The traditional craft and art form known as Batik, is quickly becoming more well known in the West, but has been practiced for centuries. Batik, a method of producing designs on fabric by using a wax resist, can actually be traced back 1,500 years ago to Egypt and the Middle East. A variety of samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa. Yet the most well known and intricate batik techniques can be found on the island of Java in Indonesia, where batik is still a part of an ancient tradition.
In fact, the word batik originates from the Javanese word tick which means to dot. Some scholars believe that the art form of batik was considered an accomplishment for young Javanese women. Skillfully handling a canting (the pen-like instrument used to apply wax to cloth) was just as important as other housewifery duties.
The unique process of batik is one that takes time and patience. Traditionally, high thread count fabrics such as natural materials like cotton or silk are used so that the wax that is applied in the dye resisting process can be absorbed. To make a batik, the fabric is painted with wax designs and placed in a dye bath where only the areas with no wax are dyed. Intricate designs are then created by layering colors and using cracks in the wax to produce detailed lines.
Today, the art of batik is constantly evolving as modern techniques are being introduced into the process. For example, the use of etching, discharge dyeing, stencils, different tools, and a variety of wax resisting recipes are giving artists opportunities to explore this unique process in a more flexible and modern way.
Also, the introduction of wool, leather, paper, wood and even ceramics have widened the range of design and creativity in this traditional craft! Today, batik artists are exploring innovative techniques that could not be possible if not for the Javanese people who made this beautiful art form so popular.
written by Elena Schloss