The Ancient Art of Batik Printing

The Ancient Art of Batik Printing

We have come to Bandung, Indonesia with a group of friends with all our children (5-17 years old), on our yearly charity volunteer trip.  We support a school for children with multiple handicaps with financial and material contributions as well as, on our yearly visit, painting, cleaning, and general repairs around the school.  Over the years, we have found the effort to be enormously worthwhile.

Once the work has been done, I have taken a detour to seek out and write about the ancient art of Batik printing technique and the artists who practice it.  I've really loved Batik for a long time, so I was really looking forward to this opportunity to learn how it's made directly from the source and then to share this wonderful process with you all.  We're going to be doing a series of articles involving Batik, so this first article is an introduction to the ancient art of Batik printing.

About Bandung

Bandung, the capital of West Java and the third-largest city in Indonesia, sits at the foot of the Tangkuban Perahu volcano on the Island of Java.  The city is surrounded by tea plantations and has an idyllic climate due to its altitude with cooler nights and warm days.  The environment is perfect for Batik painting since the studios and work areas need an open-air setting due to the high temperature of the baths and the fumes from the very hot wax.  Most of the stores that sell Batik will open their studios so thankfully picture taking is allowed.

A Brief History of Batik

There are more than a couple of theories on how and where Batik started, but as with any oral tradition, it is hard to pinpoint with accuracy the true origins of Batik.  One thing is for sure –it already existed in Egypt in the 4th century BC where oiled cloth-wrapped mummies have been found exhibiting properties of Batik.  There are also records of Batik being used in China, India, and Japan between 650 to 950 AD.

Today, Batik can be found in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Nigeria, and Senegal –although the African technique varies slightly on the kind of “resist” they use.  (You'll learn what this means in a minute.)  Among all these countries, the Indonesian Batik is the most widely known.  Even the word Batik comes from Indonesia and from two Javanese words: amba (to write) and titik (dot).  However, the Indonesian designs in Batik printing have been influenced by major cultural influences from Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Chinese, Japanese and Dutch culture.

In 2009, UNESCO declared Indonesian Batik a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The Process of Batik Printing

There are two ways to print the Batik designs on the fabric.  In this article, we will explore the use the Canting.

via GIPHY

As in any other printing technique, it all starts with a drawing.

Untitled design(1)

Untitled design

From the master template, the design is transferred to the fabric –in this case with the use of a lightbox made out of an old desk. The artist then uses a tool called a “canting” that is often made out of copper with a little spout that pours out the liquid wax.  The artist re-traces the drawing with wax creating with it the “resist” where the natural dyes will not penetrate.

Batik Canting Tool
Batik Canting Tool

Untitled design(2)

With a lot of practice, the artist will let just the right amount of wax drip from the tiny spout. It could take up to 15 days for the whole pattern to be traced.

Untitled design(3)

Untitled design(4)

Untitled design(5)

Untitled design(7)

batik printing technique

Untitled design(9)

The fabric then is ready to be colored, either with a cold bath or by hand with the use of a hand brush as in the picture below. The cloth is hung to dry to let the dye penetrate the cotton fibers.  Then wax will be used once again to protect the color that is not meant to be changed with the bath dye. The fabric is then soaked in a cold bath with another color. Then it is laid under the sun to cure for at least 2 hours. After being under the sun, the fabric is hung to allow the dye to penetrate the cotton fiber.

batik printing technique

batik printing technique

If the right color has not been achieved the fabric gets another bath.  This process will be repeated until the desired color is achieved.  Then, it is time to remove the wax by immersing the fabric in boiling water.  The wax is scooped from the surface and reused.  Nothing goes to waste since this wax will be much darker and perfect for the third and fourth application of darker colors.

batik printing techniques

Once again, the artist will wax the parts that need protection from the next dye bath.

This process will be repeated as many times as the number of colors desired.  The most common colors used are red, brown, blue, and yellow.  The colors are applied from the lightest to the darkest.  Here are a few pieces in different stages of dying.  You can imagine that for complex patterns, many, many dying cycles are required.  Seeing this certainly made me appreciate the value of Batik!

Batik printing technique

The final product is a fabric with very intricate and colorful designs that fill me with excitement about the possibilities for its use.  In Indonesia, you can see Batik everywhere from decorating the home to clothing for both women and men.  For women, Batik is often part of the best outfit she can have with a great skirt that skims her soft curves and a big smile to enhances her gentle nature.

I hope you enjoyed this quick introduction to the ancient art of Batik.  Please share your comments and questions below.


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66 Responses to The Ancient Art of Batik Printing

  1. Tri Handini says:

    If you are interested in batik, you must visit Surakarta or Yogyakarta, because there are the centers of batik making in Indonesia. In Surakarta there is also Klewer Market which is the largest batik market in Indonesia.

