Where Batik was first founded is a difficult question to answer; the process is an ancient one. However it is said that “Batik emerged as one of the great art forms of Asia” (Elliott, 1985, p22) and is popular in Japan, China, Indonesia, Africa and Europe. It’s an old Javanese word that means “to dot” or “to stipple” (Hayes, 2008). Due to the fact Batik is one of Indonesia’s most developed art forms, various designs have been progressed over many years with multiple uses of colour and shapes. It’s one of the most beautiful meaningful forms or art in Indonesia, so much so, that the clothes themselves are symbolic of values; not just the patterns imprinted (Kerlogue 2004). In this blog I will focus on developments in Batik manufactures, their colours and symbolism.
Javanese Batik (Fig 1)
The process of batik isn’t a particularly difficult one. Areas are sectioned off the material by being covered with melted wax, or by drawing the pattern. Once the wax has hardened the fabric is then dipped into the dye and left to dry. The selected areas that are covered in wax are going to repel the dye, and will be left in the original colour of the fabric. Prior to the implementation of modern day techniques, the cloth was pounded with a wooden mallet or ironed to make it supple so it could best receive the wax design. Historically, once the material was soaked in the dye a “steam bath is used the set the dye. Several lengths of fabric are steamed together” (Krevitsky, 1964, p8). With the finer machine-made cotton available today, the modern way to dry dyed materials is easier. This led on to opportunities to create finer patterned batik prints.
“Apart from the technological inventions themselves, daily life in the 19th century was profoundly changed by the innovation of reorganising work as a mechanical process” (Buescher, n.d) The technology change, on one hand, therefore had a large impact on life at home for the workforce. Their work became a routine for machinery, rather than an art with their hands; they were not needed for their skills, but for their numbers. On the other hand, it was the beginning of new opportunities for fresh garments to be mass manufactured. It was essential to the industrialisation that grew throughout the 19thc, it broadened the workers opportunities to travel, developing their skills in other ways.
Batik: fabled cloth of Java (Fig 2)
According to Kerlogue 2004, not many Javanese people understand the importance of the Batik pattern, people that do, will almost certainly refer to the patterns appearance, rather than definitions behind them. Similar to this it’s the same today; a high majority of people don’t focus on the history behind the artwork they’re buying, it’s about how appealing something is. Particular patterns in the Javanese print involve various symbols, which can portray moral or spiritual meanings. “While all batik motifs have association and meaning for some people, it is the designs of the Central Javanese palaces, which are the most well documented.” (Kerlogue, 2004, p76). Symbols such as butterflies, wings and feathers, that have been used in the batik prints have meanings which are said to have been related to the Hindu-Javanese philosophy.
Batik from Courts and Palaces, Sarong Signature: L. Metz, Pek. Pekalongan c. 1890-1900 (Fig 3)
Throughout the 19thC, colours also had specific properties. “Batik from courts and palaces included over thirty-five pieces ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s. The layout emphasized the role of culture in batik design.” (Welters, 2006, p1). Values of textiles throughout this period were important. The colours were very different from what would be used today, and resembled various things. Batik from courts and palaces included deep reds and rich golds; historically the colour gold was expensive to resource. Colours as well as gold, such as white and yellow were also valuable – they represented the colour of jewelry, treasures that only the rich could afford. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that these colours came into production slightly, therefore it wasn’t something that was regularly traded around the world like today (Kraamer 2015).
From reading up about the Javanese Batik design, it’s made it clear how much technology and machinery has changed over the years. Batik is a beautiful design that takes time and care to produce.
ELLIOTT, I.M. (1985) Batik: fabled cloth of Java. Harmondsworth: Viking.
HAYES, J. (2008) Indonesian Textiles. [Online] Available from: http://factsanddetails.com/indonesia/Arts_Culture_Media_Sports/sub6_4b/entry-4050.html [Accessed 26/11/15]
KERLOGUE, F. (2004) Batik: design, style & history. London: Thames & Hudson.
KREVITSKY, N. (1964) Batik: Art and Craft. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation.
BUESCHER, J. (n.d) Innovation and Technology in the 19th Century. [Online] Available from: http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24470 [Accessed: 26/11/15]
WELTERS, L. (2006) Batik from Courts and Palaces: The Rudolf Smend Collection and Batik Fashion/American Style. Textile, 4(3), pp. 368-375.
KRAAMER, M. (2015) Textile & Sustainability in 19thC and Early 20thC Europe.
(Fig 1) V&A (n.d) Skirt Cloth [Online] Available from: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O69079/skirt-cloth-unknown/ [Accessed 06/10/2015].
(Fig 2) BATIK: fabled cloth of Java. (artist and date not known). [Batik]. Elliott, I.M. (1985) Batik: fabled cloth of Java. Harmondsworth: Viking.
(Fig 3) BATIK FROM COURTS & PALACES (2005) Sarong Signature: L. Metz, Pek. Pekalongan c. 1890-1900 [Online]. Available from: http://www.athm.org/museum_exhibition/batik-from-courts-and-palaces-the-rudolf-smend-collection-batik-fashionamerican-style/ [Accessed 28/10/15].