I’ve been having a love affair with exotic textiles for most of my life, or rather ever since I lived in the Far East as a young and impressionable woman in the mid 60’s. Malaysia to be precise. And the textiles were the most exquisite batiks worn by the ordinary Malaysian women of the day. At the time I only knew that I’d fallen in love with their marvellous prints, the variety of which seemed infinite. The actual material was cotton and came in 2 x 1 metre lengths which were actually sewn to form a tube. These were worn as simple sarongs with a blouse top. But the two most striking things about these incredible materials were the strong colours and patterns. These have stayed with me over all the intervening years.
In those years I managed to find a wonderful chain of shops in England named Anokkhi. They sold wonderful and original prints from India. The clothes were not cheap by any means, but much of the profits were ploughed back into the villages in India that produced such delightful clothing. The textiles themselves were made from the most sensual soft Indian cotton, sadly no longer available today due to the stringent Health and Safety regulations prevalent in the west. They could not be fire proofed so sadly we now have to wear the more conventional fire proofed cotton. But the wonderful original designs are still being used. These are prints cut into wood blocks, some of which are several hundred years old.
Imagine my surprise and delight when after living in Thailand for over two years I discover, of all places, a road-side night market selling the very same batiks of forty years ago. To my delight they still came in the 2 x 1 metre lengths or tubes, and still in the most amazing patterns and colours. I’d spent two of the last three years trying to find unusual or original patterns of Thai, Malay or Indian origin, but without success. So to find my ancient batiks in this little market was nothing short of a miracle. A little research and a few books later and the mystery and history of batiks was solved. They did indeed originate in India, travelling to Indonesia around the 15th century with the migration of groups of Indian people southwards.
The colours and patterns are incredibly beautiful and are so vivid with their never ending dot patterns, many of which tell a story. In ancient times certain patterns and colours could only be worn by Royalty or the very wealthy. Today batiks are not made by the traditional wax and dye techniques, which were not only time consuming but very expensive, but are printed. However, if you want a traditionally made batik then they can still be made to order, but at a cost of course.
Sadly, my source of batiks here in Thailand never seems to have any one pattern the same. Once in that shop I am totally mesmerised by the sheer volume of the different patterns and colours and invariably lose all sense of logic as I delve through these fantastic works of art. When by chance I think I’ve found the same pattern, closer inspection shows a difference. This is what makes batiks so wonderfully intriguing. And the chances of anyone wearing the same batik clothes as you are very remote, so you can remain a unique dresser.
What an amazing legacy, my happiness is complete and I spend many happy hours designing and making clothes or decorating my beautiful Thai home with these amazing prints and colours. My greatest delight now would be to share my discovery.