  2. Anna Moy says:

    Loved this article as I love the art of batik so thank you for writing it, I look forward to more!! Thank you for your site I really enjoy it

  3. Wendy Roberts says:

    I’ve only just discovered Batik, being new to sewing. It’s so interesting to learn how it’s made – what an amazing process. I’d be terrified to cut into a fabric which has taken so long to make!

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Yes, it is terrifying but make a muslin first that way you will always make sure the project will turn out the way you expect.

  4. Nannette Fontenot-Lotz says:

    Thank you for the wonderful story! I knew a little about the resist process, but the history and intricate, hard work these people perform is AMAZING! I so appreciate batiks much more now.

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Yes, it is quite intricate, real Batik is sold in pieces of fabric 2.25 to 2.5 meters long, anything bought in a store in a bulk is mass-produced, so there is a huge difference in price.

  5. Sharon says:

    I loved this insight into Batik printing, I’m looking forward to many more! xx

  6. Colette says:

    What a fun “field trip” you shared with us! Batik is an amazing art form that exhibits the universal love of fabric, design, and color in such a creative way! Such passion and dedication the artists have!!! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and all the great photos!

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      That they do, and it is fantastic to watch them work, talking and laughing all day long many related to each other passing the art from generation to generation.

  7. C. Dufort says:

    Thank you so much for letting us get a glimpse of this monumental textile art!

  8. Charlain D Jorgensen says:

    I certainly had no idea of the work involved in making Batiks! I will value them more highly and not snub my nose at the price now!

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Indeed that was my intended purpose but be careful not to buy from a bulk of fabric, since this would be a mass-produced copy made in a factory either in Korea or China.

  9. That was a fascinating story. I had no idea that Batik was done by hand.Beautiful fabric!

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Hi Becky, original batik is sold by a piece of 2.25 t 2.5 meters in length and it is almost perfect on both sides. If you don’t see a reverse side it means is fake or sold by bulk which is mass-produced and you do not need to pay so much for it.

  10. Anne Evans says:

    Sorry. I wasn’t trying to be clever with my previous comment. It’s just that where I bought it, it was called a tjanting – just another name for canting ☺

  11. Anne Evans says:

    It’s wonderful that you and friends do this charity work.
    I bought a tjanting/canting many years ago and some soy wax but have never got round to using it. I did do a bit of batik about 15 years ago on a 6 week textile course (just one evening a week) I was only thinking very recently about actually having a go!

  12. LINDA D says:

    This was very interesting! I never knew it was all done by hand.

  13. Cindi Johnson says:

    I love batik. In my high school art class I got to do a 1 color batik. I loved the process.

  14. Sandra Armstrong says:

    This was so so interesting. It gives me a better appreciation of how the fabric is made. Now I’ll consider buying it and using more. Thank you for this great article. I really enjoyed it. Safe travels to you all.

  15. Namita Kendall says:

    Excellent introduction. I love Batik and this reminded me of my time in Java many years ago.

  16. Martha C Wicker says:

    Now I know why I hate to cut into a beautiful piece of fabric!

  17. Patricia says:

    My daughter does batik and sales at music festival s Three dye process

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      She has my appreciation since this is not an easy technique and needs years of practice. IF you want she can send me her profile and somethings she has done and I am happy to write about her. contact me through email or Instagram atsoseweasy

  18. joannaleflore says:

    I’m grateful to have learned about this batik process of canting. I bought my first authentic batik in my early 20’s and it is an image of Ganesha. I can’t wait to learn how to do it with a real Batik artist. The process seems to therapeutic! Can’t wait to look more thru your website!

  19. Vivian Oaks says:

    My daughter spent 2 years living in Kenya, where she worked as a teacher at a school for orphaned and disabled children. So much of what you talked about is so enlightening and so similar to what she experienced. She’s not a quilter, but she made sure to bring home gifts of fabrics for me. :-). She suffered through malaria twice during her time there, but loved the country and its people. Thanks for all the great information on the batik process! Looks like a whole lot of work!!

  20. Pingback: In Search Of Inspiration, Tanzanian Fabrics And The Kilimanjaro - So Sew Easy

  21. Cristi says:

    Although you published this last year, I just stumbled upon it. This form of art is stunning. I would love to try my hand at it. Starting with very small projects of course lol.

    • So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Cristi, I’m sure you’ll have fun with Batik. I certainly have. Give it a try and feel free to share some pics of your work here in the comments. I’d love to see them. Kind regards, Mayra

  22. Pingback: Sew Fashionable 04/11/16 - SewsNBows

  23. Glenda says:

    I lucked out at the thrift store the other day. I got a batik blouse with a tag saying Made in Indonesia. So beautiful. The fabric has such detail, such depth and richness of color and texture, t’s amazing. Not my size, though. Now to decide what to do with it !

