Indonesia textiles come in a dazzling variety of fabrics, materials, technique, colour and motifs. Basically there are three major textiles groupings: ikat, songket and batik. The Indonesian word ikat, which means to tie or bind, is used as the name for intricately patterned cloth whose threads are tie-dyed by a vaer painstaking and skillful process before they are woven together. Second, Songket, Songket is silk cloth with gold or silver threads woven into it, although these days imitation silver or gold is often used. Third, Batik is a method of producing designs by using waxing and dying techniques.

The symbolism of the various ethnic groups is evident in the variety of textiles. Color, shapes and their arrangements all have special meanings. Certain designs can only be worn by women or men, or only by the members of the royal family or nobility. Special textiles are worn or exchanged in life cycle or rights of passage ceremonies celebrating birth, circumcision, puberty, marriage, childbearing and death. Textiles play an important role in many traditional events and ceremonies. [Source: ]

Written records dating to the fourteenth century document the importance of textiles in the social and religious lives of Indonesians. The highly distinctive traditional dress, or pakaian adat, best shows the diversity of uses of textiles throughout the archipelago. The even more elaborate bridal dress displays the best of each province's textile and ornamental jewelry traditions.

Textiles from Different Regions of Indonesia

The diversity in Indonesian textile forms is astounding and is yet another representation of its rich cultural heritage. Indonesian textiles include hand drawn and stamped batik, the design of which takes months to create; double weave ikat from the islands of Nusa Tenggara, ship cloth from Lampung, silk Bugis sarong from Sulawesi, gold-painted Balinese prada fabric; shimmering kain songket from Palembang utilizing silver and gold metallic threads weft in woven cotton or silk ikat; and Tapis weavings from Lampung.

Ikat cloth is made in many regions of the archipelago, from Sumatra to Maluku, but it is Nusa Tenggara that the ancient art form thrives most strongly. Songket is most commonly found in West Sumatra, but can be seen inparts of Kalimantan and Bali. Other provinces produce hand-woven cloths of gold and silver threads, silks or cottons with intricate designs. Gold Threads is also used in embroidery in the more islamics areas of Indonesia.

Weavings from the 33 provinces utilize different materials, methods, colors and designs. Primarily formed on back looms, weeks or months are spent creating intricate designs for everyday use or ceremonial wear. These weavings are primarily known by the different techniques that are used to create the distinctive designs. Sue Potter wrote in Any expat that attends bazaars organized by community groups will see heaps and piles and overflowing tables stacked with gloriously patterned silk and cotton batiks and weavings from every part of Indonesia. With time you may feel inundated with the sheer quantity and variety of Indonesian traditional textiles. There are Sumatran silks, glowing and rich with scarlet reds and shining golds, and Sumbanese ikat, with rusty reds and deep blues in bold patterns. The colorful rainbow stripes of Timorese ikat contrasts with the deeper browns and oranges and navy blue of the ikat of the islands of Alor, Flores and Savu. Every color can be found in the soft cotton batiks of Java - the bright colors of the north coast cloths, especially from Cirebon and Pekalongan, and the fine browns, whites and indigos of the court cloths of Solo and Yogyakarta. There are glorious Javanese silk batiks as well - soft and floating, in glowing color and design. From Bali there is a veritable explosion of color and texture - in both traditional and totally modern design. [Source: Sue Potter, ]

Indonesian Traditional Textiles as Clothing

Sue Potter wrote in Most of these cloths are really items of clothing. The large flat cloths, or selimut, from Nusa Tenggara inInodonesian textile eastern Indonesia - including Timor, Sumba, and Flores, are used by men as a sort of loin cloth-skirt, often worn with a belt. Another cloth of the same size is tossed over the shoulder. Traditionally, no shirt is worn, but today villagers often wear a t-shirt or collared cotton shirt. A very old, thin, faded selimut is usually worn under a good one as a sort of slip - useful if one gets into a situation where one might get dirty. The good outer selimut can be removed without threatening one's modesty. It's also handy in the weekly pasar - if a textile collector comes by and offers to buy the selimut right off one's back - or rear end, as the case may be - it's possible to sell and still go home decently covered. [Source: Sue Potter,*/]

