By Kartika Putra
After searching for Guizhou batik in Kaili, we headed to Matang village with Billie (our Miao expert). This is where Batik is in abundance he says.
Matang is 400 years old. 125 families live there. Families can move away from the village but new families can’t move in. The people don’t think of themselves as separate to China despite their Miao ethnicity. They think of themselves as Miao Chinese.
Each Batik design is typical to the area. We were starting to realise that the smaller and more intricate the designs of the batik, the more laborious the process and therefore more expensive final product. Bigger, less intricate designs would be cheapest. We were met by Chiao Me, a Batik producer in the first collective house of the village.
In Matang, Chiao Me has her main source of income doing her craft – but she is the only one in the village. She is renown for her work and often asked to travel and teach other villages and to attend conferences. The interest for Batik in the area is waning. People don’t make it anymore because there is no demand. There is no direct market that these ladies can sell their craft to. Due to this, the majority of the women have stopped their craft and started working on the land. Their craft is dying out like in Shitouzhai.
We met Chiao Me at her collective house where she sat at a low table and used the natural sunlight of the window to light up the design that she was currently working on. Designs could be made upon request or from traditional patterns. Traditionally, batik is used in their everyday dress. They would covers the baby’s head with Batik designed sheets to protect the baby from evil spirits. Have one design for unmarried women and another for married women. They make batik flags, banners to attach to bamboo and wave for their ancestors spirits in festivals.
We ventured into a room that was filled with batik samples – patches, strips, tablecloths – all with different style designs. Other Miao groups sell their designs to her because they don’t have markets to showcase and sell their craft anymore. Some of the materials are 100 years old, some were unstitched from old traditional jackets. The room was a collection of new and old, but it showed the struggle that its experiencing to keep the craft alive.
Billie took us to a Batik factory when we left Matang. It was a sharp contrast to the work that was produced in Matang. Wax was screen printed onto the fabric and then dyed. Designs differed from the traditional patterns used in the Miao villages and depicted new contemporary designs, even designs that depicted Bible stories. This is not what we are looking for. While the designs were beautiful in Matang, they didn’t have the capacity to make them on the scale the Wolftress needs.
We head back to the city and reassess our options.