  24. Tina Chambers says:

    Thank you for this article I have always loved this fabric and enjoyed learning about it

  25. Helen Gullett says:

    You’ve been to my home country! We lov Batik. Every time we went back to Indonesia, we alwasy got a set of Batik clothes for all of us.

    The process is amazing! Love reading it 🙂

  26. Connie Burroughs says:

    Thank you for sharing your interest in Batik. Can you tell us what large companies sell true batik fabrics in the USA? Most I’ve been able to purchase are at the high end price-wise for cotton quilting fabric but the same on both sides so I am concerned that it is not a true batik. The hand workers need to be recognized. Looking forward to the next article. Thank you, C

    • inge jensen says:

      you can “recognize” true batik when you see the print clear on both sides of the fabric. if the fabric shows clear print on one side and not the other, then it is “fake”.

    • Karen Scribner says:

      Try Lunn Fabrics, they design their own for Quilters which are made on Java. They may have real batik on the website or steer you toward a source.

  27. Vee says:

    I can’t wait to try it and see how this gets adapted for those of us without the canting equipment.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Vee, yes, please stay tuned. We’re planning to present a few different methods that don’t require canting equipment.

  28. carlaburke says:

    So much great information! I’ve been wanting to try doing it, myself – but I think maybe I’ll start with something small – like a hankie! Lol!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Carla, please stay tuned. We have some Batik projects on they way. Thanks for your comment and regards.

  29. Bonnie C Westrom says:

    I knew a little about Batik having tried it in a high school art class and then getting into encaustics which is basically painting with colored wax on hard board. The intricateness of the patterns intrigues me and the many times they go over and over it with such patience. I love the colours.You can tell I’m Canadian by the way I spell colour. I would love to take a journey there and see the sights and experience the art of Batik.I really appreciate this article. Thank you.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Bonnie, thanks so much for your comments. I too am very intrigued by Batik. We live in Singapore so write “colour” too, but since the vast majority of our audience is in the US we put “color” in the articles. I hope you can make it to Indonesia at some point. It’s a wonderful place.

  30. Rose says:

    Where do the artisans obtain the “blank” fabric? Is the fabric produced locally or is it sourced from some large mill or manufacturer? The pictures of the process were very interesting and informative. Thank you.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Rose, thank you! Yes the “blank” fabric is mostly source locally, Indonesia has a very productive textile industry.

  31. Dee says:

    Hi Mayra….it is glad to know that u came to my country far away from your country….even I live 3 hours from Bandung yes that’s city is like Jakarta. You might be interested to others Batik City such as Yogyakarta….or Solo, the city of our President, Mr. Jokowi…..

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Dee, I did spent time in Yogyakarta and Solo, and I loved it, such a Fashion Centers, I am making one more article about batik and I will feature one of your artists. I love your country, the food and the people. I felt at home, so thank you for being so hospitable!

  32. Dolly Altman says:

    Thank you, I LOVE Batik! It’s not only beautiful but very nice to work with. Very interesting to learn more about it. Will be looking forward to more articles.

  33. Barb Hoover says:

    Is all batik made by hand?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Barb, I’m sure there are ways to get similar patterns, at least ones that look similar, by using other means like fabric printing but traditional Batik is all by hand. Also, I’m sure a bigger factory could come up with ways of doing the wax resist dyeing method in greater volumes, but I’m really only interested in the art of the tradition, which to me means by hand.

      • Barb Hoover says:

        I agree, it is very interesting and thanks for sharing! I just wondered if what we see in the stores (Joanns) is handmade.

        • inge jensen says:

          when the print is on one side only, it is for sure handmade. when the pattern is to be seen on the wrong side of the fabric almost as good as the right side, then it’s printed.

          • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

            Hi Inge, thanks for this terrific information. Sounds like you have some experience with Batik.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Yes, Barb that is why is so important to support the small industries in the countries that produce it. Many times the batik sold at super low prices in the develop countries are just a big textile company printing fabric to look like batik. Next article I will show another way of making batik, stay tuned! Warm Regards,
      Mayra

  34. ella ruth says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  35. Sheila Perl says:

    Fascinating article!! No wonder the batik fabric can be so pricey 😀
    I really enjoy articles about how fabric and other sewing products are made, Thank you!!

  36. Maggie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this article. Bandung is very near to my heart as I was born there and I spent the first 6 years of my life there. Batik is still my favourite material to work with. The patterns and the colours are just incredible.

  37. Jayne McLeod (Canada) says:

    WOW…that is just amazing …the time commitment for each of the artists is incredible too.

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