“The tubular cloths from this same area are women's sarongs. They're slipped into, pulled up to the waist or underarm, depending on whether one wants a skirt or the strapless look, and the top is carefully folded to cinch the sarong tightly around the body, then rolled down to secure. Traditionally these were worn as a strapless dress, with a selendang, or shoulder cloth, for formal occasions, or as a skirt, worn with or without a blouse. Today in some remote villages it's still possible to find women pounding rice with only an old sarong tied around their waists, but they now usually pull the sarong up when the foreigners' cameras come out - village women have learned that being an object of curiosity can be embarrassing. Formal dress today consists of a beautifully patterned sarong, worn with a fine blouse and selendang. Everyday wear is often an old sarong with a t-shirt. /*/

In Java, most people now wear Western clothing. Traditional dress is worn for ceremonies, for Friday prayers, and in its casual form, to relax in at home. For casual and Friday wear the soft cotton tubular sarong is very cool and comfortable. Men wear them in plaids, and women often in soft floral patterns. Tubular sarongs are usually worn by older women; younger women prefer the more flattering fit of the tightly wrapped two or two-and-a-half meter kain panjang (literally: long cloth). The central Javanese courts of Solo and Yogyakarta are famed for their intricate batik kain panjang in fine cotton - worn by both men and women alike wrapped snugly around the waist and hips, with tiny pleats created with the loose front end piece of the cloth falling straight in front. Holding the kain up is a heavy cloth belt for men, and a hidden wide elastic belt for women. Men wear a short jacket, often with gold trim and buttons, and women wear a cotton blouse called a kebaya. The style of the kebaya varies - there are gauze-fine ones with beautiful embroidery, or heavier ones with lacy cutouts. Older kebaya have no buttons; they were held closed by ornate gold or silver pins. Over the shoulder, women wear a batik selendang, often in the same pattern as the kain panjang. /*/

“In Sumatra, as in Nusa Tenggara, the narrow, elaborate tubular sarongs are worn by women. The ornate goldenTapis textile from Lampung, Sumatera is heavily embroidered with gold threads threads on the sarongs of Lampung make them very heavy, so the top is often left plain so the sarong can be tightly tied and folded. Men's and women's sarongs from the Palembang area are also often shot with gold threads, though here women take the prize with their beautiful silk ikat selendang and headscarves, with the edges trimmed in gold. Several popular textiles from Sumatra aren't worn - they're wall hangings or gift covers for ceremonies. The tirai, a long brightly colored cloth with triangular hanging strips often heavily embroidered and covered with sequins and mirrors, is hung for festive ceremonies. The ship-cloths, more properly called tampan (if small) or palepai ( if large), are also brought out for ceremonies. The tampan is used to cover gifts in certain rituals - for example, during weddings. The palepai is hung to decorate the house for most ceremonies or festive occasions. /*/

“When you shop for batik, you may find the tubular sarongs still flat, with the final seam unsewn. If you're planning to cut the batik to sew into a blouse or dress, ask what the size is - there is a usual size of approximately 2 1/4 meters, but there is still some variety. You'll often be offered a kain panjang with matching selendang if it's a pattern favored by women. Sarongs from Nusa Tenggara may be pieced in sections - the loom width is small, so large cloths are actually sewn together from smaller matching sections. This can affect the way you design a jacket or dress with these ikat. When storing or displaying Sumatran cloths with gold threads be aware that these threadsIkat textile from Sumbaare brittle, so they're best not folded. Older cloths were often folded to wear in the villages so the threads are often already snapped or frayed - make sure you can live with these imperfections. /*/

The best of these cloths traditionally formed part of a family's assets. They were brought out and worn or displayed during ceremonies, used as dowry items, and exchanged during ceremonies. Many of these customs are still followed. For example, during weddings, Batak families keep careful count of which clans donate what type of large woven cloths, called ulos, and give certain cloths back in exchange in a very formal, ritualized set of ceremonies. An ulos is also worn at least as a shoulder cloth during most Batak ceremonies - even society weddings in Jakarta, over Western suits. As a family asset, textiles were often sold to raise cash; the custom persists today. School fees, funeral expenses, or wedding costs can all be met by selling prized textiles. These textiles may be old, but new ones have value, too.


Ikat is a method of type-dying patterns onto thread before they are woven together. It is associated most with the Malay people of Nusa Tengarra, who still wear ikat in their ceremonial clothes and their everyday wear. The most well-known stuff—“selendang” (shawls), “selimut” (blankets), sarongs, burial clothes for the dead—comes from Sumba and Flores. Ikat is an Indonesian word that means “to bind.”

Ikat has traditionally been made by women with handspun cotton colored with dyes made from local plants and minerals, often featuring brown and indigo hues. These days more manufactured dyes and threads are being used but traditional methods are still prized.

