Batik is a form of textile art in which designs are hand decorated on the fabric using a resist made of wax. Traditionally, fabrics used in batik were cotton and silk. Today, batik is also practised on fabrics such as poplin, cambric, voiles, chiffon and velvet. The batik production process involves three key stages, application of melted wax, dyeing of the fabric and the removal of the wax to reveal the overall design. This process is repeated until the fabric is dyed with all desired colours to create elaborate contrasting designs and patterns.
L: A block of wax that is to be melted and applied to the fabric
R: Melted wax ready to be used in the application process
The fabric is first prepared by being starched. It is then stretched on a frame in order for pre-determined designs to be outlined and transferred from paper. Traditionally, the transfer of designs onto the fabric was done by hand. Many Indian batik artisans continue to make use of this traditional production method to ensure authenticity and the preservation of the ancient art form. However, modern-day commercial methods that make use of screens in design transfer are on the rise, particularly in South East Asia. The wax is then applied with precision to the design outlined on the fabric.
A floral motif printed by hand on fabric, ready for the dyeing process
The three methods of batik printing are:
a) Splash method, wherein the wax is poured onto the cloth in a non-uniform manner.
b) Screen printing method, wherein the wax resist is printed all at once onto the fabric by means of screen.
Artisans produce batik patterns with the use of a screen
c) Hand painting method. This is the most intricate and demanding method wherein the designs and patterns are applied onto the fabric using a Tjanting pen or Kalamkari pen. Though Kalamkari pens are used in the production of batik, it is so exquisite that it is considered an age-old art of its own kind.
L: A traditional Tjanting pen with a bowl on the top that holds wax for printing
R: A modern electric Tjanting pen which melts the wax as the artisan draws batik patterns on the fabric
An artisan uses a Kalamkari pen to draw the fine details of batik print
The Khatri community’s traditional method for batik printing involved the use of wooden blocks, which made the craft a form of block printing.
An artisan produces batik prints by means of block printing
The waxed areas of the fabric remain in the original colour while the rest of the fabric is dyed with different colours. However, fine cracks that appear in the wax allow small amounts of dye to seep into the fabric. The effect created by these cracks result in batik’s signature characteristic. The amount of wax used is vital in determining the final outcome of the design. Expert artisans agree that a mixture of 70% paraffin wax and 30% beeswax result in vivid contrasts of the dyed designs in batik. The wax application process requires utmost skill and attention as overheating of the wax can cause it to catch fire.
An artisan dyes fabric after the wax resist has been applied
The de-waxing stage of batik printing involves the fabric being boiled in order for the wax to be removed. The fabric is then washed thoroughly with soap in preparation for the entire three stage process to be repeated until the design is complete with various coloured dyes. The fabric is then immersed into a diluted sulphuric acid solution to ensure the permanency and vibrancy of batik’s colours.
Batik printed and dyed fabric is boiled in the dewaxing process
The distinct characteristic is highly visible in a completed batik product
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