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Batik is the name given to a certain type of fabric, predominantly found in Indonesia. The fabric features distinctive patterns and is made using a special technique involving painting the fabric by hand and dyeing the material using traditional wax-resist techniques:
Batik is dyed by proud craftspeople who draw designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists vegetable and other dyes and therefore allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colours are desired.
Although many claim that Batik originated in Egypt and India, the word itself originates from Javanese – the native language of the Indonesian island of Java. In Javanese amba means draw and tik means dot, thus Batik combines these words to literally mean drawing with dots.
Nowadays the word Batik refers more to the patterned material than to the wax-resist dyeing technique specific to the traditional method of producing Batik. In fact, as the textile industry has advanced in Indonesia, the meaning of the word Batik has been expanded to include fabrics or materials that include traditional Batik patterns, even if they have not been produced using the traditional wax-resist dyeing techniques.
Different regions in Indonesia are known for producing different styles of Batik, but the heart of Batik production can be found in the Central Java region, specifically in cities such as Yogyakarta, Solo, Pekalongan and Indramayu, as well as in Cirebon, which is located in West Java.
There is a wide diversity of Batik patterns and they reflect a variety of influences, from Arabic calligraphy to European flowers, Chinese phoenixes, Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks. Batik produced in Yogyakarta and Solo is generally dominated by traditional Batik patterns, which have their roots in the Javanese conceptualisation of the universe, which the Javanese represent in colours like indigo, dark brown and white.
Meanwhile, other cities such as Pekalongan and Indramayu, as well as Cirebon, relate their patterns to aspects from everyday life, with imagery inspired by flowers, nature, people, animals and local folklore. Furthermore, as these cities are situated closer to the coast, the colours used in the patterns are generally more vibrant than their counterparts from Yogyakarta and Solo.
Batik can also be found in Indonesia’s neighbouring countries, including Malaysia, but it has a special relationship with the Indonesian people, and on 2nd October 2009, UNESCO recognised this fact, naming Indonesian Batik a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. According to the UNESCO website, Indonesian Batik is significant to the lives of Indonesian people because:
The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end: infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and the dead are shrouded in funerary batik. Clothes with everyday designs are worn regularly in business and academic settings, while special varieties are incorporated into celebrations of marriage and pregnancy and into puppet theatre and other art forms.
The garments even play the central role in certain rituals, such as the ceremonial casting of royal batik into a volcano.
Batik is a key part of Indonesia’s cultural heritage, often handed down within families for generations and used to express the creativity and spirituality of individual Indonesians with the symbolic meanings of the colours and designs used.
Here at By Hand we are seeking to bring you a range of beautiful Batik products and to give you an insight into a key aspect of Indonesian culture. The By Hand collection includes a range of stunning, handmade Batik scarves, made with great care and precision by a women’s cooperative based in Yogyakarta from pieces of beautiful hand-woven Indonesian silk.