Batik is a method of dyeing fabrics by hand, using wax to cover parts of a pattern, dyeing the exposed fabric and then dissolving the wax with boiling water. The waxed area retains its initial color, and when the wax is eliminated, the variation between the dyed and undyed areas makes the design. For centuries, batik has been both an art and a craft. In Indonesia, it is regarded as a national art form. However, patterns resembling batik can be found in the diverse countries of West Africa and Asia. In Java, batik is part of a venerable heritage, and some of the highest quality batik fabric in the world is still made there.
Origins of Batik
The word batik is of Indonesian origin and means "to dot." Where batik began is not known but is believed to have originated in the East. It is recognized to be more than 1,000 years old, and there is evidence that fabric elaborated using some method of resist dyeing was used in the early centuries AD in West African, Middle Eastern and Asian societies. It is called "resist" dyeing because the wax causes the fabric to resist the dye. This method was used, before printing, to embellish the look of fine clothing. Batik grew and became most profoundly established in Indonesia, on the island of Java in particular, where by the 13th century it was an advanced art form.
History and Culture of Batik in Indonesia
During the 17th century, the Javanese sultanate of Mataram gave batik clothing certain significant ceremonial uses. It is noted that Sultan Agung of Mataram dressed in white cotton designed with indigo blue, while his court dancers wore kain kembangan colored with a red organic dye. (Kain kembangan is created through another resist dyeing method, using stitches instead of wax to create the design.)
Batik was viewed as a proper pursuit for aristocratic ladies whose gracefully designed fabrics, based on patterns of birds and flowers, were an indication of gentility and breeding in the way that needlework was for upper-class European ladies of that time.
Through the past few centuries, batik has developed into one of the major channels of expressing the sacred and social ideals of Southeast Asia. In the 20th century, the Javanese developed the copper block or cap (pronounced "chop"), forever changing the production of batik. This invention facilitated the production of excellent quality patterns and complex designs much more quickly than could have ever been done by hand. The copper block is used to apply the melted wax design in this method.
Today, Java continues to be known for its batik and the classic designs, refined over centuries, are still part of Javanese attire, though not many are created using the traditional technique of wax painting. Indonesian batik used in clothing generally has an elaborate design. While traditional fabric has natural tones of indigo and brown, modern batik is elaborated using more diverse dyes. Modern-day batik, while still very much related, is quite different from the more established and conventional styles. For instance, the artist may use engraving, discharge dyeing (removing dye with bleach), stencils, diverse instruments for waxing and dyeing and different wax recipes, and she may practice on silk, cotton, wool, leather, paper or even wood and ceramics. More and more, the all-over patterns of Eastern batiks are being exchanged for artistic drawings and depictions of all kinds. These are used to make wall hangings and soft sculpture as well as decorating clothing and household objects. In the present day, this art form is being used by artisans the world over who find batik a stimulating and expressive medium to work in.
The traditional technique for doing batik is called Batik Tulis, which is literally translated as "written batik." Basically, this method is much like drawing or painting with wax on cloth. The process consists of first drawing the design on fabric with a pencil. Next, the parts of the design that the artist does not wish to dye are covered with hot liquid wax using a canting (tjanting). The fabric is then dyed using a cold fabric dye. Next, the wax is removed with hot water and is completely scraped off. The parts that were waxed over will have retained the original color. Then, other parts of the design are waxed and the fabric again goes into a vat of dye. The process is repeated until the design is complete. It can be repeated up to four or more times, depending on the number of colors in the design. Once the dyeing is complete, the fabric gets hung to dry. The wax is then removed with a solvent or by ironing it between pieces of paper.
Fabric and Wax Used in Batik
The only fabrics that can be used for batik are natural or vegetable fibers such as silk, cotton, wool, linen and rayon. Synthetic fibers cannot be used in batik. The technique you use will depend on the fabric you use. The coarser fabrics are best suited for large, clear designs, while intricate and complex designs require finer fabrics. The traditional recipe for wax to use in batik is a mixture of 60 percent beeswax and 40 percent paraffin. You can also use a 70 percent paraffin, 30 percent beeswax mixture. The combination you use will depend on the effect you want to create in your design. Beeswax adheres well to the fabric, while the paraffin creates a crackling effect that is characteristic of traditional batik. The more crackling you desire, the more paraffin you will need to use. However, if you use paraffin only, the wax likely will peel completely off the fabric while in the dye bath and ruin your design.