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What is Batik?

The word "batik" (pronounced "ba-teek") is Indonesian and means "wax writing". Briefly, the process involves brushing on melted paraffin and beeswax so it penetrates specific portions of the fabric. The waxed fabric is then dipped into or painted with wet dyes. The waxed areas repel or "resist" the dyes; thus the term "resist" process is applied in reference to batik. Each time a new dye color is introduced on the fabric, portions of that color are waxed and held until the desired color scheme is achieved. Dye colors are applied to the fabric from light to dark, as they overlap, creating new colors as they combine. The darkest color is last, and finally all the wax is removed by ironing the fabric between paper or steaming; the heat of the iron melts the wax which is absorbed by the paper.

Contemporary applications include batik on paper, and direct dye or colored wax applications that can be used in combination with the traditional immersion techniques.

You may recognize batik by its characteristic crackle, or veining that appears throughout the design and unifies the colors and composition. This results when the cooled wax is cracked to allow the dye to penetrate in the final (and darkest) dye bath.


A Little Batik History

The ancient history of textiles tends to be sketchy because fabrics disintegrate in time and from weather. The exact origins of batik are uncertain. Fragments, probably of Indian origin, have been found in first century Egyptian tombs. One theory is that batik existed - and may have originated - in Asia and then spread to the Malaysian area. Examples of eighth century batik screens, probably Chinese, are preserved in Japan's Nara Museum.

Whatever its origin, batik was a highly accomplished art form in Java and Bali by the thirteenth century as a pastime for fine ladies. The hand decorated fabrics first appeared in costumes of the aristocracy and were soon used in clothing worn by the entire court.

Specific, readily recognizable motifs, patterns and colors developed. Often one design identified one family or an area. Javanese batiks were soon introduced to Europe where industrialists attempted to produce imitation batiks on a large scale, but found the cost prohibitive.

Today, the trend is to decorate the fabric any way the artist envisions; to apply design by any method, traditional or innovative, and even depart from standard procedures. Batik today is used for clothing, hangings, furnishings, relief and stuffed sculpture. It is no longer considered a "pure" art but one which can be combined with other media and methods. The driving force for the artist is to apply the technique for the end desired, rather than allowing the technique to control the artist as an end in itself.

 

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