The Beauty of Batik Design

by Jenny Kemala
Associate Professor, O’More College of Design

Each year the Metropolitan Museum of Art curates a costume exhibit that wows lovers of art and design. The 2016 exhibit made possible by Apple will examine how traditional and machine-made design plays a part in the creative process. As quoted by Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, “Both the automated and handcrafted process requires similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise. There are instances where technology is optimized, but ultimately it’s the amount of care put into the craftsmanship, whether it’s machine-made or hand-made, that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary.”

Batik design is an extraordinary art passed down to generations, and I had the opportunity to experience this age-old craft during my travels to Indonesia this past summer. “Batik” is an Indonesian word and originates from Java meaning to dot or to write. The technique of waxing is known to be more than one thousand years old, but is unclear whether the method originated in one place or several places. Archeological evidence of the use of batik cloth was discovered in Persia, Egypt, India, Japan, China, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

In both the modern and the traditional techniques, the process starts with drawing and tracing designs on a piece of white natural fabric such as cotton. After attaching the fabric on an embroidery frame, the designed patterns are outlined with hot melted paraffin or beeswax from a tool called “canting,” which has a tiny spout made of copper and a wooden handle. The liquid beeswax is used as a means of color blocking in dyeing process. Every part of the fabric that remains untouched by a certain color has to be covered with wax.

Modern batik dyeing: Designs are painted with natural dyes including light activated dye. Once the dyeing process is completed, the fabric is dried under the sun. Then, it is dipped into hot water, so that the wax can be removed from the cloth. Next, the fabric is rinsed in cold water and hung to dry.

O'More College of Design

Coloring the designs with light activated dye Finished product

Traditional batik technique: Painting is not utilized in the procedure. Fabric is immersed into dye- one color at a time from light to dark in order to accomplish the
desired shade.

O'More College of Design

Waxing design patterns before and after dyeing in the traditional technique

O'More College of Design

Removing wax in hot water after the final dyeing is completed

O'More College

One method used for outlining batik patterns is the “tulis” method where the design is outlined on the natural fabric by using melted beeswax or paraffin. The process is repeated on the on the back of the cloth to ensure the wax completely penetrates the fabric. Another process called the “cap” method, stamps the fabric with a copper block. The stamping technique can be applied on the borders of fabric, which is a faster process compared to the “tulis” method.

O'More College of Design

Batik can be seen in many forms of art and design. Batik pillowcases, quilts, and tablecloths make one’s house inviting and unique. It is also used on handbags, wallets, hats, scarves, and dresses from casual to formal and contemporary to traditional styles.

O'More College

Batik Dresses designed by Danar Hadi

More Home & Fashion