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Traditional Indonesian Craft -The Art of Batik

Updated on July 1, 2011
Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb is a Community Support Social Service Worker, published author, jewelry designer and single mother extraordinaire.

Long ago in a land far, far away

I was first introduced to batiking when I was in Grade 10, and Ithought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Everyone knew how to'Tie-dye' but this was different. This was art! This wasn't a fad -here today, gone tomorrow - this was steeped in tradition.

No onereally knows the precise origins of Batik - some say it can be tracedback 1500 years to Egypt and the Middle East. It has also been found inTurkey, India, Japan, China and West Africa, although none of them haveelevated this art form to the levels achieved on the island of Java inIndonesia.

Scholars believe the word Batik comes from the Javanese word 'ambatik'which means 'a cloth with little dots', and was reserved for Javaneseroyalty. Others disagree, stating that it was regarded as an importantaccomplishment for young ladies to handle a 'canting' (a penlike instrument used to apply wax to fabric,) with a certain amount of skill and dexterity.

traditional batik
traditional batik
now that's an animal print
now that's an animal print

Preparation and tools

Regardless of who won the debate, the fact remains that Batik is an incredibly intricate and time consuming art form, that produces some amazing results.

There are a couple of different ways to achieve these results, the main or traditional way of dying the fabric, and the method of using paint instead of dye when using more than three colours.

The cloth is first selected by the quality of the fabric - meaning, the higher the thread count, the higher the quality. This was done to ensure the intricate design qualities of the batik could be maintained. Only natural fibers are used, the two main ones being silk and cotton, so that the wax can be absorbed in the dying process.

Then the cloth is washed and boiled several times prior to any wax applications to rid it of starches, lime, chalk and any other sizing materials. Back in the day, the material was then beaten with a wooden mallet by the men, to soften the material. With the implementation of modern technology, the material is now woven into a finer blend and this step is not necessary.

While the designs may be complex, the tools used to apply them are quite simple. The 'canting' (a Javanese invention) or wax pen, is used to draw the designs on the cloth. The 'canting' is a small, copper container that is attached to a short bamboo handle. The container is filled with melted wax, and the artist simply draws the designs on the material.

These tools come in different sizes for the different types and thickness of the lines and dots used for the patterns.

Different types and qualities of wax are used when creating batiks. Bees wax is used when a malleable wax is needed, and paraffin is used because it easily reduces to tiny particles, called friability. Resins are sometimes added to increase adhesiveness, and animal fats create more liquidity and flexibility.

The dyes that were used were mostly organic in nature and generally were beige, blue, brown, and black. Now a days however, you can use literally every colour under the sun to create stunning fabric masterpieces.


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How to Make a Batik

Once you have chosen your fabric, in a plain white colour, you need to prepare it. Wash and iron the material, then draw out the picture, or pattern that you would like, on the fabric.

Your first step is to apply wax to the areas of your design that you want to remain white. In this picture you can see the areas that will remain white when the process is complete.



The next step is to immerse the fabric in a dye bath - this artist has chosen blue as the first colour - be sure to use a cold water dye as hot water will melt the wax. (This is from experience!) The brown colour that you see, is the wax covering the white areas.





Next, apply another coating of wax to the areas that you want to remain blue. A different colour of wax has been used so you can differentiate between the applications. It is sometimes a good idea to do this when you have a large area to keep track of.




Then the cloth is immersed in another dye bath - this time another blue. The parts that remain unwaxed will become a dark blue.





For this design, the next step is to remove the wax that has been applied up to this point. This can be done by adding heat (paper and a hot iron) or by pouring hot water on the print and sponging off the wax.





The next step is to reapply wax to any area you want to remain dark blue.







Apply wax to any areas you want to stay white.








The fabric is now dyed a final colour - this time brown. Anything that is not waxed, will become brown.





Finally, remove all the wax. It is best to dip the material in a bath of hot water and melt the wax off...less muss and fuss. Wash the fabric in cool water and vinegar to seal the colours, and you have a beautiful finished picture to grace your walls, bedspread, curtains, or sari - however big you want to go.


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    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      5 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      I agree! I love the artistry and the workmanship :)

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 

      5 years ago from Indonesia

      Very beautiful batiks.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      5 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thank you sen.sush23. Batik has always been one of my favorite mediums for art. I love being able to wear my artwork! :)

    • sen.sush23 profile image

      Sushmita 

      5 years ago from Kolkata, India

      Thanks Enelle. In India, in the state of West Bengal we are very familiar with the Batik- but I guess it was practiced by the Bengal School of Art in the 20th century - learned from the Indonesian students and teachers. The pictures attached definitely embellish this article-as they give us idea of the various artistic possibilities. Thank you for this hub. Voted up and being shared.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      That's ok kristina, there isn't much information to tell you about how to make a batik hanging. The pattern is something that you design yourself, as is the color choice. The actual steps to making a hanging are very simple, so they don't need much explanation :)

      Thanks for commenting :)

    • profile image

      kristina 

      7 years ago

      it isn't much imfo you tell us how to make it but not imfo so i didn't like the site really but it was kinda good.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Some of the designs take hours to create - makes me appreciate all the time and effort used to create these pieces!

