The Story of Batik

Batik is one of the many age-old resist techniques for patterning fabric in India. Wax is applied to the cloth using a carved wooden block, a kalam (pen), a Javanese copper tjanting tool or brush to create the design that will resist the dye.

Batik is a technique that most people might associate with Indonesia, a country famed for its precise and detailed wax resist prints. When the Dutch had control of Indonesia in the 19th century (then known as the Dutch East-Indies) they began to mass manufacture imitations of these prints in the Netherlands for the African market, and what are now commonly known as ‘Dutch wax prints’ are most synonymous with the dress worn by women in Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries where the cloth has become an important part of West African culture and identity. The cloth is also popular in fashion, art and interiors world-wide.

Batik is the most important textile craft for Sri Lanka, produced for temple hangings, and more recently for the tourist market. Designs incorporate religious motifs including Buddhist, Hindu and even Christian iconography combined with floral and geometric patterns, or country scenes and seascapes. Batik workshops are situated all over the island, the largest cluster along the coastal south-west. It is thought the industry originated alongside the chintz industry on the Coromandel Coast in south-eastern India. The kalam (pen) was used in the painting of chintzs to apply wax as well as dye until the Javan tjanting tool was introduced, possibly when Sri Lankan and Java were both governed by the Dutch. The tjanting allows for much more precision in design, it is comprised of a wooden handle, a small copper reservoir to hold the molten wax with a spout to pour and guide a fine line of the wax over the cloth (see John Gillow Indian Textiles and John Guy).


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