Nothing like feeling proud of my new skills to rouse me out of my blogging inertia…

One of the reasons I came to Indonesia was because of batik, an art form in which cloth (or sometimes other materials) is painted with wax, using brushes and a special tool called a tjanting, and dyed. This enormously time-consuming process is repeated several (or many) times to produce layers of color, resulting in textile designs that can be amazingly intricate. In Javanese society, the art of batik was generally women’s work.

Right now I’m in Central Java in the city of Yogyakarta, also known as Jogja, which is one of the centers of batik heritage. Jalan Malioboro, the avenue that forms the heart of Jogja’s tourist district, is lined with rows and rows of batik shops, and many people still wear batik clothing.

Javanese motifs, with just the first layer of wax applied (no, I did NOT make these. Oh, I wish):

Actually doing batik is tricky for a number of reasons: first, it takes some practice to get the hang of using the tjanting, which is like a tiny wax pot, with a small spout, on a handle. The wax in the tjanting has to be kept hot enough that it will fully soak through the cloth, so it has to be dipped in the molten wax pot very often. Accidental wax drips have to be painstakingly removed with a hot knife.

On top of the technical challenges, I had a little bit of trouble wrapping my head around the process of planning the layers of color. You have to start with light colors and work your way to the darkest colors, and the painted-on wax is a different color than the hidden textile color underneath, so it’s hard to tell exactly how the thing will look in the end. I think my visual-learning brain had a little trouble with this different approach, but it was a lot of fun! Sort of like a lateral thinking puzzle. I think I’ll get the hang of the thinking/imagining process more as I practice.

Susie, my wonderful teacher. I’m not sure why, but we get along really well. It’s funny how many middle-aged women I’ve befriended over the course of this year.

Here’s my first attempt!

First layer of wax & color. (The very first layer of wax covers areas that will be white in the final piece.)

Applying the last layer of color– black.

After the final, darkest color is applied, the whole thing gets put in a pot of boiling water to remove the wax. (Hello, blue sky)

About 13 hours later… Done! Yes! I can’t wait to do another one!


9 responses to “batik!!

  1. That’s beautiful!!
    I tried batik once in college, and I remember the backwards-thinking puzzle, too. And I think there were only about three colors–so kudos for creating something so beautiful on your first try!

  2. ohhh my gosh madeline that is beautiful! i can’t believe you. seriously.

  3. Whaaaaat. This is so cool. Look at the level of details in the flowers on your batik! My god! You are a master of javanese crafts.

  4. I want one! What you made is super beautiful!

  5. lilmads and applejacks

    jacki says “gaaaaaaaaaaah!” and mads agrees! what an amazing first piece! also you should try to find the cafe in jogja that is run by the transvestite who owns mirota batik, it is pretty epic. love love

  6. Wow… check you out! That is super super super cool!

  7. That is so awesome! What a great design. I did a similar technique with Easter eggs this year, and it was really hard to plan the colors! You’re learning such cool things.

  8. Awesome… it’s very amazing

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