While in Southeast Asia, I was introduced to a method of creating wax relief textile patterns and dying process known as batik. I briefly encountered a batik lesson being given while on a hike in Sapa, Vietnam, and was fascinated by the process. So much so, that when I got back from the trip I started working on my own artwork inspired by the designs. It seems that batik has inspired other people as well, because in the last 6 months it has been popping up in home décor products lines and residential design. I love this resurgence of traditional methods of pattern making that is super popular right now.
The designs and style vary a lot depending on the location and ethnic tribe creating the fabric. I had the pleasure of getting a first hand look and explanation on the process from my wonderful guide while in Sapa, who is Black Hmong, therefore the patterns and process are indigenous to her culture.
The original purpose of the textile (from my limited knowledge and observation) is to be made into clothing. Hand applied wax is added to hemp fabric and dyed in indigo. When the dying process is complete a coat of wax is applied to the fabric by rubbing it onto the surface using a stone and your bodyweight (last photo). Finally, bright embroidery and appliqué embellishments complete the design. It’s a time consuming and detailed process that results in colorful and beautiful clothing. Check out her batik sleeves and the bands of embroidery on her upper arm.
The Hmong women take great pride in their clothing, and I was told that the older members of the village will gossip if your outfit isn’t shiny enough. Which means the wax outer coating has washed off from excessive wear, and reflects badly on the wearer. Doesn’t matter where you live, you are still judged by your clothing!
Instead of wearing batik, Westerners use this textile as upholstery, pillow covers, and wall hangings. The intricate patterns are used to decorate our homes rather than our bodies. The easiest method of incorporating this beautiful fabric into your home is through decorative throw pillows.
I sourced most of these pillows on Etsy, and one set is a modern interpretation from Serena and Lily’s product line. You can find batik in varying shades of blue, lots of different patterns and sizes, and sometimes with bright embroidery. The long lumbar pillows are my favorite. Combine it with other ethnic textiles for a global look like the image above, or use the pattern in a transitional space instead. Larger pieces of fabric can be used to upholster ottomans and small chairs or as a wall hanging.
My interest in this fabric knows no limits, and in the future I would love to attend a workshop to learn more about the symbolism in the patterns and the process. Until then, I will incorporate it in my work and artwork as much as I can to get my fix.