Ikat methods are believed to have been invented over 2000 years ago in Vietnam and southern China and brought to Indonesia by the ancient Vietnamese Dongson culture. Styles and motifs vary from village to village and depend on the purpose of the item. In some places valuable pieces are given to brides as part of their dowry and valued pieces can only worn by people of high status. Some motifs are believed to have their origins among the Dongson people.

The first step in making ikat is spinning the thread with a spindle. The thread is often stiffened and strengthened by giving it a bath in roasted maize of grated cassava. Blue dyes have traditionally come from the indigo plant. Red dyes on Sumba have traditionally come from the bark and roots of the kombu tree. Purple is produced by dying with indigo and then with kombu

The threads are dipped in dye. Sections that are not dyed are bound together with a dye-resistant fiber. Separate drying is done for each color. The process requires great skill because the dyer works out in advance were the dye will appear for a design before it is even woven. After dying the cloth is woven with a hand loom.


Batik is a method of producing designs by using waxing and dying techniques. Batik is used in making shirts, sarongs, skirts, dresses and almost any other item of clothing in many parts of the world. Central Java is famous for its batik. Mystic-influenced Indonesia batik features stylized images of animals and people. Some designs were once only allowed to be worn by members of the royal family.

Batik is an old Javanese word that means “to dot” or "to stipple". The word batik is thought to be derived from the word 'ambatik' which translated means 'a cloth with little dots'. The suffix 'tik' means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. Batik may also originate from the Javanese word 'tritik' which describes a resist process for dying where the patterns are reserved on the textiles by tying and sewing areas prior to dying, similar to tie dye techniques. Another Javanese phase for the mystical experience of making batik is “mbatik manah” which means “drawing a batik design on the heart”. [Source: ]

Java, especially the court cities of Yogyakarta and Solo, are famous for batik. Each member of the royal families and often each court employee has a batik pattern specific to them, often made with brown, yellow and indigo designs. Batik produced in northern Java, particularly around Pekalongan, is known for its bolder colors and more innovative designs. Batik is also produced in some other areas as in Bali where local designs are incorporated.

Batik textiles were made in royal courts and cottages, but also became a major commercial industry in Java and Bali, an industry that has experienced economic vicissitudes over the decades.Batik cloth varies enormously in artistry, elaboration, quality, and cost. Formal occasions require that Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese women wear whole cloths wrapped ornately to form a skirt. Men nowadays do so only at their marriage (or if they are in royal courts or are performers in gamelan, dance, or theater). Long-sleeved batik shirts are now accepted formal social wear for men of all ethnic backgrounds, though formal wear for men also includes civil service uniforms, shirts and ties, or Western suits. [Source:]

You Tube video by Piet Verboven demonstrates the batik making process.

Making Batik

Batik designs are made by covering part of the fabric with wax or another dye-resistant material such as rice paste and then dying it and then boiling it to melt the wax away. Dye doesn't penetrate the wax, which is then scraped or melted away, leaving behind a design, repeated waxwings and dyings produces intricate multicolored designs.

Patterns drawn with a wax-filled pen known as a “canting” are called “batik tulis”. Using this methods the design is traced onto a prepared white cloth or onto a clothe that has already been dyed. the pattern is then drawn with wax. Wax is kept on areas already with dye to protect them from more dye. The process s often repeated with progressively darker shades until the desired motifs and colors are produced.

Hand blocked batiks, in which the wax is applied with a copper stamp, are called “batik cap”. items made using this method often have the same images repeated several times.

History of Batik

Batik is associated with Indonesia but is thought to have originated in Africa or India and was brought to Indonesia by travelers or traders from India. There is evidence of batik in Java in the 12th century. From Indonesia it spread to neighboring Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. In recent years, Western designers have begun incorporating batik cloth into their designs and Indonesia designers who use the fabric are becoming more recognized,

The development of batik in Indonesia is usually associated with the flowering of the creative art around the royal courts. The rise of Islam—which discourages the use of images of people or living things—probably contributed to the stylization of batik patterns and the absence in batik of representations of living things from most design. More recently batik has grown from an art mainly associated with the royal courts into an important industry with a number of noted production centers.

