Materials & Techniques

Batik

Batik is a wax-resist process for dye-decorating cloth. The wax resists the dye, preventing it from absorbing into the cloth and producing a design in the negative. To create batik with multiple colors, after the initial waxing and dyeing the wax is removed with boiling water, and the process repeats. Batik differs from other dye-decorating techniques, like ikat or tie-dye, in that batik makers can freely draw or stamp complex designs.

In Indonesia, batik is especially associated with the island of Java. The West and Central regions of the island were the main batik production centers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Scholars debate the origin of batik in Java, an island that attracted traders and pilgrims from both South Asia and within the archipelago. Was it introduced from India or China? Or was it an indigenous invention? Indeed, Javanese batik reflects and blends influences from India, China, Japan, and Europe, the latter having been a continuous presence in Indonesia from the 15th to the 20th century.

Whatever the origin of batik, the Javanese brought it to its highest accomplishment with their invention of specialized tools. A canting (tjanting), generally considered a woman’s tool, is used to apply molten wax to the cloth by hand. A single-spout canting produces one line; a double-spout produces two parallel lines. A cap (tjap) is a copper stamp invented in the late 19th century and most often used by men. Its invention reduced the time it took to make a batik, which could take weeks, months, or even years to complete. While lines produced by a cap are static and rigid, a canting creates lines “alive” with variation and movement.

The Dallas Museum of Art batik collection was established in 1982 with a gift of eight cloths that were collected before 1930. They were donated by Jerry Bywaters, DMA Director from 1946 to 1964, and his wife, Mary, in memory of Paul and Viola van Katwijk.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Waxed: Batik from Java, Gallery text, 2016.

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