i love artisans. they produce treasure and everything about what they do is ethical- slow-made, hand-made and telling a positive story about the people who made them.
the word batik and most iconic batiks comes from Indonesia. I have seen it done in other regions of South East Asia such as Cambodia and even by the Tiwi Islands in Northern Australia, and there are versions in parts of Africa and India but it is in Java Indonesia where you will find the most intricately slow-made and beautiful batiks.
batik is a method of dying cloth using bees wax, natural dyes and old antique hand-carved patterns. the artisan apply the wax, sometimes using the patterns and sometimes by hand and brush, then they soak the cloth in one colour and remove the wax with boiling water, then soak it in another, revealing their stunning designs.
UNESCO has actually named Indonesian batik as masterpiece of the ‘oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. the art has been handed down through the generation and the work is still done in family homes, as a kind of cottage.
although the designs are expertly laid out and done, none is ever exactly the same. they all absorb the moment that the artisan made them- whether they pushed hard or soft upon the frabric, how the vegetable dyes came out that day and even the weather. this the kind of thing I love, it makes them unique and collectable.
in java where artisans use cotton and beeswax and plants from which different vegetable dyes are made. indonesian batik predates written records probably well before the 6th or 7th century when similar traditions arrived from India or Sri Lanka.
as still and controlled as the hand must be, batik also take physical energy to wash and rinse and bring out the final patterns and I think the designs absorb the dynamic energy of the workers.
certain patterns are reserved for royalty, while other are worn on specific occasions. At a Javanese wedding the bride wears specific patterns at each stage of the ceremony. while you might get a cheap sarong made in a fast factory on a beach holiday in bali or thailand, this is what they are imitating. Because they take weeks to make them are rarer and more expensive but they are a life investment in beauty.
i’ve carried a batik i bought in the tiwi islands more than a decade ago around the world- i’ve used as clothing, sheets, a pillow, a curtains and more as i backpacked the world. i’ve thrown out almost every sarong I’ve bought before and since, but my batik soldiers on. the wax seems to have reinforced the cotton, making it stronger.
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