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The Art of Making a Batik

Making a Batik

Batik is a traditional wax-resist technique for dyeing and decorating cloth, with evidence of the process dating back two thousand years. While remnants of batiked fabrics have been found in both China and Egypt, Central Java is considered the birthplace of modern batik. Today, skilled artisans in Indonesia continue the practice in a style that is uniquely Javanese.

In addition to its historical significance, the art of making batik is deeply personal for the artisans who perform it. They are artists in their own right, creating works of art that tell their stories and express their passions. For many, the craft is a way of life, allowing them to support themselves and their families while following their creative calling.

The first step in the process of batik-making is to prepare the fabric. This involves washing the cotton several times to remove all traces of starches, lime, chalk and any other sizing materials. The cloth is then boiled, either by hand or with a machine, to make it soft and supple. It is then soaked in water to wash away any remaining dye that is still attached. Traditionally, the fabric would then be pounded with a wooden mallet or ironed to further smooth it out and make it ready to receive the wax design. This was done primarily by men.

The Art of Making a Batik

Next, the artisan begins to create the patterns on the fabric using a canting. The canting is a tool that looks like a small wok and holds the melted wax while the artisan applies it to the cloth. Different kinds and qualities of wax are used for different effects. Beeswax is the most expensive but also produces the most delicate lines. Paraffin wax is affordable and readily available but can be difficult to work with due to its friability. Resins are often added to increase adhesiveness and animal fats can improve lubricity.

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Once the pattern is on the fabric, the artisan begins to dye the cloth. The colors that are used are traditionally natural dyes, made from leaves and roots of the indigo plant. The artisan can change the color by altering how long the fabric is dipped and how frequently it is dipped. Darker blues are achieved by dipping the cloth for longer periods of time and with each new dip, the artisan can shade the color more intensely.

After the cloth is dyed, it must be dried before the artisan can apply the next wax pattern. The artisan can now begin to build up the tones of the desired color by applying more and more wax as needed. This is a very detailed and time-consuming process. It is important to note that the pattern must be matched on all sides of the cloth in order to maintain consistency.

The final stage is to remove the wax by placing the fabric between pieces of newsprint and ironing on a setting that is recommended for the type of fabric, usually medium. This is the most tedious part of the entire process. The artisan must be careful not to damage the pattern and can only hope for minimal transfer of dye.

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