    • profile image

      Choosing Bedspreads  

      7 years ago

      My uncle and aunt had batik items in their home and that's where I first fell in love with them. I've never known what their creation entailed until now. Makes me even more impressed with their intricate artistry.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thanks for the great comment - take pictures :D I would love to see how it turns out!

    • profile image

      Cotton Tapestries 

      8 years ago

      those designs would take me weeks to do but i will chose one from this great hub for my next class called "wives@work"

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      It can be frogyfish, but you can make simpler designs that don't take as long. I must admit these samples are very beautiful and would take me days to do!

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 

      8 years ago from Central United States of America

      This seems like a really complicated and detailed process - but the work produced is beautiful! Thanks for sharing the pictures and info.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Hi cameciob, it's interesting what words mean in different cultures, and what they are used for :D thanks so much for stopping in and commenting - pleased to meet you!

    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 

      8 years ago

      Hi Enelle, this is very interesting. I did not know about this craft. In my country (Romania) we call batik (or batic) a square scarf that married women used to cover their heads. Now, the same batic is used as a fashion accessorie.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thank you lovelypaper! So pleased you enjoyed it :D

    • lovelypaper profile image

      Renee S 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      Absolutely beautiful.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      MindField - Thank you so much for your kind words! You are right - a lot of thought, preparation and skill, not to mention creativity, goes into the creation of these artistic tapestries.

    • MindField profile image

      MindField 

      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Only the second hub of yours I've read and now I'm well and truly hooked!

      My uncle and aunt had batik items in their home and that's where I first fell in love with them. I've never known what their creation entailed until now. Makes me even more impressed with their intricate artistry.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      bob - thanks lol

    • profile image

      bob 

      9 years ago

      this is cool aaaaaaaaassssssssss :-)

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Oh wow - thanks for the heads up =) that's great!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 

      9 years ago from Canada

      I had to stop back and let you know that both your lovely hubs were featured on the first page of the Hub Pages Arts and Crafts page...and now your wire-wrapped pendant hub is in first place. Congratulations on some nice hubbing!

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Princessa - your story made me smile - I too had a friend who crocheted (taught me how as a matter of fact) and made the most beautiful thows...she showed me how to do squares - so I made a whole wack of them, and crocheted them together to make a queen size bedspread...was much easier because all I did was keep making 8 x 8 squares LOL! But you are right - it does require some patience - and some crafts more than others - Batick being one of the 'others'...very time consuming, even for a small one.

      lyla - thank you for dropping by...I know exactly what you mean - the first one I ever did was more than enough to make me put everything back in the closet LOL...but my mom absolutely loved it...still wasn't enough to make me do it again for years!

    • lyla profile image

      lyla 

      9 years ago from India

      Great hub!I love batik..I tried making it once and it was sooo messy that I promptly abandoned it halfway!:( But then,I do have loads of clothes in Batik!:) Great art!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      I know what you mean, I had a friend who made fantastic crochet bedspreads, she tried to teach me and I started one but I never managed more than 20cm x 20cm :(

      Crafts are an art that require patience and dedication :)

      Thumbs up!

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thank you Cam, I love the different batik patterns, it was fun writing it.

      Thank you Teresa, I have always loved the designs - had to learn how to do them :D

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 

      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      beautiful -- great fabric designs, and a lovely tradition

    • Cam Anju profile image

      Cam Anju 

      9 years ago from Stoughton, Wisconsin

      Lovely hub Enelle Lamb, Very cool pictures, I enjoyed it. :)

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Gypsy Willow - Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :D

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Lovely hub, enjoyed it very much!

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thank you jill - it really is fascinating watching the artist put it all together.

      Thanks Princessa, it is a simple process, but I would make a small piece to start...a bedspread sounds wonderful - until you tackle it LOL

      Hi Tom - I agree! This will keep you occupied for a little while lol. I think the hardest part is drawing the design.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 

      9 years ago from United States

      Wow this is beautiful stuff. It does look like a good few hours' project for a rainy day.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      beautiful work. Thanks for sharing, you make it sound so easy...

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Beautiful! I've watched batik making once but I did not complete the whole process. I was fascinated by how the artist made all those intricate designs. I still have several batik cloths from my previous trips to Indonesia.

    • Enelle Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thanks RedElf - Usually by the fourth colour it's turned a colour I didn't know was even in the crayon box....

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Thanks, Enelle. Another beautifully illustrated hub. Clear instructions, too. I have done batik for years and used several methods, but I must say your how-to of the traditional method is great - I always get confused round about the fourth color, lol.

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