Parents of children with special needs must’ve received a double portion of divine patience and grace, and these traits are beautifully exemplified in the life of artisan, Alaya Cholprasertsuk. She’s a Thai batik designer, producer, and mother of Kann, an energetic, autistic 16-year-old boy. A soccer and Muay Thai boxing lover, he has watched batik production for several years and shows interest in following in his parents’ enterprising footsteps. Little by little, Kann has picked up the processes involved in batik production. Alaya and her husband, partners in the business, are encouraging his budding, artistic skills. By doing so, they hope to provide Kann a means of self-support and a way of becoming a contributing member of their community.
My wife and translator, Anna, and I have traveled about 15 miles north of Chiangmai to a small urban village where Alaya’s gallery and production facilities are located. Today is a day off for Alaya’s workers, yet evidence of their efforts are everywhere — drying racks full of colorful material, vats of hardened wax (she uses recycled wax from the local Buddhist temple), waiting to be re-heated, partially drawn cotton material stretched out in frames, pattern stamps, and jars of colored dyes lined up like soldiers in parade formation.
Alaya welcomes us into her gallery where various examples of her batik production hang from clothing racks and decorate the walls. Frankly, I’m amazed at what I see! My past batik experience has been with traditional Hmong batik, mainly in two colors, white and indigo. Alaya’s products blossom with colors from the entire spectrum! Pastel hues intertwine with vivid gem colors as her signature designs reflect her 20 years of batik production.
Batik started out as a hobby for Alaya in the back of her home in Bangkok while she was working in the marketing and advertising industry. After moving north to Chiangmai, she and her husband expanded their efforts and began full-time manufacturing. Her artistic skills and designs improved, and with four local co-workers, she found markets to sell her wares. Encouragement from the local Thai government’s One Tambon, One Product Program (OTOP) helped focus their business efforts in the right direction. When NOVICA expanded their reach into Thailand, Alaya was one of the first artisans to partner with them.
Since my knowledge is limited to wax stamping and full-emersion dipping into an indigo dye, my first question is “What are the steps of your process and how are they different?”
“First we take 100% cotton and wash it thoroughly.” Alaya graciously explains. “Cotton cloth manufacturers dip their material into various waterproofing sealants and color-fast agents to keep it bright and white. We want to remove those along with any other foreign material so the cloth accepts the wax and color dyes. Later we will add our own mix of proprietary chemicals to protect the colors and designs from fading.”
The next step is where the artistic expertise steps in. The cotton fabric, three meters long and more than a meter wide, is stretched over large frames. These frames allow the artists to make necessary measurements and drawings for each pattern. Meticulous calculations and careful placement of assorted masks or patterns keep each design consistent, ensuring that every blouse, skirt, pillowcase, purse or wall hanging in each size is the same as advertised.
“After we measure where to put our designs, we use special brass pens filled with hot wax to form the perimeter of each design. We put wax where we DON’T want any color dye. The wax also prevents the color from creeping into other colors and into white areas. Some waxing is done with carved wooden or metal stamps we have made in central Thailand. Once this process is completed and the wax has dried, we get out our dyes and brushes and start painting.”
“So you don’t use a dipping process to apply your dyes,” I ask.
“Not at all!” she responds. “We brush and paint each color dye onto the cotton, keeping the dyes inside the waxed areas. This is where each piece of fabric is subject to the artisan’s skills to assure consistency of color and application that will produce the right outcome and desired effect.”
“I notice some designs have various colors melding into each other. How do you do that?”
She responds with a smile. “Over the years, we have developed special techniques in our application process which create colors that morph into each other, but do not run together and dilute the effect.”
Batik Scarf, “Elephant Family in Green”
Sling Handbag, “Thai Hummingbird”
Batik Wall Hanging, “Lanna Girl”
Hand Painted Top, “Owl Adventures”
Batik Wall Hanging, “Amorous Chickens”
Batik Tunic, “Flirty Peacock”
One of the in-house, special effects Alaya utilizes is a “marbled” look which makes the colors of her distinctive designs “pop” off the fabric. When the initial waxing and painting of each design is completed, the entire piece of cotton is dipped in wax. After cooling and drying, it is rolled up and folded in several directions. This cracks the surface of the wax sheeting in a unique and non-reproducible pattern. Then they hand-wipe colored dyes over the entire sheet which fills the cracks with dye. Once the wax is removed by boiling, the marble effect becomes clear. It’s truly an awesome one-of-a-kind effect.
I started this blog writing about parents of children with special needs. I conclude by reiterating the huge responsibility required to guide, care, and oversee an autistic child. For Alaya and her husband, having a home-based business that allows them to be close to Kann is vital. Partnering with NOVICA to sustain a successful business that supports their entire family is invaluable!