Let's Learn About...Batik

Beige and brown batik sarong cloth with camels and tents

This June, LET’S LEARN ABOUT…Batik!

 

WHAT IS BATIK?

Batik is a traditional art form that uses wax and coloured dyes to create patterns on cloth. The word batik can also refer to cloths made with batiked patterns.

 

HOW IS BATIK MADE?

Batik artists draw or stamp patterns onto plain cloth using hot wax (which blocks dye from colouring areas of the cloth), and then soak the cloth in a dye bath to add colour.


Steps and tools used

  1. Sometimes the artist sketches patterns and motifs in pencil before applying the wax.
  2. Once they decide on a design, the artist draws with wax on the cloth using a tool called a canting, which holds the hot wax.
  3. Then the cloth goes into the dye bath.
  4. This process can be repeated multiple times to create a variety of simple or complex patterns, and to add more colours.

To reduce the amount of time required to produce a batik, metal stamps called caps can also be used. Wax is applied to the cap, and it is then pressed repeatedly on the cloth to create patterns. Caps with different motifs can be used together on the same cloth too.


Technique of resist dyeing

This type of technique, where wax is used to block the dye, is called “resist dyeing”. The wax helps the cloth "resist" the dye. After dyeing with a selected colour, the cloth is washed with hot water to remove the hardened wax.

To add other colours or more patterns, the process is repeated. Areas and patterns already coloured are covered with wax; and new patterns can be drawn or stamped. At the end of the process, a beautiful multi-coloured batik design is created! 

 

OBJECTS IN ACM COLLECTION

Sarong With Camel and Tents

Sarong with camels and tents

Northern Java, early 20th century
Cotton, dyes
2000-05573

What can you see on this sarong? There is a parade of camels and travellers carrying flags that say Bendera Radja Mekkah (Flag of the king of Mecca). This batik sarong could have been worn by a Muslim, to show that they completed a voyage to the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. A pilgrimage to Mecca, called a hajj, is a religious journey that Muslims hope to embark on at least once in their lifetime!

You can find this object in our Islamic Art Gallery on Level 2.

Sarong With Camel and Tents

Sarong with camels and tents

Northern Java, early 20th century
Cotton, dyes
2000-05573

What can you see on this sarong? There is a parade of camels and travellers carrying flags that say Bendera Radja Mekkah (Flag of the king of Mecca). This batik sarong could have been worn by a Muslim, to show that they completed a voyage to the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. A pilgrimage to Mecca, called a hajj, is a religious journey that Muslims hope to embark on at least once in their lifetime!

You can find this object in our Islamic Art Gallery on Level 2.

 

The following two objects are displayed at the Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities special exhibition from 17 Jun to 2 Oct 2022.

Sarong of Wisteria and Peacock

Sarong of wisteria and peacocks worn by nyonyas in Manado

Central Java, Pekalongan, early 20th century
Batik tulis. Cotton, synthetic dyes
Peranakan Museum, Gift of Father Robbie Wowor in memory of grandmother, Mrs Tan Tjien Sian née Tjoa Soan Tjoe Nio.
Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2010-01308

A sarong is a cloth worn around the lower part of the body. Some are sewn into a tube, others are flat cloths. To wear a sarong, you either step into the tube and fold and tighten the excess cloth, or wrap the flat cloth around your body and tuck in to secure it. This sarong decorated with batik may have belonged to a Chinese Peranakan family.

Can you find the peacocks and cranes. In Chinese culture, the peacock represents beauty, while the crane is a symbol of longevity.

Sarong of Wisteria and Peacock

Sarong of wisteria and peacocks worn by nyonyas in Manado

Central Java, Pekalongan, early 20th century
Batik tulis. Cotton, synthetic dyes
Peranakan Museum, Gift of Father Robbie Wowor in memory of grandmother, Mrs Tan Tjien Sian née Tjoa Soan Tjoe Nio.
Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2010-01308

A sarong is a cloth worn around the lower part of the body. Some are sewn into a tube, others are flat cloths. To wear a sarong, you either step into the tube and fold and tighten the excess cloth, or wrap the flat cloth around your body and tuck in to secure it. This sarong decorated with batik may have belonged to a Chinese Peranakan family.

Can you find the peacocks and cranes. In Chinese culture, the peacock represents beauty, while the crane is a symbol of longevity.

Kain Panjang

Kain panjang: Parang rusak Sri Sadono latar putih

KRT Hardjonagoro Gotikswan
Central Java, Solo, 1990–91
Batik tulis. Cotton, synthetic dyes
1991-00110

The design on this kain panjang (long cloth), with narrow S-shaped patterns, is called parang rusak. It is one of the most important batik motifs. Parang means knife, and rusak means broken. But some people think the motif may have been inspired by waves crashing against rocks. In the past, this design was strictly reserved for the royalty only! Have you seen people wearing clothes with this design these days?

Kain Panjang

Kain panjang: Parang rusak Sri Sadono latar putih

KRT Hardjonagoro Gotikswan
Central Java, Solo, 1990–91
Batik tulis. Cotton, synthetic dyes
1991-00110

The design on this kain panjang (long cloth), with narrow S-shaped patterns, is called parang rusak. It is one of the most important batik motifs. Parang means knife, and rusak means broken. But some people think the motif may have been inspired by waves crashing against rocks. In the past, this design was strictly reserved for the royalty only! Have you seen people wearing clothes with this design these days?

 

PLAY

Test your understanding of batik with this little quiz!

  1. Can you arrange the various steps of the batik-making process in order?

    1. Sketching, Dyeing the cloth, Applying the wax
    2. Applying the wax, Dyeing the cloth, Sketching
    3. Sketching, Applying the wax, Dyeing the cloth

  2. What tool can be used to create repeated batik patterns to ensure all patterns are exactly the same?

    1. A canting
    2. A cap
    3. A pencil

  3. Which of these batik patterns was strictly reserved for Javanese royalty in the past?

    1. Camels
    2. Peacocks
    3. Parang rusak

Answers: 1. (c), 2. (b), 3. (c)

 

EXPLORE

Click on this video to learn more about batik making and some of the common motifs used:

Explore the world of batiks! Check out our special exhibition Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities here.

Then, head to NHB’s one-stop heritage portal Roots.sg to read more about batik:

Sarong of wisteria and peacocks worn by nyonyas in Manado
Sarong with camels and tents

Want more of these resources? Come back to learn new things every month.

What else would you like to learn about? Tell us here.

 

There’s more!

Check out other videos and download e-resources inspired by the objects in ACM’s collection.

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