Crafts Catalog for World Creation: Malaysian Kraf

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Hello and Welcome! This is KB from the PicoN! editorial team.

Have you ever tried to create something absolutely new? It’s really hard. Terms like ‘original’ and ‘unique’ are thrown around all the time, but actually, creativity is just the combination, rearrangement and modification of preexisting things. Of course, the results of a wild imagination may maintain little resemblance to the ingredients you started with. (I really thought milk chocolate would complement my tomato squid pilaf!)

Anyway, it logically follows that a creator who’s been exposed to more will have more ingredients in their pantry to work with, metaphorically speaking. And for those of you in visual arts territory, some of the best ingredients are those that have been around for ages. (For the purposes of this argument, think well-aged wine and not spoiled milk.)

In this Crafts Catalog for World Creation series I’ll introduce items and crafts from various cultures around the world. Whether you’re a comic artist, illustrator, filmmaker or what have you, if you want to build an extraordinary world that will enraptrue your viewers, why not take a tip or twenty from history!

To kick us off, this first article is on traditional handicrafts from Malaysia!

Entrance to one of the buildings at Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur

I recently had the opportunity to visit Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur in person and see traditionally dyed fabrics, pottery, metalware, woven containers and many other beautiful items. Placards placed around the facilities also provided information on the history and culture of Malaysian crafts.

Souvenir shop at Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur


Batik Sarong can be worn as garments, head covering (hijab), scarves etc.

Flora, Fauna and Geometric Patterns are common motifs in Batik Design.

The origin of “Batik” is from the Javanese words for “to write” and “dot.”

Batik is the traditional fabric dyeing process in Malaysia. For example, sarong (or sarung), a traditional garment still worn daily by many Malays, is commonly dyed using batik. The wax used to pattern batik pieces creates distinctive round and organic lines and shapes that complement the natural motifs used, such as leaves and flowers. Geometrical shapes are also a common design motif.

The luxurious sonket fabric is kept carefully as a family heirloom.

You can see how the silver and gold threads make the patterns on these boxes pop!

Another fabric treasured by Malays is songket, handwoven silk or cotton interlaced with metallic threads. The gold or silver threads cause the cloth to shimmer, and it can take 1 to 3 months to complete a single piece. This costly fabric is used in garments for formal occasions and other valuable heirlooms.

The 3 main components in batik design

Although modern fabrics in Malaysia are now patterned in various styles, traditional fabric design would include a panel (kepala kain), border (kaki kain) and body (badan kain).


Decorative ceramic pots outside Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur

Organic lines and shapes are used in all styles of Malaysian pottery.

Ceramics have a long history in Malaysian culture and are viewed equally as utilitarian items and as works of art. There are several indigenous styles of pottery originating from various areas of Malaysia, including Mambong pottery, Labu Sayong pottery, Terenang pottery and Sarawak pottery.

KB Sketch, various pottery styles and patterns

When looking at the history if some of these local styles, foreign art and techniques introduced to Malaysia through immigrants, in particularly from Chinese, Indian and Islamic cultures, melded with the original artistic designs to evolve into a new and distinct style.

At the very least, these aren’t water jars.

Malays appreciate many styles of ceramics, such as these Tenmoku pottery pieces.


Brassware products were valued for their durability, and many items are handed down as family heirlooms.

Brass crafting was introduced to Malaysia roughly 300 years ago.

Brassware is traditionally used in Malaysia by all class of citizens and was prized for its durability and affordability. Used for both functional pieces and decorative, floral and religious motifs were common design elements.

These Labu Sayong jars are decorated with pewter ornamentation.

Silverwork is also cherished culturally in Malaysia, being a symbol of wealth and power of aristocracy. Malaysian silverwork is very finely crafted and often incorporates intricate intertwined motifs such as vines and floating clouds.

Pewter vessels

Pewter is more recent come than brass, but Malaysia’s pewter craftsmen have come to be known for their skill in making complicated decorative items and tableware.



The rhinoceros hornbill has special significance in Malaysian culture and is featured in many carvings.

Wooden instruments and Congkak board

The abundance of timber in Malaysia has cultivated a long and abundant history of woodcarving. Many of the motifs used in carving originate from the natural world, abstracted and stylised. There is a lot of symbolism that can be seen in Malaysian wood sculptures with ghosts, spirits and animals all commonly appearing themes. Wood carvings are found practically everywhere; in various places in houses, on boats, monuments, ritual statues, utensils, weapons, instruments, games etc.

The indigenous Mah Meri people carve statues of Spirits that they traditionally used in rituals.

Congkak is a 2-player board game popular in Malaysia. Tamarind seeds are typically used for pieces.

You can see one way that wooden carvings are incorporated into Malaysian buildings in this miniature model.

An outdoor hallway at Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur

Basket Weaving

Malaysian basketry uses colour and playful designs to capture your eye.

Various woven items at Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur

Some of the crafts I found especially chic were the fern woven items. Traditionally, Malays used the Ribu-Ribu (Lygodium) fern or Rotan (Rattan), a type of Old-World climbing palm, to weave baskets and boxes to store herbs and nuts in.

Although part of the fern family, Ribu-Ribu grows much like a vine. Rotan, a type of climbing palm, also grows a long stem like a vine.

Nowadays, many different items are creating through weaving, such as fruit bowls, hats, coasters, bags, mats, containers and decorative pieces. The colourful designs and skillful use of geometric patterns its positively eye catching.

Though the tradition is old, basket weaving techniques and design continue to be modified for the times.

If you made it this far, good job! This is only a very brief introduction to a small part of Malaysia’s arts and crafts, but hopefully some of it piqued your interest!

KB Sketches. Gasing (Spinning tops) and Wau kites are recreational pastimes in Malaysia.

A roofed cart in front of Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur

To Wrap Up…

Malaysia’s culture is inseparable from the natural world and it’s easy to see how the plants, animals and geography informed its symbolism. And while immigrant foreign cultures have an equally significant influence on Malaysia’s art and design, it’s really this symbiosis that’s at the root of the country’s distinctive creative style.

So hopefully I’ve provided you with a few items to copy-and-paste into Google Images! And with that, I leave you to it and to whatever fantastical world you decide to create next!

See you in the next article!

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