Know your craft

Lyrical Batik

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Introduction and etymology

Batik refers to the process wax-resist dyeing technique of the fabric. After dyeing, the waxed areas keep their original color and contrast between the dyed and undyed waxed areas makes the pattern. The crackle effect on fabric is the most fascinating part that makes Batik so unique.


It is believed that the word Batik is derived from the Indonesian word ‘ambatik’ which means ‘a cloth with little dots’ whereas ‘tik’ means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. It also connotes ‘wax writing’. It was also referred to as mbatek, mbatik, batek and battik earlier across the Indian Archipelago.


At first batik was merely a pastime of the ladies of the Javanese courts, but it become a matter of social status to wear batiked sarongs to display one’s artistry in design and colour.
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The history of batik is closely intertwined with the royal palaces of Java, so much so that the nobility of Java introduces their own motifs and colours.
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Batik is so old a craft that it’s true origin has never been determined, but it is presumed to be at least 2000 years old. Archaeological findings prove that people of Egypt and Persia used to wear ‘batiked’ garments, and so did the people of India, China, Japan and most of the countries of East. Batik was practiced in China as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). Batiks in the form of silk screens were also discovered in Nara, Japan and can be ascribed to Nara period (AD 710-794).


It is believed that the craft spread from Asia to the islands of the Malay Archipelago and west to the Middle East through the caravan route. Despite the fact that batik may have originated elsewhere, it is widely accepted that Batik has reached its highest artistic expression in Indonesia, particularly in Java. At first, batik was applied to homemade cottons and calico but with Marco Polo and probably even before him; some fine muslin reached the Oriental bazaars. The finely woven quality of this was perfect for batik as well as the climate. Batik eventually, became a Javanese cultural product, from merely a pastime for court ladies to a signifier of national and cultural identity.


Batik patterns and designs is both tedious and long-drawn as each design and colour is hand painted and hand dyed.
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A pen-like instrument called a canting with a small reservoir for drawing intricate designs with wax is used for Canting or Batik Tulis.
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The technique of Batik is basically a three-stage process including waxing, dyeing and de-waxing. The characteristic effects of the batik are the fine cracks that appears in the wax, which allow small amounts of the dye to seep in. Impossible in any other form of printing, this makes Batik visually exceptional. It is very important to achieve the right type of cracks or hairline detail for which the cloth must be treated properly and knowledge about the wax is of prime importance. Firstly, the nature of the cloth to be ‘batiked’ should be strong enough to bear the heat and wax, thus natural materials such as cotton, muslin and silk are preferred. The tools are an important aspect of Batik. The spouted tool called a ‘canting’ (also spelled ‘tjanting’), or by printing the resist with a copper stamp called ‘cap’ (also spelled ‘tjap’). They are made of copper and brass with bamboo handles. Depending on the desired effect, different sizes are used. Brushes too are used to apply hot wax on the cloth.


Apart from the three major processes, there are some more sub-processes like preparing the cloth, stretching the cloth on the frame, preparing the dye, tracing the designs, waxing the area of the cloth that does not need dyeing, dipping the cloth in dye, boiling the cloth to remove wax and washing the cloth. The wax mixture is usually composed of bee’s wax, paraffin wax, resin, fat and synthetic wax mixed together in varying proportions. Each component has a specific effect on the finished textile.  Bee’s wax melts at a low temperature, is flexible, attaches easily to the textile surface, and is easily removed. Paraffin wax, yellow as well as white, is brittle and cracks easily so that the dye penetrates the textile and creates the marbled look. Resin binds the ingredients together and makes the wax cling better. Animal or vegetable fat adds fluidity to the wax mixture. Dyes from local plants and insects were used in traditional textile decoration, but now chemical dyes are used for ease and economics.



Batik production techniques are generally being divided into two types such as Canting or Batik Tulis and Batik Cap (block printing). The difference lies in the production techniques, motif and aesthetic expressions; each is often classified according to the tool used.

  • Canting or Batik Tulis

Old and traditional, this technique derives its name from the tool used, the ‘canting’ or the word Batik tulis, which literally means hand-written batik. Both sides of the fabric have identical coloring due to the immersion dyeing process. It has a distinct smell combination of wax and natural, plant-based dyes. It is an intricate, time-consuming technique, thus one piece of this kind of batik may take around six months to produce. This batik cloth is irregular in neatness of motif and color. Edge of the cloth is the main indicator of its authenticity as the color is not neat as consequence of the molten wax or repetitive coloring. This kind of batik becomes very precious just because it is handmade and its unique imperfectness.

  • Batik Cap

Batik cap, literally means stamped-on batik, utilizes a copper stamp block to create the wax pattern on the fabric.  In this technique, the measured-out cloth is put on a padded table. The printer has the wax pot at his side. The block is dipped into the pot to be filled with wax, and then it is pressed against the cloth. The process is repeated until the entire cloth has been filled with wax patterns. The printer can change between different blocks to create a different design. When the waxing is finished the cloth is soaked in dye. It is a quick technique to finish a batik fabric. Due to the less complexities in the making for the batik fabric, the price is relatively cheaper. It may take anywhere between 1-3 weeks to produce a piece of batik cap.


A tradition of making batik is found in various countries but the batik of Indonesia; especially Java is the best known. In October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,’ which has lead to its widespread recognition and usage across the world. The revival of batik in India began in the 20th century when it was introduced at Shantiniketan, Kolkata. In Madhya Pradesh too, batik is practiced extensively to make not only garments but also home furnishings.