Knee high peelers and palm trees…what else you need to get inspired? Sri Lanka is a true paradise where you can live slowly and open your mind to a very unique culture. Last February we worked at the Lekha Batik factory in the Matara District, southern coast of Sri Lanka. The results were two big pieces of batik and a limited edition collection of bags inspired by the trip, Tropical. Here a glimpse of the experience of Federica Ubertone, founder & creative designer at Fede Surfbags.
“The trip was mainly about surf and to learn the batik technique at Lekha. The family running factory, with over 40 years of activity, is one of the happiest workplace I’ve ever stayed. The women who work at the factory don’t speak english, so we found our way to communicate. I can define it very basic, but learning from them was always a pleasure. And this is the evidence that you can learn a lot from a non verbal communication.
I was based mainly in Mirissa, where I was going to surf at sunrise and sunset. After a big healthy breakfast with omelette, warm bread, fresh tropical fruits and coffee, I was going fast to the surf spot. A early surf session to get energy from the Indian Ocean before to go the batik factory. Ready for the heat of the house. It’s very hot inside because there are stoves with boiling wax everywhere.
Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth, or cloth made using this technique. Batik is made either by drawing dots and lines of the resist with a spouted tool called a canting, or by printing the resist with a copper stamp called a cap. The applied wax resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to color selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water, and repeating if multiple colors are desired.
My batik learning process: The first day I did a small piece of fabric, scarf size, to get confidence with the technique and the hot wax. Basically I was drawing in negative, dipping the pencil tool in the hot liquid wax. The days after, my masters, Patma and Rohini, let me try the canting tool on a big piece I draw. Well, it was not a good idea, because you need to go fast when drawing lines. You can calibrate the flow of the canting but not stopping it. So at the end of the day I got a Pollock!
The day after, I did it again from scratch, with the pencil tool and make the lines and details of the tropical leaves found in the garden who surrounded the house. This detailed step took me 3 days of work for 2 meters of white canvas. After this, I needed to cover with wax all the fabric I want to stay white. Both sides with a common brush. Once this process was finished I choose the color. I did just one, but once you master the technique you can have more.
The “dyeing area” is dedicated to the coloring dyeing itself. There are color tanks (purple, green, red, yellow and black) where you immerse the cloth in natural/chemical colors. Purple is natural. After the dye of the cloth, you immerse it in boiling water tanks to let the wax melt. Once the wax is removed, hang to dry in the sun and… BAAAM! I was so impressed about the result of the first big piece that the days after I decided to make another one.
This time I added a very difficult subject to the leaves: tigers. And let Rohini, the canting master to make the wax job. Those women make this job from a very long time. It is incredible to watch them drawing sometimes without a base to follow (drawn with pencil on copy paper). They just have in mind what they are illustrating. Below the results of this spontaneous workshop in Sri Lanka who marks the beginning of Fede Surfbags adventure on the road.”
Big thanks to Fabio Angelini to be in the right place at the right time.