The girls were excited to hear that learning how to make batik from a Bai family was on the itinerary. They had spent an enjoyable afternoon making hot-wax batik during our Christmas vacation in Bali.
Huang took us to the village of Zhoucheng outside of Dali, where a family named Yang has been making batik for three generations in a home-based workshop.
Why gravel? We would soon find out.
Huang introduced us to the workshop’s proprietor, Ms. Yang (one of the most common Bai surnames).
She immediately let the girls pitch in, showing them how to brush on the dye through a tracer.
Stitching is the next step – and it looked hard!
The source of the stains: huge vats of indigo.
Each piece of fabric is dyed multiple times to produce deep, vivid colors. The dark blue pieces are immersed a total of 24 times!
Since the dyeing would take too long for our visit, Ms. Yang showed us the post-dyeing step, which involves tearing out all of the stitches from the dyed material. On this particular day, armloads of orange sheets were waiting to be unstitched.
Under Ms. Yang’s guidance, the girls and Tom enthusiastically started ripping. Fortunately this task requires neither technical aptitude nor training!
The girls found this repetitive task so absorbing that we left them for a few minutes to follow the whine of a nearby motor.
When we came back to the main courtyard, the girls were still ripping away – but starting to feel the effects of the thread on their non-callused hands.
Now we understood the reason for the gravel, which acted as natural drainage.
The visitor was amused to watch the two foreign kids ripping out stitches industriously, but quickly got down to business with Ms. Yang, who keeps a notebook for each piece-worker in which she notes down what they deliver and what she pays.
After almost an hour of ripping, the two girls had completely unstitched ONE piece of batik! Assisted by Huang and Ms. Yang, they displayed it proudly.
After watching much of the labor-intensive process, the amount of time each piece required was staggering to us – clearly, many hours.
Many are sold abroad; Japanese especially favor the simple prints on the dark-blue background as material for cotton “farmer’s pants” and yukatas, those ubiquitous bathrobes. We unfolded piece after piece, getting glimpses of literally hundreds of patterns, before deciding on several that will serve as tablecloths in our new house. The girls picked out a stack of colorful bandanas for themselves and their friends back home.
Tom scored another find after asking Ms. Yang where he could buy a Bai-style hat.
Next: Tacky Tea