making batik

Batik is an ancient art and a complex one. Batik, using wax as a resist, was developed in many places around the world. The Russians in Czarist times used wax as resist to produce their spectacular Easter eggs, the West Africans and Japanese used indigo dye and wax resist to create elegant fabrics, but nowhere was the batik art more advanced than in Java, the largest of the Indonesian islands.

traditional Javanese batik chanting

Traditional batik in Java was made with a copper stamp or drawn on cloth by hand using a tool called a chanting. A chanting is a little copper bowl with a spout attached to a wood or bamboo handle. The chanting is dipped into hot wax. The artist draws with the chanting by using the law of gravity. The wax to pours out of the spout and penetrates the fabric.


batik painting

Traditional batik, either tulis (hand drawn) or stamped, requires many application of wax and dye, but in modern times the process has been simplified. Joanie and Barbara do some work which they call double process; the fabric is pre colored. But mostly they work directly on white rayon. When the wax is removed, the lines are white. The art lies in the skillful drawing and the unique painting technique, which is best considered as watercolor on fabric.

batik painting
composing batik

Joanie and Barbara and their friend Sheila, the three Dadongs, have worked for six years in the workshop of master batik artist, Ketut Sujana. The studio is small, and is set up to make two meter sarongs, so in keeping with the spirit of things they usually create large pieces 115 centimetres by two meters, although they make smaller pieces too.

A few years ago they built a sarong sized light table to help them with their composition process. With the light table they can trace drawings and combine them to make new creations.

They draw with washable markers so the original lines will disappear once the piece is waxed. They usually work on fine rayon, although batik is often done on silk or cotton.

After wax has been applied to our line drawings, the fabric is stretched flat on a frame. The dyes we use to paint spread easily, too easily. The art is in controlling where they go, and how each color interacts with others, when to use a lot of water and when to use none at all.

batik painters at work

The final product is a beautiful, durable and washable painting of fabric. These batiks will not fade, shrink or bleed.

composing batik


batik stamping

creating a batik stamp

Joanie has taken some of her drawings and made them into copper batik stamps. This year she created a new stamp of a horse running in waves. The stamp was fabricated by Pak Sujit during Joanie’s visit to Java.

Stamping batik requires special equipment. Here is Pak Soewarno’s stamping table and his stamping plate.

stamping plate
stamping batik

The stamping process requires special skill and is expertly practiced by Pak Soewarno of Solo. In this double process piece, Pak Soewarno is stamping fabric that Joanie has already painted. After stamping the piece will be colored again, creating a luminous effect.

Sometimes an expert, like Pak Soewarno, will make a process called amber adul. The fabric, after being stamped, is pinched into a pattern. Several colors are applied systematically and allowed to bleed together.

batik pinching technique
washing batik

The batik now must be made permanent by applying fixative and boiling. Until a piece of batik is processed the colors are water soluable and can be destroyed easily. The fixative Dadongs use is known as waterglass. It is a harmless substance, the pioneers used it to preserve eggs. But batik process, especially commercial application does have adverse effects on the environment. These photos were made in Solo, Java, where batik is all processed by hand, boiled in a forty four gallon drum, and washed out in the river.

This way of processing batik in many Javanese and some Balinese communities is not kind to the environment especially if large amounts of batik are produced for clothing or cheap sarongs. In the village where these photos were taken, sometimes as many as two thousand sarongs are produced per week, often using beach and other harmful chemicals. Think of this when you buy cheap sarongs or rayon batik clothing. The real cost to the earth for this cheap fabric is really very high.

mass produced batik

At Nia's workshop in Java, a simple technique for filtering dye waste has been developed. The waste water is passed through filters, charcoal being the most important. When the water has gone through all the filters, the water enters a fish pond. If the fish stay healthy, Nia knows the water is good. Check out Nia's beautiful and environmentally correct work.

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