Laos Ethnic Minority Arts – Hmong Batik

Batik is an ancient form of dying fabric, by hand, using a resist dye technique. Motifs and patterns are hand drawn in wax, the fabric is then dip dyed several times before the wax resist is boiled off. During my time in Laos I was lucky enough to work with a master in this traditional art form!

Batik originates from Indonesia, where the word ‘tik’ means ‘to dot’. It is an internationally used process, however in recent years has received more notoriety as being used by the Hmong in northern Laos, Thailand and Vietnams Sa Pa. In Laos it is used to create the base for the traditional skirts worn by girls, before careful application of red fabric appliqué is stitched on top.

beginning the lesson with practice drawing lines!

I had a private one on one class with batik artist; Master Zuzong. She grew up in one of the northern Hmong villages of Laos and is renowned for her batik skills. She was head hunted by Ock Pop Tock after she moved down to Luang Prabang with her family and has been working here ever since. She now trains her granddaughter in the art form in her spare time.


metal pot containing hot bees wax and indigo dye/ using the bamboo copper pen

For the class; we began with a square of woven hemp where she began imprinting the basic pattern structure with a blunt knife. This was laid flat and from a small pot, containing a solution of heated beeswax and indigo, she dipped her ‘copper bamboo pen’ in and tapped off the excess wax before holding the pen to the fabric and drawing in the lines before allowing me to have a go. It was a strange drawing implement to get used to as you are almost holding it back to front it seemed and drawing the resist down, towards you. It was a slow process, as the resist solution had to be constantly monitored and moved on and off the heat to keep it at the optimum temperature. You were constantly dipping, removing the excess and continuing to draw. Pretty soon though, I could see the pattern taking shape, and after a couple of hours it was completed with only a few corrected mistakes (these were easily removed or tidied as the wax was simply removed with a blunt object… unless the wax resist had been too hot and had bled through, but this just gave it even more character!)

Different motifs have various associated meanings. Images from nature are simplified for use in batik, these include; seeds, leaves, animals, insects and fruit.


Working on my own batik/ final piece showing detail (cucumber seeds, corn, snails, butterflies and fern leaf  motifs)

Once the initial batik drawing process is completed the fabric is then dipped in indigo repeatedly, for several hours at a time to get the depth of colour required. This is a ‘cold dip’ process. Once satisfied with the resulting colour it is boiled to remove the wax resist; leaving the finished design as a white relief. Due to time restraints this final process was not possible during my visit but I am more than happy with my attempt at Batik and grateful for Master Zuzong in showing and working with me to share this great art form with me, it really was a great honour.

Master Zuzong and I

*The class was held at Ock Pop Tok in Luang Prabang

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