Although experts disagree as to the precise origins of batik, samples of dye resistance patterns on cloth can be traced back 1,500 years ago to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa from past centuries. Although in these countries people were using the technique of dye resisting decoration, within the textile realm, none have developed batik to its present day art form as the highly developed intricate batik found on the island of Java in Indonesia. [Source: ~~]

King Kertajasa East Java 1294-1309Although there is mention of 'fabrics highly decorated' in Dutch transcripts from the 17th century, most scholars believe that the intricate Javanese batik designs would only have been possible after the importation of finely woven imported cloth, which was first imported to Indonesia from India around the 1800s and afterwards from Europe beginning in 1815. Textile patterns can be seen on stone statues that are carved on the walls of ancient Javanese temples such as Prambanan (AD 800), however there is no conclusive evidence that the cloth is batik. It could possibly be a pattern that was produced with weaving techniques and not dying. What is clear is that in the 19th century batik became highly developed and was well ingrained in Javanese cultural life. ~~

Indonesian Batik

According to UNESCO: The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end: infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and the dead are shrouded in funerary batik. Clothes with everyday designs are worn regularly in business and academic settings, while special varieties are incorporated into celebrations of marriage and pregnancy and into puppet theatre and other art forms. The garments even play the central role in certain rituals, such as the ceremonial casting of royal batik into a volcano. Batik is dyed by proud craftspeople who draw designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists vegetable and other dyes and therefore allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colours are desired. The wide diversity of patterns reflects a variety of influences, ranging from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks. Often handed down within families for generations, the craft of batik is intertwined with the cultural identity of the Indonesian people and, through the symbolic meanings of its colours and designs, expresses their creativity and spirituality. [Source: UNESCO]

Indonesian Batik is a traditional hand-crafted dye-resist textile rich in intangible cultural values, passed down for generations in Java and elsewhere since the early nineteenth century. Indonesian Batik has a rich symbolism related to social status, local community, nature, history and cultural heritage; provides Indonesian people with a sense of identity and continuity as an essential component of their life from birth to death; and continues to evolve without losing its traditional meaning; Various actors such as governmental and non-governmental institutions and community-based associations have jointly carried out safeguarding measures including awareness-raising, capacity-building and educational activities, and intend to continue these efforts.

Education and training in Indonesian Batik intangible cultural heritage for elementary, junior, senior, vocational school and polytechnic students, in collaboration with the Batik Museum in Pekalongan The Batik Museum initiated the programme in 2005, in close cooperation with the educational authorities of the city, and it continues to expand to Pekalongan District and neighbouring Batang, Pemalang and Tegal districts.

Batik and Javenese Royalty

Some experts feel that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty. Certainly it's royal nature was clear as certain patterns were reserved to be worn only by royalty from the Sultan's palace. Princesses and noble women may have provided the inspiration for the highly refined design sense evident in traditional patterns. It is highly unlikely though that they would be involved in any more than the first wax application. Most likely, the messy work of dyeing and subsequent waxings was left to court artisans who would work under their supervision. [Source: ~~]

Javanese royalty were known to be great patrons of the arts and provided the support necessary to develop many art forms, such as silver ornamentation, wayang kulit (leather puppets) and gamelan orchestras. In some cases the art forms overlap. The Javanese dalang (puppeteer) not only was responsible for the wayang puppets but was also Tambil Miring Designan important source of batik patterns. Wayang puppets are usually made of goat skin, which is then perforated and painted to create the illusion of clothing on the puppet. Used puppets were often sold to eager ladies who used the puppets as guides for their batik patterns. They would blow charcoal through the holes that define the patterns of clothing on the puppets, in order to copy the intricate designs onto the cloth. ~~

Other scholars disagree that batik was only reserved as an art form for royalty, as they also feel its use was prevalent with the rakyat, the people. It was regarded an important part of a young ladies accomplishment that she be capable of handling a canting (the pen-like instrument used to apply wax to the cloth) with a reasonable amount of skill, certainly as important as cookery and other housewifery arts to Central Javanese women. ~~

Batik Cloth

Natural materials such as cotton or silk are used for the cloth, so that it can absorb the wax that is applied in the dye resisting process. The fabrics must be of a high thread count (densely woven). It is important that cloth of high quality have this high thread count so that the intricate design qualities of batik can be maintained. [Source: ~~]

The cloth that is used for batik is washed and boiled in water many times prior to the application of wax so that all traces of starches, lime, chalk and other sizing materials are removed. Prior to the implementation of modern day techniques, the cloth would have been pounded with a wooden mallet or ironed to make it smooth and supple so it could best receive the wax design. With the finer machine-made cotton available today, the pounding or ironing processes can be omitted. Normally men did this step in the batik process. Strict industry standards differentiate the different qualities of the cloth used today, which include Primissima (the best) and Prima. The cloth quality is often written on the edge of the design. A lesser quality cloth which is often used in Blaco. ~~

