Sri Lanka’s Rich Craft Traditions by Region

Southern Region

Crafts from the south of the island include beeralu lace-making, fine woodwork, silk-screen printing, mask-making and coir products.

The Southern region - with its tropical beaches and the beautiful fort city of Galle at its centre - has been buffeted by waves of colonization. This is reflected in its rich craft traditions which are a fusion of Sri Lankan, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences.

DFSD has supported artisans and designers from this region to produce a range of one-off homewares including hand-turned wood items in kitul, teak, coconut and kohomba that combine traditional skills wiath a modern aesthetic. Lace-making was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, and many women in the south continue to practice lace-making as a cottage industry. DFSD supports the work of a group of lace-making artisans in Galle who formed a cooperative following the 2004 tsunami to help rebuild their livelihoods.

 

Central and Uva Region

 Central and Uva regions have been home to generations of artisans working in traditional crafts including lacquer, bamboo and pottery. More recently, villages have focused on batik, brass, cane, terracotta and recycled paper.

With Kandy at its centre, this region was the country’s last stronghold against successive European invaders. The picturesque but largely inaccessible mountainous terrain provided a natural barrier to the region up until the early 19th century.

DFSD is particularly proud to partner with the dumbara weavers of Central region. Named after its place of origin near Kandy, the distinctive motifs of dumbara are made by inserting thin sticks into the weaving to turn and twist the thread to the required design. Dumbara weaving is a heritage skill that is unique to Sri Lanka.

Western Region 

With Colombo as its capital, the Western region is Sri Lanka’s most developed area and home to a wide range of artisan villages and craft traditions. These include handloom textiles handmade paper, hand-thrown ceramics and jewelry.

DFSD supports artisans of Gampaha district to develop woven pieces that combine traditional techniques with a modern palette and design flair. These include sarongs, throws, scarves and tableware. As part of its commitment to promoting excellence, we support a design center in the region to provide artisans with training and access to handloom machines, computers and yarn. 

Northern Region

The Northern region is the centre of Sri Lanka’s Tamil culture. Traditional crafts of the region -including basketry, mat-making, pottery and wood carving - combine a rich blend of Sri Lankan Tamil and South Indian elements.

DFSD has focused on partnering with women artisans in the North to produce designer homeware made from woven palmyra palm leaves. By working closely with artisans, and using a modern colour range and design approach, we have supported the development of a unique and beautiful range of palmyra products.

In Mullaitivu, DFSD has had a long-term partnership with a group of women knitters to produce hand knit items including the cutest teddy bears on the island.

 

Eastern Region

The Eastern Region has long been providers of exquisite hand-woven textiles.

 With the port town of Trincomalee at its center, and edged by stunning beaches and lagoons, the Eastern region has played a major role in the maritime and international trading history of Sri Lanka.  DFSD partners with artisans the towns of Batticaloa and Ampara on batik and handloom.  DFSD is also developing a hand block print revival project in the region.