To create a beautiful batik
the hand, heart and mind must become one
Hand waxing with canting tool
Seated on a low stool, the batiker dips her small copper cup or canting
(chan' ting) into the hot, melted wax, and blows lightly on the tip of the spout. With smooth, sure movements, she guides the tip along the lines of the intricate pattern on the cloth. As the wax cools, she dips her canting again and then again in a day filled with a meditative rhythm.
Indonesian women have been making these beautiful cloths, in just this same way for centuries. It is this tradition that Batik Winotosastro is committed to preserving. A cultural and artistic legacy that goes far beyond cloth as a mere commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace, though the importance of that marketplace cannot be denied as well.
What is Batik a Brief Introduction
You'll discover the story behind batik in this section. Then be treated to several examples of these elegant handmade cloths filled with symbolic meaning.
The word batik comes from the term titik, a dot, point or drop, referring to the wax dots that make up the pattern. The word itself has three distinct meanings.
First, batik refers to the actual process of applying melted wax to cloth (or other surfaces) by hand, then dyeing the cloth. The wax acts as a resist to the dye colors.
- Batik tulis, meaning writing, is waxed completely by hand using the canting tool. This is the most expensive batik due to the long process and high level of skill needed. You'll see slight differences in the thickness of the wax line, and the details show variation in size or shape.
- Batik cap (chop) is waxed with the copper stamp called a cap. This also takes skill to create an even pattern on the cloth, but it's much faster to make than batik tulis. You'll notice a set thickness to the lines because they're all the same from the width of the copper strips. Also, if you open the cloth and let your eye blur slightly, you can sometimes notice the shape of the stamp is separated a bit from the one next to it. Batik cap is the least expensive of hand-processed batiks.
- Batik kombinasi combines both techniques on one cloth. First the main design is waxed with a cap, then the batiker adds details with the canting. Batik kombinasi is priced in the mid-range.
Secondly, the word applies to the finished product itself a batik cloth.
Third, the word has come to mean the patterns themselves. So some would say a cloth that has been screen printed to look like batik, but was not made with wax or dyes, is batik also.
Unfortunately, these screen-printed cloths have become so widespread, that most people cannot tell the difference between hand made, wax processed batiks and screen-printing. With new technology, the quality of these screen-printed fabrics can be extremely difficult to distinguish between them and original batiks. One indication is their low price since no hand work is involved.
At Batik Winotosastro we are committed to keeping the artistic, cultural side of batik alive, by passing on our knowledge of creating these works of art by hand.
Batik Garment of the Centuries
One thing for non-Indonesians to realize is that for hundreds of years, the batik kain panjang, 2.5 meter-long cloth, was wrapped around the body and worn every day by commoners and royalty alike. This was the garment industry in a sense. Up until the late 1970s, early '80s, many women wore only batik kain panjang. By the 1960s batik fabric was made up into blouses, skirts, men's shirts and other garments.
Gradually more modern dress replaced batik for everyday use. Now men and women often wear traditional batik for special occasions only. On the streets, however, the batik patterns are quite visible, many on silkscreened modern clothing styles.
Indonesians sometimes devalue batik as "just a garment." It's not something special, it's just what you wear everyday. Our task as carriers of this heritage is to make people aware of this long history and the unique quality of Indonesian batik, found no where else in the world.
History of Batik
How Did Batik Come to Java?
While fragments of wax-resist or batik cloth have survived in parts of the world, dating to early 5th and 6th centuries AD in Egypt, and 8th century AD Japan, it's not known with certainty where this process began. Some researchers feel the technique was developed in India then spread out from there. (Spee pg. 12)
One thing is sure, trade between India and Southeast Asia was mentioned as early as the 1st century AD. By 1200 the Hindu religion and culture was a major influence in many parts of what is now Indonesia. Imported Indian textiles continued to have a deep impact in the region well into the early 19th century. In 1518 the first known use of the word tulis was associated with a shipment of trade goods from Java. (Elliot pg. 22)
Today distinctive traditional batik styles can be found in Africa, China, Malaysia, Sri Langka and Northern Thailand. But of all the places known for traditional batik, none are as famous for their rich heritage of patterns and colors as Indonesia, especially Javanese batik.
Batik in the Royal Court Cities of Central Java
Unlike the more open, free-spirited north coast of Java influenced by traders from Europe, India, Arabia and China, the royal court cities of Central Java looked inward, building on a different set of rules and values.
In 1755, the nearly 200-year-old Mataram Sultanate of Central Java split into the two court cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, or Solo as it's also known. These ancient aristocratic, feudal societies placed much emphasis on tradition, a sense of order within a strict code of conduct, an awareness of spiritual values and the use of symbolism. Power was concentrated at the top under the sultan as supreme ruler.
These deeply held values are clearly reflected in the batik of this region. From the Hindu-Buddhist era in Java come stylized forms from nature, using rounded, flowing lines rather than realistic depictions of flowers or leaves. Believers of Islam, which came to Java in the 1500s, are not allowed to portray any living creature. This in turn pushed batik into more geometric designs.
Batik a Symbol of Mystical Power
Early rulers in Yogyakarta and Surakarta decreed that batik must be worn at court. In addition to the already common white with indigo blue dyed background, they added a soga brown color to the palette. This established the three traditional colors of white, indigo and brown, still in use today.
Not only did the rulers decree specific colors for batik, they also kept certain patterns solely for use by members of the royal family. In traditional societies all over the world, cloth is a carrier of deep significance, often indicating the status of the wearer. By connecting specific batik patterns directly to the sultan, the batik became a symbol of mystical power.
Hidden inside these complex patterns are worlds of philosophical meaning. Abstraction, understatement and stylized forms are highly prized. When a batik is created with exceptional skill, another layer of distinction and value is embedded in the final cloth.
Now see beautiful examples of traditional batik Yogyakarta.
See Books on Batik for reference details.