For special occasions, batik was formerly decorated with gold lead or gold dust. This cloth is known as Prada cloth. Gold leaf was used in the Jogjakarta and Surakarta area. The Central Javanese used gold dust to decorate their Prada cloth. It was applied to the fabric using a handmade glue consisting of egg white or linseed oil and yellow earth. The gold would remain on the cloth even after it had been washed. The gold could follow the design of the cloth or could take on its own design. Older batiks could be given a new look by applying gold to them. Gold decorated cloth is still made today; however, gold paint has replaced gold dust and leaf. ~~

Harsh chemical detergents, dryers and drying of fabrics in the sun may fade the colors in batik. Traditionally dyed batiks should be washed in soap for sensitive fabrics, such as Woolite, Silky or Halus. Fine batik in Indonesia is washed with the lerak fruit which can be purchased at most traditional markets. A bottled version of this detergent is also available at batik stores. Be sure to line dry batik in a shady area and not in direct sunlight. ~~

Batik Designs and Design-Making

Although there are thousands of different batik designs, particular designs have traditionally been associated with traditional festivals and specific religious ceremonies. Previously, it was thought that certain cloth had mystical powers to ward off ill fortune, while other pieces could bring good luck.

The outline of the pattern is blocked out onto the cloth, traditionally with charcoal or graphite. Traditional batik designs utilize patterns handed down over the generations. It is very seldom that an artisan is so skilled that he can work from memory and would not need to draw an outline of the pattern before applying the wax. Often designs are traced from stencils or patterns called pola. Another method of tracing a pattern onto a cloth is by laying the cloth on a glass table that is illuminated from below which casts a shadow of the pattern onto the cloth. The shadow is then traced with a pencil. In large batik factories today, men usually are in charge of drawing the patterns onto the cloth. Click here to see the step-by-step process of making batik. ~~

In general, there are two categories of batik design: geometric motifs (which tend to be the earlier designs) and free form designs, which are based on stylized patterns of natural forms or imitations of a woven texture. Nitik is the most famous design illustrating this effect. Certain areas are known for a predominance of certain designs. Central Javanese designs are influenced by traditional patterns and colors. Batik from the north coast of Java, near Pekalongan and Cirebon, have been greatly influenced by Chinese culture and effect brighter colors and more intricate flower and cloud designs. ~~

Certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms as well as their families. Other designs are reserved for the Sultan and his family or their attendants. A person's rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he/she wore. High fashion designs drawn on silk are very popular with wealthy Indonesians. These exceptionally high-quality pieces can take months to create and costs hundreds of dollars. ~~

Batik Tools and Caps

Although the art form of batik is very intricate, the tools that are used are still very simple. The canting, believed to be a purely Javanese invention, is a small thin wall spouted copper container (sometimes called a wax pen) that is connected to a short bamboo handle. Normally it is approximately 11 cm. in length. The copper container is filled with melted wax and the artisan then uses the canting to draw the design on the cloth. [Source: ~~]

Canting have different sizes of spouts (numbered to correspond to the size) to achieve varied design effects. The spout can vary from 1 mm in diameter for very fine detailed work to wider spouts used to fill in large design areas. Dots and parallel lines may be drawn with canting that have up to 9 spouts. Sometimes a wad of cotton is fastened over the mouth of the canting or attached to a stick that acts as a brush to fill in very large areas.

The wajan is the container that holds the melted wax. It looks like a small wok. Normally it is made of iron or earthenware. The wajan is placed on a small brick charcoal stove or a spirit burner called an 'anglo'. The wax is kept in a melted state while the artisan is applying the wax to the cloth. ~~

Creating batik is a very time consuming craft. To meet growing demands and make the fabric more affordable to the masses, in the mid-19th century the . cap. (copper stamp - pronounced chop) was developed. This invention enabled a higher volume of batik production compared to the traditional method which entailed the tedious application of wax by hand with a canting. Each cap is a copper block that makes up a design unit. Cap are made of 1.5 cm wide copper stripes that are bent into the shape of the design. Smaller pieces of wire are used for the dots. When complete, the pattern of copper strips is attached to the handle. ~~

The cap must be precisely made. This is especially true if the pattern is to be stamped on both sides of the fabric. It is imperative that both sides of the cap are identical so that pattern will be consistent. Sometimes cap are welded between two grids like pieces of copper that will make a base for the top and the cap bottom. The block is cut in half at the center so the pattern on each half is identical. Cap vary in size and shape depending on the pattern they are needed for. It is seldom that a cap will exceed 24 cm in diameter, as this would make the handling too difficult.

