What is Batik?
Batik has its roots in the Java island of Indonesia where this form of fabric art and craft has been practiced for generations. In fact, the word batik is derived from the Javanese word ‘tik’ which loosely translates to ‘to dot’. Batik has since moved out of Indonesia and is growing in popularity in the West and other parts of the world. The finest batik fabric though is still made in Indonesia.
To make batik fabric, a resist method is used whereby certain parts of the cloth have wax brushed or drawn before the cloth is dyed. Note that before one starts to wax the fabric, it must be prepared beforehand to get rid of any chemicals that may have remained in the fabric after manufacturing. The presence of chemicals can significantly compromise the final quality of the batik after the dyeing.
The wax is usually applied with a canting which is a needle like tip connected to a tiny reservoir containing warm wax. That way, the sections with wax are shielded from the dye while those without are exposed to the dye. Once the final dyeing is complete, the wax is then removed. Usually, a batik fabric will have several colors and elaborate designs.
The more colorful and elaborate the design, the more cycles of waxing and dyeing that will have to be done before the fabric is ready. Silk and cotton are the two most preferred fabrics when it comes to batik since they absorb and hold the dye better than most other types of cloth.
The above though describes the classic batik methodology. The industrial manufacture of modern batik fabric is a far more elaborate process that incorporates discharge dyeing, etching, sophisticated tools for waxing and dyeing, and wax recipes with different resist values depending on the type of fabric to be dyed.
To distinguish it from industrial machine-made batik, handmade batik is known as batik tulis. Handmade batik can be quite expensive due to the greater flexibility in producing a unique fabric and the time it takes overall. Some forms of handmade batik are finished with gold thus making them particularly pricey.
The actual batik patterns can be anything the designer prefers. However, due to its rich Eastern tradition, many batik patterns were a means of conveying important meanings. Certain prints were to be used only by specific social classes while others had a deep religious meaning.
That being said, many batik patterns are straightforward featuring simple objects such as flowers. In Indonesia, it was generally understood that depicting a person on a batik pattern was unacceptable. This practice has more or less remained even as batik making has spread further around the world.