Batik and Botanic Dyes

Qiandongnan, Guizhou
Editing: Jackson Harvey
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11251; © 2019 Smithsonian Institution]

The practice of batik using botanic dyes from the indigo plant is some two thousand years old and was brought to Guizhou Province in southwestern China by members of the Miao and Dong ethnic groups. At least three species of the flowering indigo plant cultivated in Guizhou provide a colorfast dye (dye that does not bleed) used for clothing and household textiles. Patterns are applied to undyed cloth using liquid beeswax, and when the cloth is submerged in dye, the waxed parts remain white while unwaxed parts absorb the color. In this video from the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program, China: Tradition and the Art of Living, Liang Xiaoying (梁曉英, a student of the ancient art of batik dyeing and a performer with the Leishan Miao Music and Dance Group, describes the processes of making batik. Her teacher, master dyer Yang Wenbin (楊文斌), discusses the importance of keeping alive these traditional practices.

Questions for Discussion

  • What steps of the batik making process did you notice in the video?
  • Have you ever made a tie-dye T-shirt? How was that similar to or different from batik?
  • Research batik traditions from different countries, such as Indonesia, Japan, and India. How are the colors, patterns, production techniques, and uses of these fabrics different?