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Batik fabric is a particularly sought after fabric. Whether you are looking for your next colorful shirt, an out of the ordinary bag or the next uniform for your team, here is everything you need to know about the batik fabric.

The origins of the batik fabric

The exact origins of the batik fabric are still discussed these days. Some archeologists believe the batik fabric is native from Indonesia, while others believe it was introduced by Indians or Sri Lankans to Indonesia around the 6th or 7th century.

Regardless of where they come from, one thing is certain: Java in Indonesia is where the batik fabric became the most sophisticated, famous and renowned.

The word batik itself is actually derived from javanese language, the tik part meaning dot in javanese.

During all these centuries batik remained a popular fabric in Indonesia to the point that is now a part of traditions. In fact, today, most regions of the archipelago have some form of batik with their own patterns and colors. But it is still in Java that most of the fabric is made and where the most notable batik fabrics and batik masters can be found.

In 2009, UNESCO even added the Indonesian batik to its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The batik fabric also got popular outside of Indonesia, in particular in the Malay Peninsula, in Thailand and in Africa. If the growing popularity of batik fabric makes sense for the South East Asia neighbours of Indonesia, the batik fabric has been introduced in Africa through the Dutch and English traders and has been adopted by the local tribes that brought their own motifs, variations and techniques. 

Making batik fabric : the traditional resist dyeing method

There are numerous ways to make (true) batik. But all these methods have one thing in common: they use resist dyeing.

The resist dyeing is a both simple and complicated method that allows to make the most sophisticated batik patterns. 

The concept itself is quite simple: a wax is melted on the fabric before being dipped in dye. The melted wax being deep inside the fabric fibers, these parts are not penetrated by the dye, and so remain “uncolored”. Once the wax is removed, generally with boiling water, the drawings or stamps made with the wax are exposed and are “blank” compared to the rest of the fabric.

The process is then renewed with as many wax and dye applications as necessary depending on the needs.

Two main techniques are still used in Indonesia to make most of the batik fabric : the written batik (batik tulis) and the stamped batik (batik cap).

Batik Tulis
Photo de Mahmur Marganti sur Unsplash

Written Batik (batik tulis)

The written batik fabric, or “batik tulis” in bahasa Indonesia, is the most traditional and prestigious form of batik fabric.

The process is still largely manual and involves the use of a sort of pen containing liquid wax called a “canting”. Similarly to a piece of art, the batik master will draw with its canting directly on the fabric and dye it as many times as necessary. 

The making of such fabric depends of course on the complexity of the patterns and colors. Generally, the fastest hand written batik fabrics are ready within 1 to 3 months. Each of them is unique and can be regarded as a piece of art.

Most often, the Written Batik is worn for important events and/or by important people as its price point is proportional to its uniqueness and the time it took to make it.

If you want to wear a piece of art, have asymmetric batik or have some custom made motifs, the written batik fabric is the way to go.

Batik Cap
Photo de Agto Nugroho sur Unsplash

Stamped Batik (batik cap)

The stamped batik or batik cap in bahasa indonesia still uses the concept of the hot wax and resist dyeing, but can be implemented on a much larger scale than the written batik.

Instead of using a “canting”, a stamp called “cap” usually made with copper, is used to inject the wax inside the fabric. Making such a stamp requires a great mastery in the art of batik making and usually done by true experts.

The stamped batik fabric has more repetitive patterns due to the size of the stamp and the less manual processed required compared to the written batik. That being said, it still remains a largely manual process requiring a great know-how to produce.

Stamped batik can be found throughout the whole Indonesian archipelago: it is worn on Fridays similarly to the western casual fridays, it can be worn as uniform and it can be worn for various formal ceremonies and events.

The main characteristics of batik fabric

The batik fabric is known to be particularly colorful with a wide variety of patterns. Very often, foreigners landing in Indonesia are mesmerised by the batik uniforms worn by their taxi drivers, the airport employees or the hotel clerks.

The batik can come in all colors and motifs, making it a very versatile option for a wide number of people : there is always a batik fabric that will match your style, your height, your religion or your skin tone.

If you are looking for a batik in particular, feel free to contact us.

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