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Sri Lanka handicrafts are of a history that runs back to millenniums. Production of Sri Lanka’s handicrafts, with the exception of Jewelry, is essentially a cottage industry: products are turned out making use of natural raw materials by means of time tested age-old techniques. The traditional skills have been preserved with its purity, resulting in the continuance of characteristic identity of Sri Lanka Handicrafts.
Sri Lanka’s ancient social system having its Indo-Aryan roots has been largely instrumental in preserving traditional skills with its characteristic identity; certain arts and crafts were assigned to defined socio-occupational groups.
Sri Lanka’s wide variety of very attractive handicrafts can be found throughout the island in shops, street stalls and government-run stores. Ivory and tortoise shell handicrafts once sold at large, are no longer legal in Sri Lanka.
Pottery in Sri Lanka
Pottery is one of the oldest handicrafts in Sri Lanka. The primarily utilitarian character of Sri Lankan pottery has been continuing to exist since the very beginning of Aryan Sinhalese civilization of Sri Lanka. The simplicity of ornamentation and charm of the elegance of pottery have held fast in the island for more than a couple of millenniums and a half in Sri Lanka.
Low fired cooking pots, cooking pans, jugs, bowls, goblets, tiles, vases, are the most widely used kitchen utensils of Sri Lanka. In addition to the kitchen pots and pans, intricately designed products such as terracotta figures and carved vases too are popular in Sri Lanka. Ornaments such as figurines and delightful animals with distinctly Sinhalese characteristics are also produced at the pottery workshops in the countryside.
Sri Lanka pottery is turned out by means of a small wheel being turned by the potter while shaping the lump of clay with hands and then oven-hardened in a traditional kiln built of brick. The major quantity of the products is plain utensils devoid of decoration. With the demand for decorated pottery being on the rise, dying the wet clay in patterns and glazing are now introduced.
Wood carving in Sri Lanka
Handicraft of woodcarving in Sri Lanka has a long history. The tradition of woodcarving in Sri Lanka is manifested at Lankatilaka Temple and Embekke Devale at Kandy. At these temples, miniature replicas of the low-relief wood carving done by the traditional woodcarvers can be bought at fair prices. The three dimensional carvings of ebony elephants, Buddha are popular in Sri Lanka. Wood-carved decorative panels are used widely in Sri Lanka in the trade of interior decoration too.
A wide range of handicraft items made of wood combine utility and beauty adding elegance to your lifestyle. wall hangings, fancy jewelry, figurines, sculpture, lacquer products, gift boxes, toys, educational items for pre-school children, household items are some of the woodcraft items produced in Sri Lanka.
Metal work in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a long tradition in metalwork. Metal work is produced with the whole range of metals and alloys in Sri Lanka: gold, silver, brass, tin, lead and iron, as well as their various alloys, in all sorts of work ranging from ornamental casting and pierced designs. Handicrafts of damascene- decorating metal such as iron or steel with wavy patterns of etching or inlays of precious metals and filigree-delicate decorative openwork made from thin precious metal twisted wire are produced in Sri Lanka in traditional techniques.
Brassware in Sri Lanka
Brassware is produced in two main techniques: wrought and cast.
Bowls, tea services, trays, and ornamental ware as well as decorative ware are produced in wrought technique.
Brass Castings in Sri Lanka
Coconut oil lamps, pots, bowls, vases, wall plaques, trinket boxes and other household utensils are made with cast technique. Brass Castings are done by the “lost wax” method: the model is sculpted in wax, covered with clay, and baked so that the wax is melted out leaving the mould made of clay. Then the clay mould is poured with the molten Brass.
The casting technique produces fine Brassware of elephants, Buddha images, bowls, lamps and candlesticks. To make these products even more attractive, local craftsmen engrave the brassware with natural style motifs such as flowers, leaves, fruits and even sceneries.
Silverware, like Brassware is a specialty of the Kandyan provinces. Ornately carved and filigree jewelry, trays, trinket boxes, tea-sets, candle-stands, cutlery and ash-trays.
Metal Cutwork in Sri Lanka
Handicraft of metal cutwork involves cutting the design onto a flat sheet of metal first and embellishing the work by engraving, hatching or Repousse secondly. This method is adopted mainly in production of metalwork such as trays and plaques.
In Repousse method, the desired pattern is hammered in on the reverse side so that the relief carving emerge on the front side. Repousse metalwork is the most characteristic type of Sri Lankan metalwork. This method is applied on brass, copper, silver, or all three together to create a variety of traditional designs.
Lacquerwork in Sri Lanka
Lacquerwork is Sri Lanka handicraft from the Kandyan provinces. Lac is a resin secreted from the bark of certain trees that have been infested with the lac beetle. The resin is scraped from the bark, melted and strained. While the lac is soft, pigment is beaten in to produce the desired colour and left to dry. Lac is applied in two different techniques.
The method called spool-work is practiced with applying a stick of lac to the object fixed onto a spindle of a lathe machine. The resulting friction caused by the revolving objects melts the lac making it seep into the grain making a glossy coating on the object. Ornaments, walking sticks, book-ends, ash trays letter-openers, wooden handles etc are decorated with Lacquerwork .
