Handicrafts of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka takes pride in its extensive variety of handicrafts. Tradition of making handicrafts is primeval. Requirements of the society and their creativeness combined to make these articles and serve as wonderful souvenirs. It can be found in shops and stores in all parts of the country.





Sri Lankans exclusively use masks and facial decorative wear. Since ancient times, masks have been used in rituals, dramas, and to cure sickness. Traditional Lankans think that masks have curative power for various physical and physiological illnesses. Most masks are made of light wood called Kaduru.





Pottery is one of the oldest crafts in Sri Lanka and is still used by its populace as a daily utensil. Intricate products as terracotta figures, carved vases, etc are bought by the visitors as souvenirs.





Batik is basically an Indonesian art, but has evolved in Sri Lanka into its unique style. Tourists can find varieties of batiks sold throughout the island. More popular among these are the batik pictures made in Kandy and Fresco Batiks on the Peradeniya road in the outskirts of Kandy.



Metal Works


Sri Lanka has a long tradition in metalwork. Metalwork 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.



Metal Cutwork


Handicraft of metal cutwork involves cutting the design onto a flat sheet of metal first and embellishing the work by engraving, hatching or Repose secondly. This method is adopted mainly in production of metalwork such as trays and plaques. In Repose method, the desired pattern is hammered in on the reverse side so that the relief carvings emerge on the front side. Repose 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.



Brassware & Castings


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. 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 jewellery, trays, trinket boxes, tea-sets, candle-stands, cutlery and ash-trays.




Sri Lanka is an outstanding maker of jewellery and its economy is benefitted to a great extent. There are two conventions of jewellery making; Galle and Kandyan traditions. Galle is known for its precious stones while the Kandyan tradition is carried by its intricate metalwork.



Wood Carving


Handicraft of woodcarving in Sri Lanka has a long history. The tradition of woodcarving in Sri Lanka is visible at Lankatilaka Temple and Ambekka Devale in 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, such as wall hangings, fancy jewellery, 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.



Lacquer Works


Lacquerwork in Sri Lanka is 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 letteropeners, wooden handles etc are decorated with Lacquerwork. The method called nail work is practiced by using a thumbnail to fashion the thread of Lac. In addition to these traditional methods, today, Lacquer work is produced by an inferior method: painting the object and then covering it with layers of varnish.



Sri Lankan Handloom Textiles


Handloom textiles are produced in Sri Lanka within the confines of a small-scale industry that generates employment to rural women. Among the handloom textiles produced are household linen such as bedclothes and towels, upholstery materials, furnishing materials such as curtaining, cushion covers, saris and sarongs. Books, notebooks, albums, and even writing pads are now clothed with this handcrafted material of textile. The handloom woven in cotton and silk textiles of vibrant colours have been popular among locals and tourists.



The combination of traditional designs with the latest trends in modern material woven using new processing techniques has made export quality handlooms so that Sri Lanka can access the competitive international market.


Sri Lanka exports curtaining, table linen, bed linen, kitchen linen, upholstery and dress fabric and other products to foreign markets. The products in demand in the local market are curtaining, table linen, bed linen furnishing, cushion covers, sarongs and saris. Currently, cotton and silk yarn is imported from India and Korea, monthly. Around 900 private handloom producers in small, medium and large-scale are operating in the country.


The handloom textile industry is a highly labour-intensive, export oriented rural-based industry. However, the lack of weavers and the high production cost have hampered the growth of the industry considerably. There is a slight decrease in the current workforce in the industry as it is labour-intensive. There were around 15,000 people working in the industry five years back.


Reed & Rush Ware


Reed and rush-wares are made of materials processed of Talipot or Thalakola, coconut 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.



Mat Weaving


Since the ancient times, Mat weaving used to be practiced by rural women at home while their spouses 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 the island. A fibre similar to Jute extracted from the leaves of Hana - 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.



Lace Making


Lace making is not an indigenous art that was pioneered by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It began in the southwestern coastal areas, especially around Galle and was practised by the Dutch ladies during the Dutch colonial era. Later Sinhala ladies found on Lace making and established 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 southwestern coastal belt raised to greater heights in popularity. Today lace making is carried out mainly by Sinhala ladies who inherited the handicraft from their ancestors.



Along Galle, Weligama coastal areas, ladies are seen engaged in lace making-crochet and tatting-in the verandas of their houses. Among the products made with lace making are blouses, table linen, curtains, bed spreads and pillows.


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