Men usually handle the application of wax using cap. A piece of cloth that involves a complicated design could require as many as ten sets of cap. The usage of cap, as opposed to canting, to apply the wax has reduced the amount of time to make a cloth. Today, batik quality is defined by cap or tulis, the second meaning hand-drawn designs which use a canting, or kombinasi, a combination of the two techniques.

Batik Waxes and Dyes

Different kinds and qualities of wax are used in batik. Common waxes used for batik consist of a mixture of beeswax, used for its malleability, and paraffin, used for its friability. Resins can be added to increase adhesiveness and animal fats create greater liquidity. The wax must be kept at the proper temperature. A wax that is too cool will clog the spout of the canting. A wax that is too hot will flow too quickly and be uncontrollable. The artisan will often blow into the spout of the canting before applying wax to the cloth in order to clear the canting of any obstructions. [Source: ~~]

The best waxes are from the Indonesian islands of Timor, Sumbawa and Sumatra; three types of petroleum-based paraffin (white, yellow and black) are used. The amounts mixed are measured in grams and vary according to the design. Wax recipes can be very closely guarded secrets. Varying colors of wax make it possible to disguise different parts of the pattern through the various dying stages. Larger areas of the pattern are filled in with wax that is cheaper quality and the higher quality wax is used on the more intricately detailed sections of the design. ~~

Traditional colors for Central Javanese batik were made from natural ingredients and consisted primarily of beige, blue, brown and black. The oldest color that was used in traditional batik making was blue. The color was made from the leaves of the Indigo plant. The leaves were mixed with molasses sugar and lime and left to stand overnight. Sometimes sap from the Tinggi tree was added to act as a fixing agent. Lighter blue was achieved by leaving the cloth in the dye bath for short periods of time. For darker colors, the cloth would be left in the dye bath for days and may have been submerged up to 8 - 10 times a day. ~~

In traditional batik, the second color applied was a brown color called soga. The color could range from light yellow to a dark brown. The dye came from the bark of the Soga tree. Another color that was traditionally used was a dark red color called mengkuda. This dye was created from the leaves of the Morinda Citrifolia. The final hue depended on how long the cloth was soaked in the dye bath and how often it was dipped. Skilled artisans can create many variations of these traditional colors. Aside from blue, green would be achieved by mixing blue with yellow; purple was obtained by mixing blue and red. The soga brown color mixed with indigo would produce a dark blue-black color. ~~

Batik Waxing

Once the design is drawn out onto the cloth it is then ready to be waxed. Wax is applied to the cloth over the areas of the design that the artisan wishes to remain the original color of the cloth. Normally this is white or cream. In a batik workshop or factory, typically workers sit on a low stool or on a mat to apply the wax with a canting. The fabric that they are working on is draped over light bamboo frames called gawangan to allow the freshly applied wax to cool and harden. The wax is heated in the wajan until it is of the desired consistency. The artisan then dips her canting into the wax to fill the bowl of the canting. [Source: ~~]

Artisans use the wax to retrace the pencil outline on the fabric. A small drop cloth is kept on the worker’s lap to protect her from hot dripping wax. The stem of the canting is held with the right hand in a horizontal position to prevent any accidental spillage, which greatly reduces the value of the final cloth. The left hand is placed behind the fabric for support. The spout does not touch the fabric, but it held just above the area the artisan is working on. To ensure the pattern is well defined, batik is waxed on both sides. True tulis batik is reversible, as the pattern should be identical on both sides. ~~

The most experienced artisans normally do first waxings. Filling in of large areas may be entrusted to less experienced artisans. Mistakes are very difficult to correct. If wax is accidentally spilt on the cloth, the artisan will try to remove the unwanted wax by sponging it with hot water. Then a heated iron rod with a curved end is used to try and lift off the remaining wax. Spilled wax can never be completely removed so it is imperative that the artisans are very careful. Better quality batik may be waxed utilizing canting in one part of Indonesia and then sent to another part of Indonesia where the cap part of the process is completed. On better quality cap fabric great care is taken to match the pattern exactly. Lower grade batik is characterized by overlapping lines or lightened colored lines indicating the cap was not applied correctly. ~~

