About two years ago, my mother visited me from Jakarta, Indonesia and brought me some Batik clothes to wear; she said these clothes are popular now back home. How would I know, since the last time I went home was ten years ago, when Batik was only worn by grandmas?
The exact place where Batik originated is unknown. One of the earliest artifacts was found around 4 B.C. in Egypt, where archeologists found wax soaked linens, a Batik-making technique, used to wrap mummies. Leaves with beautiful patterns of animals and plants were then found in the Orient. The practice of artistic painting and fashion then permeated when people started writing and painting these patterns on white clothes using wax, which later was known as Batik. Batik technique might have been introduced to Indonesia by India or Sri Lanka in the 6th or 7th century. The word “Batik” itself comes from “amba” – meaning “to write” in Javanese and “titik” – meaning “dot” in Indonesian. Today most people wear Batik from Java, the central island of Indonesia. Batik, along with music and dance, was once one of the high arts skills required for priyayis (aristocrats in traditional Javanese society). It was believed to be a way to develop and nurture one’s spiritual discipline.
Batik is a dyeing technique used on textile which utilizes wax to resist the dye to penetrate certain areas of the fabric. Melted wax is applied to the cloth before being dipped in dye. Wherever the wax seeps through the fabric, the dye will not penetrate. Sometimes several colors are used, with a series of dyeing, drying and waxing steps to create exquisite batik patterns. A combination of bees wax and paraffin wax is the commonly used mixture to create adherence and decorative crackling effects.
Batik Tulis is a hand-drawn batik painting technique. One would repeat a pattern using canting (wooden pen fitted with reservoir for hot, liquid wax) to fill a pre-sized mori cloth (cotton fabric for batik painting). The main elements of the patterns (usually animals, flowers, circles, or curves) are penciled onto fabrics before the details (like lines and dots) are added freehand by each artisan. As a result, no two batik tulis patterns are identical. This technique was traditionally practiced as a form of meditation by the female courtiers of Kraton (Javanese courts) in Central Java. It takes a great deal of expertise, patience, concentration, and deep feeling to produce the finest Batik Tulis, and it may take days, weeks and even months to make a single piece of fabric.
Batik Cap is a technique using copper stamps, or caps, to create repetitive pre-made patterns. The coppers are shaped to make up the desired batik designs. Each cap is used to apply a design to the entire piece of cloth, saving a great deal of painting time. Batik Cap allows batik artists to make high quality designs and more homogenous patterns much faster than one could possibly do by hand-painting. Invented in the 19th century in Java, this technique revolutionized batik production and saved the batik industry from the less expensive printed European cloth competition.
Indonesia, a south-east archipelago consisting of over 17,000 islands, has several unique patterns and ornamentations of batik that reflect the culture, geography, philosophy and belief held in each island. The most famous patterns are from Java. Javanese Kraton Batik is the oldest batik known in Indonesia. Originated in Central Java, Batik Pedalaman (Inland Batik) was once worn only by aristocrats in Javanese courts. One of the most popular patterns of Batik Pedalaman is Parang (Blade), curve-shaped motifs, symbolizing Kings’ inner wave and power. Kawung (Fruit) are circle-shaped motifs, that have been suggested to represent Sugar Palm. These two patterns, along with others, were reserved only for royal family members of Kraton.
Chinese culture influenced Javanese batik in the northern area of the Island, where settlers from China landed in around the 17th Century. Original patterns from China, such as phoenixes, dragons, lotus, and floral patterns, then integrated with Javanese local patterns as a result of maritime trading, and Batik Pesisir (Coastal Batik) was born.
Today batik pattern is more popular than ever. There was a time when only people in their forties and older wore Batik at formal events. But now, even kids and babies wear Batik everyday. Now people “think outside the wardrobe” by applying batik pattern in bags, shoes, hair bands, table cloths, even cell phone and laptop covers. Wearing Batik shows elegance and uniqueness and it makes one feel special because of the individual pattern.