardena, however, uses all-natural fabrics for her designs.
After purchasing the fabric locally, she continues on to the process of dyeing the fabric to create wonderful batik clothing, ranging from classic wrap dresses and maxis to sarees. “Selecting the right fabric is extremely important in this regard as it lends to the design,” said Dharmawardena.
After the wax is put onto the fabric, it is dripped in a pattern or design using a spouted tool called a canting or printed in a pre-set design using a copper stamp called a cap. A stiff brush is used to apply the wax for larger patterns.
The material is then immersed in dye and the wax is removed with boiling water afterwards. This leaves the waxed area a different colour in comparison to the dyed area.
This process is then repeated for beautiful multi-coloured batik designs.
When asked about her creative process, Dharmawardena stated: “I don’t necessarily have a specific process. I am blessed to be surrounded by nature, so I connect with it and think of its creator. Sometimes, something moves me and that results in a new collection. So, my main inspiration is nature and all-natural things.”
Speaking of her designs and success, Dharmawardena said: “I feel honoured to be looked upon as a leading personality in this field and it is all through hard work and god’s grace.”
When asked if there is a Sri Lankan designer or a brand she loves and supports, Dharmawardena stated: “I love the minimalism of Maus by Annika Fernando and Anuk by Samadhi. They are innovative designs and I support their vision. I always support young, local designers by purchasing their items whenever I can.”
Tips to accessorise
We asked Dharmawardena what her favourite ways to accessorise batik are, and here’s what she said: “I like to let my customers have fun with styling them their way. For example, I had a high-neck dress retailing at PR, and one of my customers wore it back to front and it became a V-neck dress. I would never have imagined it that way.
It’s interesting to play with different fabrics without always having the same composition to complement it. If I had to name a few ways, I believe wearing a leather or velvet bustier with a batik saree, wearing a t-shirt fabric crop top with a batik skirt or saree, and carrying a plain clutch would be some of them.
Finally, we asked Dharmawardena if batik will ever go out of style, and she answered: “It felt like we were losing batik in the 70s, and it can happen again if we don’t develop it mindfully. I believe it’s in the hands of the artisan. If we develop things slowly for commercial purposes and fail to let passion drive us, then we will lose this wonderful art form. Right now, beautiful designs are being made but so are copycats.
Copying is a sad way to do business in arts and crafts.”