If the cap method is utilized, this procedure is normally done by men. The cap are dipped into melted wax. Just under the surface of the melted wax is a folded cloth approximately 30 centimeters square. When this cloth is saturated with wax it acts like a stamp pad. The cap is pressed into the fabric until the design side of the cap is coated with wax. The saturated cap is then stamped onto the fabric, leaving the design of the cap. This process is repeated until the entire cloth is covered. Often cap and canting methods are combined on the same piece of cloth. ~~

Batik Dyeing

After the initial wax has been applied, the fabric is ready for the first dye bath. Traditionally dying was done in earthenware tubs. Today most batik factories use large concrete vats. Above the vats are ropes with pulleys that the fabric is draped over after it has been dipped into the dye bath. The waxed fabric is immersed in the dye bath of the first color. The amount of time it is left in the bath determines the hue of the color; darker colors require longer periods or numerous immersions. The fabric is then put into a cold water bath to harden the wax. [Source: ~~]

When the desired color has been achieved and the fabric has dried, wax is reapplied over the areas that the artisan wishes to maintain the first dye color or another color at a later stage in the dying process. When an area that has been covered with wax previously needs to be exposed so that it can be dyed, the applied wax is scraped away with a small knife. The area is then sponged with hot water and resized with rice starch before it is re-immersed in the subsequent dye bath. ~~

If a marble effect is desired, the wax is intentionally cracked before being placed in the dye bath. The dye seeps into the tiny cracks that create the fine lines that are characteristic of batik. Traditionally, cracks were a sign of inferior cloth especially on indigo color batik. On brown batik, however, the marble effect was accepted. The number of colors in batik represents how many times it was immersed in the dye bath and how many times wax had to be applied and removed. A multicolored batik represents a lot more work that a single or two-color piece. Numerous dye processes are usually reflected in the price of the cloth. Nowadays, chemical dyes have pretty much replaced traditional dyes, so colors are endless and much more liberally used. ~~

Types of Batik Designs

Kawung is a very old design consisting of intersecting circles, known in Java since at least the thirteenth century. This design has appeared carved into the walls of many temples throughout Java such as Prambanan near Jogjakarta and Kediri in East Java. For many years, this pattern was reserved for the royal court of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. The circles are sometimes embellished inside with two or more small crosses or other ornaments such as intersecting lines or dots. It has been suggested that the ovals might represent flora such as the fruit of the kapok (silk cotton) tree or the aren (sugar palm). [Source: ~~]

Ceplok is a general name for a whole series of geometric designs based on squares, rhombs, circles, stars, etc. Although fundamentally geometric, ceplok can also represent abstractions and stylization of flowers, buds, seeds and even animals. Variations in color intensity can create illusions of depth and the overall effect is not unlike medallion patterns seen on Turkish tribal rugs. The Indonesian population is largely Muslim, a religion that forbids the portrayal of animal and human forms in a realistic manner. To get around this prohibition, the batik worker does not attempt to express this matter in a realistic form. A single element of the form is chosen and then that element is repeated again and again in the pattern. ~~

Parang was once used exclusively by the royal courts of Central Java. It has several suggested meanings such as 'rugged rock', 'knife pattern' or 'broken blade'. The Parang design consists of slanting rows of thick knife-like segments running in parallel diagonal bands. Parang usually alternated with narrower bands in a darker contrasting color. These darker bands contain another design element, a line of lozenge-shaped motifs call mlinjon. There are many variations of this basic striped pattern with its elegant sweeping lines, with over forty parang designs recorded. The most famous is the 'Parang Rusak' which in its most classical form consisting of rows of softly folded parang. This motif also appears in media other than batik, including woodcarving and as ornamentation on gamelan musical instruments. ~~

Modern Batik

Modern batik, although having strong ties to traditional batik, utilizes linear treatment of leaves, flowers and birds. These batiks tend to be more dependent on the dictates of the designer rather than the stiff guidelines that have guided traditional craftsmen. This is also apparent in the use of color that modern designers use. Artisans are no Modern Batiklonger dependent on traditional (natural) dyes, as chemical dyes can produce any color that they wish to achieve. Modern batik still utilizes canting and cap to create intricate designs. Fashion designers such as Iwan Tirta have aggressively introduced batik into the world fashion scene. They have done much to promote the Indonesian art of batik dress, in its traditional and modern forms. [Source: ~~]

