"The belief that youth is the happiest time of life is founded upon a fallacy. The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts, and we grow happier as we grow older. "
- William Phelps
Batik is the traditional fabric of Indonesia, where a patterned area is covered with wax, so it will not receive the colour. This method is usually used on cottons with traditional colours like blue, brown and red. This technique originated in southeast asia, where the wax was applied using bamboo strips. Batik word is derived from the word ‘ambatik’ which means a cloth with little dots. It is believed by many experts that batik is an art form of javenese royalty.
Cloth used for Batik
Natural materials like cotton or silk are used for batik work. These materials are used so that it can absorb wax while applied during the dye resisting process. The cloth used is first washed in hot water so that excessive starch is washed away. In modern techniques, the cloth is ironed so there are no wrinkles and the cloth becomes smooth. Primissima and Prima quality are used for batik work.
Very simple tools are used for making batik designs. A javanese invention, canting is a small thin wall spouted copper container also known as wax pen, is connected to a bamboo handle. It is 11cm long and the container is filled with wax and then used to make design on the cloth. Canting is available in various sizes and is used according to the size of design.
Wajan is a container which is used to keep the wax and it is placed on a brick stove or spirit burner which keeps the wax melted. Artists keep this near them while making the design, so they can easily use the melted wax. Different kinds of wax are used for batik work, beeswax is the most common one.
Making batik work is a tedious and time consuming work. And as there was growing demand, a copper tool also known as copper stamp was developed. And this stamp is called a cap which has 1.5cm wide copper stripes which bend into designs and smaller wires are used for dots, after completion this setup is joined to a handle. If the design is intricate and complicated many caps would be used. This tool is easy to use and consumes less time.
Javanes batik used traditionally made natural dyes which consists of blue, brown, black and beige. And skilled artists can make a variety of colours by mixing the natural colours. Like mixing blue and red would make purple. And soaking the cloth for accurate time is also a challenging task.
Process of batik design starts with drawing the design on the cloth, charcoal is used for this process, sometimes stencils are also used. Also if the artisan is practicing this art for many years, he might not even need to draw the layout, he can directly start the design. Stencils are called pola.
Wax is applied to the design using a canting tool. This process is usually done by female artisans. Wax is applied on the part of the cloth which is supposed to be in the natural colour, then the cloth is placed on bamboo frames and using the wajan wax is poured into a canting tool and the desired design is made on the cloth. For the cap method, the caps are dipped into wax and just on the surface of the wax 30 centimeter square cloth is dipped and once the cloth is saturated then it acts as a stamp pad, the camps are dipped in the cloth stamp pad and then stamped on the cloth.
After the wax is applied on the cloth, it is ready for dyeing. Earlier it was done in earthenware tubs, now large vats are used. On the surface of vats there are pulleys which will carry the cloth and dip it in the water containing dye. The amount of time it is dipped determines the first colour of the cloth. For the next round of dyeing, wax is again applied to the part which will have the same colour and the same is repeated until a batik designed cloth is ready according to the artisans. The number of colors in batik work represents how many times the cloth has been immersed in dye and if it is multicolour, just imagine the hard work artisans had put into the piece.
Also multicolour means the number of times the wax had to be applied was more and took time and a lot of tedious work. There are various types of batik designs like ‘Kawung’ consisting of intersecting circles. ‘Ceplok’ is geometrical designs representing flowers, animals etc. ‘Parang’ designs belong to the royal court of central java and have knife patterns, slanting rows of knife-like segments, alternate colours are used for showcasing the design.
Modern batik consists of more intricate designs of flowers, birds and leaves. If you are visiting Indonesia, do visit workshops where you can experience the art and get to know the traditional art and interact with the artisans and gain knowledge of the culture and such an unique artform they perceive.
Batik design is no doubt globally famous, and it came to India due to its trade with south asia. With multifarious design and contrast coloured border on batik saree, it is one of favorite sarees for women in India. Also the animal prints like the ones of elephant and peacock are popular. These patterns and designs dyed on the cotton sarees are beautiful, and are also dyed on silk sarees which are also in fashion and in high demand.