Skip to main content

Batik Art, History, Techniques, and Safety Tips

Eman is a writer and textile engineer. She obtained her bachelor's degree in textile sciences from the Faculty of Applied Arts, Egypt.

Batik is a textile art form that involves overlapping colors on fabric. This article discusses what batik is and explains its history and technique.

Batik is a textile art form that involves overlapping colors on fabric. This article discusses what batik is and explains its history and technique.

What Is Batik?

Batik is the process of applying overlapping colors to fabric. In the art of batik, wax is applied to cover the cloth parts that will be left undyed. The batik technique is an ancient method used in textile printing.

Batik is applied to many types of fabrics, such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, bamboo, jute, and rayon.

Making batik is a tradition found in many cultures in countries such as Nigeria, Malaysia, China, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Batik is not only a cultural product but also a source of livelihood for millions of people in some countries around the world, such as Indonesia.

The batik industry is spread throughout Indonesia, in places such as Java, Madura, Cirebon, Pekalongan, Mojokerto, Yogyakarta, and Banyumas.

Exhibitions of batik art are spread all over the world, including Indonesia, China, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the United States, and some countries of Africa.

Javanese batik, probably from the Semarang workshop of Carolina Josephina von Franquimont (1817-1867).

Javanese batik, probably from the Semarang workshop of Carolina Josephina von Franquimont (1817-1867).

History of Batik

The art of batik is believed to have originated in Egypt and then moved with traders to the south to other parts of Africa as well as Persia, India, and Indonesia in the east.

In Egypt, linen garments from the 4th century BC show white patterns on an indigo blue background, maybe made by scratching the designs into the wax.

In Africa, resistance to dyeing with cassava and rice paste has been around for centuries in the Yoruba tribes of Southern Senegal and Nigeria.

Sometime between 710 and 794 AD in Japan, silk batik was discovered in Nara. This batik is a silkscreen decorated with trees, animals, a flute player, hunting scenes, and stylized mountains.

In India, frescoes in the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra have head coverings and clothing that might be batik.

On the island of Java, Indonesia, batik reached its peak. On this island, Arab, Chinese, Indian, and European merchants first bought and sold textiles and batik in the mid-17th century.

Read More From Owlcation

In Java, woodblock printing was adapted to batik by the copper stamps to apply hot wax.

During the 17th century, batik fabric was imported into Holland by Dutch traders.

In the 1890s in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, batik art was applied to furnishings and interiors and then to fashion.

By the beginning of the 20th century, batik had reached the United States.

Interest in batik waned until the late 1950s and 60s and then started to appear again.

Currently, the batik technique is beloved and practiced all over the world.

Motif Batik Tulis

Motif Batik Tulis

Batik Techniques

There are two main types of batik techniques: the traditional Javanese batik and the Western batik.

Javanese Batik

Traditional Javanese batik features detailed and intricate designs and is mainly done on cotton fabrics.

Types of Traditional Javanese Batik

There are three main types of Batik: Tulis Batik, Cap Batik, and Tie-Dye Batik.

  1. Batik Tulis: This type of batik is a hand-decorated fabric that requires detail, precision, and patience. So, it takes a very long time to finish the design.
  2. Cap Batik: The cap was developed in the mid-19th century. Each cap is a copper block that forms the design unit. Cap is made of 1.5 cm wide copper stripes that are bent to the form of the design. The dots are drawn with smaller pieces of wire. Copper is used for its heat conductive properties to print hot wax onto cotton. In this process, the temperature should be just right, and the amount of wax on the cap is enough to avoid stains. Some designs require the use of a group of several caps to complete the design.
  3. Tie-Dyes: This traditional type of batik is native to Central Java. The colours of this batik were made from natural ingredients, consisted of mainly blue, beige, brown, and black. Blue is the oldest colour was used in this batik.

The leaves of the indigo plant were used to make the traditional blue colour. The leaves were mixed with lime and molasses sugar and were left overnight. Sap from the Tinggi tree was sometimes added as a fixing agent. The light blue colour was obtained by soaking the fabric in a dye bath for a short time while the dark blue by soaking the cloth in the dye bath for a long time.

Another colour applied in traditional batik was brown. The colour ranged from light yellow to dark brown. Traditionally, the dye came from the bast of the Soga tree.

Wajan is a container to melt the wax.

Wajan is a container to melt the wax.