The horizon of batik is continuing to widen. While the design process has remained basically the same over the last century, the process shows great progress in recent decades. Traditionally, batik was sold in 2 1/4 meter lengths used for kain panjang or sarong in traditional dress. Now, not only is batik used as a material to clothe the human body, its uses also include furnishing fabrics, heavy canvas wall hangings, tablecloths and household accessories. Batik techniques are used by famous artists to create batik paintings which grace many homes and offices. ~~

Fine quality handmade batik is very expensive and the production of such works is very limited. However, in a world that is dominated by machines there is an increasing interest in materials that have been handmade. Batik is one of these materials. Well-known batik factories are located in Yogyakarta, Surakarta or Pekalongan. Batik artisans give demonstrations in stores such as Sarinah or Pasaraya in Jakarta. Here you can see the time, effort and patience put into the creation of each batik cloth and appreciate the distinctive waxy smell of batik. ~~

One of the distinct pleasures of living in (or visiting) Indonesia is the opportunity to purchase some truly magnificent home furnishings made of batik. As the fabric is truly unique to Indonesia, this is definitely the best place to purchase authentic batik! Batik factories can product batik to your order, with custom colors and designs in large rolls, ready to use for your home decoration projects. The 100 percent cotton fabric is usually preshrunk in the batik dying process and other fabrics are usually available with the batik design, should your design requirements warrant. Higher end shops also have design consultants who can help you with the layout of the room you are planning to design with your batik fabric and work with you on additional furnishings (pillows, bed covers, and cushions) to complete your color scheme. ~~

Meaning of Batik to Indonesians

Eric Musa Pilaing wrote in the Jakarta Post, “Sri Muljani Indrawati and Mari Elka Pangestu are the icons of Indonesian batik. The two women in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's cabinet can be seen sporting batik dresses perhaps more often than any other public figures. The two look elegant and comfortable as they go about the business of managing the country's economy. Batik is experiencing somewhat of a resurgent lately, with more and more people wearing the designs regularly, even to work. In the past, batik was generally reserved for special occasions, such as wedding ceremonies; most men for example would keep just two or three in their wardrobe. [Source: Eric Musa Pilaing, Jakarta Post, November 23, 2008]

“Today, government agencies, state enterprises and an increasing number of private companies, make Friday "batik day" or "casual wear" day. The batik industry has responded to this by introducing more creative designs and motifs. Short-sleeve batik shirts, long dismissed as too casual, are now in vogue even for office attire. Personally, this is important for me. I am one of the few Indonesians who have never felt comfortable wearing batik. And if you don't feel comfortable in something, you just don't look good in it. Thankfully, a short sleeve batik shirt is not as torturous as the long ones.

“I felt somewhat unpatriotic at times whenever the nation gets up in arms at Malaysia for promoting their own batik styles, and more recently at China, which has flooded malls in Jakarta with their batiks. The resurgence in batik in Indonesiais in part a response to this growing intrusion into what Indonesians feel is our heritage. If Japan in the 1970s and 1980s had a slogan "Buy Japanese First", then Indonesians are now being told wear batik if they love their country.

“I, for one, don't buy this at all. Batik is an ancient method of dyeing fabric that was developed in Java — so it's more correct to say that its part of Javanese heritage. We Sumatrans have kain or songket and Baju Melayu or Teluk Belanga as traditional costumes for men. Admittedly, I'd never be seen dead in one of those. I don't think Indonesia has the right to accuse other countries of stealing our batik. Wax printing methods have been around for centuries, which I think makes it a sort of an "open source" style. What we, or rather what the Javanese have done, is to develop the designs into a higher form of artistic expression.

“The Javanese claim to batik is more a claim to specific motifs and designs. Indeed, no one can take this away from them, but if you think about it that way, there is no such thing as Indonesian batik in Indonesia, just as there is no such thing as Chinese restaurant in China or a Padang foodstall in Padang.

In Indonesia, batik aficionados recognize Yogya batiks, Solo batiks, Pekalongan batiks or Cirebon batiks for their unique designs. But there is no such thing as Indonesian batik. The Malaysians, Indians, Chinese and Africans have every right to claim their own batiks, at least as far as motifs and designs are concerned. Incidentally, if Wikipedia is to be believed, Nelson Mandela is not wearing Indonesian batik. He may have worn a few from Iwan Tirta's collections, but apparently most of his Madiba shirts are supplied by a South African designer.

“My sorry excuse for not wearing batik is that to me it is just another form of Javanese cultural domination that we other ethnic groups in Indonesia have had to endure. They already dominate the nation through the sheer size of their numbers, especially among the ruling elite. Their culture permeates our lives, and batik is just another part of this.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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