Originating in India, the art of batik has come a long way from a
mere handicraft. Today it is in the forefront t of the Indo-west
fusion in the fashions of the world.
The word batik actually
means wax writing and that is basically what batik is
all about. It is a way of decorating cloth by covering a part of it
with a coat of wax and then dyeing the cloth. The waxed areas keeps
its original colour and when the wax is removed the contrast
between the dyed and undyed areas makes the pattern. Batik was
considered in the past as a fitting occupation for aristocratic
ladies whose delicately painted designs based on bird and flower
motifs were a sign of cultivation and refinement just as fine
needlework was for European ladies of similar position.
The beauty of batik
lies in its simplicity and the fact that you dont have to be an
artist to achieve results. Some of the best effects in batik are
often achieved by chance informs fashion designer Dinesh
Batik is very often
considered a craft like ceramic, pottery or even needle work.
Although it is a household word all over the world, batik is still
often overlooked by art critics who do not consider it an art form.
There are several countries known for their batik creations
starting with India where it originated after which it moved to
Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the west. The history of
Indian batik can be traced as far back as 2000 years. Indians were
conversant with the resist method for printing designs on cotton
fabrics long before any other national had even tried it. Rice
starch, mordants and wax was initially used for printing on
fabrics. In fact, it is believed that the Indians were familiar with
the resist method of printing as early as first century A.D. As a
country India has always been noted for its cotton an dyes. The
indigo blue which is the basic colour for batik is one of the
earliest dyes. It is believed that after its initial popularity in
the past, the tedious process of dyeing and waxing caused the
decline of batik in India till recently.
Indonesia apparently took
over from India and encouraged the art of batik and with its
popularity and success in the western markets, batik became a part of
Indonesia. The revival of batik began in the 20th century
century in India when it was introduced as a subject at the famous
university of Santiniketan in Calcutta. In the South near Madras,
the well-known artists village of Chola-mandal is where batik
gets an artistic touch. Batik that is produced in Madras is known
for its original and vibrant designs.
Indonesia however is
considered the cradle of batik with its many designs which are
restricted for different wearers and occasions. Indonesian batik
has characters of mystic and ritualistic connection. Objects like
flowers, trees, birds have a significant meaning. The Sawat in
Javanese batik has its origins in Hindu mythology as it is the
decorative form of Garuda, Lord Vishnus bird. Sidomukti
is another Hindu influence in batik. Mukti means
happiness and prosperity in the hindu language. While Indonesia,
Malaysia and Thailand are known for their block printing (tjab)
method to create batik on a large scale, in Sri Lanka batik is still
made by hand. Sri Lankan batik is less intricate and more suited to
Batik in Malaysia is a
recent entrant is as late as 1913. It has now become a prime
economic earner for the country. Kelantan in western Malaysia is the
home of Malaysian batik. Since it is a recently acquired art it has
no tradition to fall back on.
In the western countries
batik was introduced by the Dutch travelers from Indonesia which
was a former Dutch colony from where it also spread to the USA and
Europe. In the West, the vegetable dyes are replaced by chemicals.
Batik is also practiced by some of the African countries like
As mentioned earlier,
batik is a method of creating patterns or designs on cloth by the
wax resist technique. It is a three stage process of waxing dyeing
and dewaxing (removing the wax) but there are several sub-processes
like preparing the cloth, tracing the designs, stretching the cloth
on the frame, waxing the area of the cloth that does not need dyeing,
preparing the dye, dipping the cloth in dye, boiling the cloth to
remove wax and washing the cloth in soap. The characteristic effects
of the batik are the fine cracks that appear in the wax which allow
small amounts of the dye to seep in. It is a feature not possible in
any other form of printing. It is very important to achieve the
right type of cracks or hairline detail for which the cloth must be
crumpled correctly. This requires a lot of practice and patience.
Knowing how to use the
wax is of prime importance. The ideal mixture for batik wax is 30 per
cent beeswax to 70 per cent paraffin wax. For first timers even the
melted wax of a candle is adequate. It is the skillful cracking that
is important. While applying, the wax should not be overheated or it
will catch fire. Correct knowledge of colours is also important.
Practicing on small pieces of cloth help in the beginning. Patience
is of course a very important factor too.
The cloth used should be
strong enough to bear the heat and wax. Cambric, poplin and voiles
are used besides pure silk. Synthetic fabrics should be avoided.
Since early days of Indian history dating back to nearly 2000
1500 B.C. Indians have been known to wear vibrant colours and dyes
which were made from barks of trees, leaves, flowers and minerals.
Blue was obtained from indigo, while orange and red were from
henna. Yellow was from turmeric and lilac and mauve from log-wood.
Black was created by burning iron in molasses and cochineal from
Since handmade batik is
unable to meet with the consumer demands very often the answer is
tjaping with a copper block. A tjap is a metal block made of copper
strips into the required design after which is stamped quickly and
with great force.
Batik is created in
several ways. The splash method means that the wax is splashed or
poured onto the cloth. The screen printing method involves a stencil.
The hand painting one is by a kalamkari pen. The scratch and starch
resist are the other methods. From a handicraft, batik has acquired
the status of an art. Batik is a versatile medium, that becomes an
ideal hobby for an amateur or a medium of expression for an artist.
Batik as an art form is quite spontaneous and one can open up new
vistas of creative form. Until recently batik was made for dresses
and tailored garments only. In the world of fashion batik has
few equals as it has acquired world wide prominence in the present
as never before observes designer Dinesh Singhal who has been
creating collections in batik over the years and has realized how
perennial the acceptance of the fabric is.
One of the
positive sides of batik as a fabric for garments is concerned, is the
vibrant colours and very often the unusual combinations that emerge
after the process has been undertaken Singhal adds. Since
the results are best on natural fabrics like cotton and silk, the
designing possibilities are quite limitless.
salwar/kameezes to western wear to combinations in fabric tones as
well as forms like the Indo-west look a batik outfit can never go
out of vogue, confirms Singhal. Batik is not only restricted to
dress materials but modern batik is livelier and brighter in the
form of murals, wall hangings, paintings, household linen, scarves
batik has come a long, long way from a mere handicraft of days gone
by to a place on the fashion charts in India and all over the world.