Batik Tools

  • Canting: Sometimes called a wax pen, it is a simple tool consisting of a thin-walled copper container attached to a thin bamboo handle. The wax pen is approximately 11 cm long. The container is filled with melted wax. The craftsman uses the wax pen to draw the design on the fabric. The wax pen has different sizes of nozzles to achieve various design effects.
  • Wajan: It is the container that contains melted wax, usually made of iron or pottery. The copper container is placed on a small brick charcoal stove to keep wax in a molten state during the design application to the fabric.
  • Wax: Traditionally, waxes used for batik consisted of a blend of beeswax for its malleability, paraffin for its friability, resin, and varnish gums. Nowadays, all kinds of wax are used such as soy wax. Wax must be kept at an appropriate temperature during the batik process because too cold wax will clog the filling nozzle. Too hot wax will flow very quickly and will not be controllable.

Process

In the first step, the places to be left white or beige, the original color of the fabric, covered with wax. Then the first dye bath is indigo blue.

When the indigo dye has dried, parts or all the first wax can be scraped off to reveal the white areas to the next dye bath. The areas that remain white or blue are then re-waxed.

After that, the fabric is dipped in the next shade, usually a reddish-brown dye.

When the final color is applied, the batik is dried again. The fabric is then boiled in water to remove the wax.

Western batik is characterized by large areas of color and cracks.

Western batik is characterized by large areas of color and cracks.

Western Batik

Traditional Western batik designs did not depend on intricate details. This type of batik is also characterized by crackle. The main batik fabric was silk.

Batik Tools and Waxes

In this method, double boilers were used to melt the wax. As well as a hot plate or stove to place the double boiler on. The water in a double boiler should be close to boiling or constantly boiling to keep the wax liquid hot enough to penetrate the fabric to get the required effects.

Some artists used a wooden frame to stretch the fabric over. Others used layers of newspaper and clean newsprint.

Artists used all kinds of brushes to apply the molten wax except for a tool named (tjanting) for applying fine lines.

Artists have used many types of waxes such as beeswax, paraffin, and Ultraflex (a natural plastic wax). They also used a mixture of beeswax and Ultraflex.

Technique

The artist was choosing the appropriate batik design for the clothes on which the batik would be applied. For example, choosing a batik design with simple dots or stripes to match a simple dress design. The artist also separated the front piece, back piece, and sleeves to batik each piece.

The Western artist would first draw the design on a sketch and then transfer it with a charcoal pencil onto the canvas.

In this method, the lightest color areas of the design are first wax masked. Then the fabric dipped in the dye bath.

The next layer of wax is applied to the cloth when the piece is completely dry. If the piece is not well dry, the wax will cool and not allow permeation.

The dye is applied to the fabric by immersion or brushing. Pigments are brushed onto the canvas when the artist wants more colors that cannot be achieved by dipping, or when he does not want to remove the wax every time.

After applying the final dye and drying the fabric well, the waxed fabric is placed between two layers of clean newsprint.

Then a very hot iron is pressed against the top piece of newsprint to cause the wax to melt from the fabric and be absorbed by the paper.

There were many methods been used to stabilize the dye. For example, acetic acid (vinegar) was used to moisten a cloth. Then it was placed over the batik and ironed to steam the solution into the batik. This method lightens batik colors a bit on most fabrics. But it was a good technique for silk.

Hand-knitted floral batik wool rug.

Hand-knitted floral batik wool rug.

Batik Fabric Uses

Batik fabric is used in blouses, skirts, shirts, and dresses. Batik is also used in home decor, tablecloths, bed linens, and rugs.

Safety Tips When Making Batik

When making batik, keep in mind the following points to keep yourself and your tools safe.

  1. Gloves and a headcover should be worn while preparing for the dyebath.
  2. If you have respiratory problems, you should wear a dust/mist respirator to protect yourself from fumes from the dye bath.
  3. If you dye fabric regularly, wear an MSHA/NIOSH-certified respirator with cartridges for dust, mist, and fumes. Moreover, if you use corrosive chemicals like acetic acid, wear a full-face mask to protect your eyes and face.
  4. To prevent the dye powder from absorbing moisture, store the dye powder in airtight containers in a dry place. Liquid dyes may lose color intensity; store them out of direct sunlight, preferably in a cool, dark place.
  5. The wax must be heated enough to melt and penetrate the fibers.
  6. If there is a smell of hot wax, this is due to the release of toxic gases such as acrolein and formaldehyde.
  7. If a mist of fumes is produced, this means that the wax iron is too hot. In this case, you can use local exhaust ventilation.
  8. If you do batik constantly. The workplace must be equipped with ventilation fans so that the wax and fumes can be removed to the outside.
  9. Keep your workspace organized so you can stay safe and get your work done successfully.
  10. Make sure the hot iron is turned off and unplugged after your work is done.

Source and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Related Articles