The method called nailwork is practiced by using a thumbnail to fashion the thread of lac.
In addition to these traditional methods, today, Lacquerwork is also produced by an inferior method: painting the object and covering it with layers of varnish.
Batik in Sri Lanka
Batik is of Indonesian roots, yet in Sri Lanka, the craft has developed into a unique style to produce shirts, sarongs, dresses, shorts, wall hangings, cushions covers, bed hangers and a multitude of décor items. Batik handicraft products are of distinctive designs in vibrant colors.
The time consuming technique in producing high quality Batik involves multiple waxing and dyeing of cloth on which the design is done. In the end all wax is scraped out and then boiled. The cloth is made to absorb colors of the dyes further by the use of Hydrochloric Acid. Drying in the sun brightens up the colors. The number of colors in batik is the precise indication of the number of times it was immersed in the dye bath and application and removal of wax. That is to say a multicolored design of Batik involves a great deal of work than a Batik design in just a couple of colors.
Today, since chemical dyes too have come into the equation in addition to the traditional dyes, the spectrum of colors in Batik seems to have become endless. Originally a cottage industry, today manufacture of Batik products is done at workshop level in the South-western coastal areas of as well as the Central area of Sri Lanka.
Handloom textiles in Sri Lanka
Handloom textiles are produced in Sri Lanka within the confines of a small-scale industry that generate employment to rural women. Among the Handloom textiles produced are household linen such as bedclothes and towels, upholstery materials, furnishing materials such as curtaining, cushions covers, saris and sarongs. Books, notebooks, albums, and even writing pads are now clothed with this handcrafted material of textile. The handloom woven cotton and silk textiles of vibrant colors have been popular among the locals as well as the tourists. The combination of traditional designs blended with modern trends in modern material woven in new processing techniques has made export quality Sri Lanka Handlooms access the competitive international market.
Mat weaving in Sri Lanka
Since the ancient times, Mat weaving used to be practiced by rural women at home while their husbands were away at work in paddy fields or Chena cultivation in Sri Lanka. Today, mat weaving is a popular cottage industry with established sales outlets around Sri Lanka. A fiber similar to Jute extracted from the leaves of Hana – a hemp grown wild in the marshy lands of Sri Lanka is processed, dyed and woven in patterns.
The modern Mat weaving craftsmen in Sri Lanka, to keep up with contemporary requirements, have introduced innovations in producing cushion covers, hand bags, shopping bags, letter holders, fans, screens etc. For centuries, Dumbara valley of the Kandy district has been famous for its production of mats with Distinctive design and colour schemes.
Reed and rush ware in Sri Lanka
Reed and rush ware products are made of materials processed of talipot or thalakala, coconut and palmyrah leaves, cane and bamboo. Among the handcrafted products are table mats, cane furniture, mats, bags, purses, baskets, hats, boxes, lamp shades, kitchen and household articles and screens.
Jewelry in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s Jewelry is of superior craftsmanship that competes on the international level bringing in foreign revenue into the country. Sri Lanka has two traditions in designing jewelry: Galle Low Country Traditional also called Western Traditional and Kandyan traditional. The Galle tradition features gold and precious stones while the Kandyan tradition features intricate metal work especially in silver. The tourists from the western countries, Japan and Russia find Galle Low Country Traditional to their great liking.
Lace making in Sri Lanka
Lace making is not an indigenous art in Sri Lanka. Lace making was first introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
began in the South-western coastal areas, especially around Galle. Lace making was practiced by the Dutch ladies during the Dutch colonial era too. Subsequently Sinhalese ladies caught on Lace making and established a handicraft in south western coastal belt of Sri Lanka.
During the 19th century, when Galle sea-port was in its heyday, lace products of the South-western coastal belt arose to outstanding heights in popularity. Today lace making is continued mainly by the Sinhalese ladies who inherited the handicraft from their ancestors. Along Galle, Weligama coastal areas the ladies are seen engaged in lace making-crochet and tatting-in the verandahs of their houses.
Among the range of products made with lace making are blouses, table linen, curtains, bed spreads and pillows.
Wooden Masks in Sri Lanka
Wooden Masks are produced mainly in the South western coastal belt of Sri Lanka. Of all the areas of the South-western coastal belt, the city of Ambalangoda has a long heritage in the specialized handicraft of producing Wooden Masks. Wooden Masks in a wide range of sizes in vibrant colors are made of the timber of a tree locally called ‘Kaduru” (strychnos nux vomica). Kaduru tree that grows in marshy lands bordering paddy fields is light and soft making it an ideal material to turn out wooden masks.
The technique of producing masks has been passed from generation to generation from the ancient times. The logs of Kaduru are dried in the hard tropical sun till the sticky juice of the timber is evaporated and then cut into pieces of the required sizes.
Then the basic shape of the mask is fashioned by means of chisels and mallets out of the cut piece of the log accordingly to the measurements given in ancient recorded instructions. Seasoning of the timber follows, with smoking for six or seven day in a hearth. The seasoned piece of timber is carved, smoothened and painted. The Wooden masks, each with its distinctive features and colors, are carved to depict gods, humans, demons and beasts.