Sarongs are used all over the world, mainly in South Asia, East Africa, and the Pacific islands. They are a tubular garment that is wrapped around the body and tucked at either the waist or under the armpits. It is a garment used for day to day life as well as traditional ceremonies. They range from stiffer less breathable sarongs for formal occasions to lights and cool sarongs for day to day or beach use. It is a quick and comfortable way to get dressed that allows for free. Indonesian Sarongs can be extremely colorful, designed with pure color, very similar to tie dye, but often, a sarong will be printed with traditional and modern designs that are called Batik designs.
Indonesian Batik sarongs are part of a textile art form as broad as it is beautiful. Batiks’ influences hail from India, China, Middle East to Japan with ancient religious ties to Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam and even as far as the West. In 2009, Batik was honored by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” and to this day is one of Indonesia’s greatest cultural treasures. Over the last two millennia Batik has been used to adorn kings, queens and sultans of old and rice farmers alike. It is also stands as a unique national unifier as it can be found in every conceivable form: sarong, dress, shirt, scarf, table-cover, wall hangings and more. Many ethnic groups from all classes wear batik as a symbol of pride in the centuries old craftsmanship.
Although now used in global fashion and appreciated as the great art form it is, culturally and historically Batik possesses a great spiritual meaning and to this day is still worn for celebrations of life events (like a wedding). Depending on the design worn and quality or type of fabric, Batik was once a very specific status symbol of wealth or even Royalty. Each traditional batik pattern was created with a name and meaning: although some are long forgotten, many are still remembered and carry an integral role in Indonesian life. For example, often brides and grooms wear a wedding pattern containing square shapes that signify rice fields. If the square contains another shape (named the “Ukel”), this signifies that there is a good rice crop present in the rice fields. A Batik butterfly pattern used for weddings blesses the family with everlasting happiness. There are many definitions for each pattern with minor variances of the design creating different significance and purpose for each piece of clothing.
Over the last century, batik has expanded its influences to current modern colors and trends, always changing and evolving with new colors and artful ideas, it is a medium that has yet reach its Renaissance as of now it is still relatively unknown to the word at large. ABM Wholesale Indonesia is excited to journey through Indonesia and hunt down these rich fabrics that define luxury and beauty.
Traditional Batik is created by using hot wax, coconut oil, insect wax, tree resin or parafin applied with a “Canting” (Pen like tool) or copper block stamp to prevent dye from entering selected areas of the fabric. This allows the craftswomen/men to draw complex designs with wax on a richly dyed fabric. There are multi stage dying processes depending on how many colors are being used. After each dyeing stage some of the wax is removed and new designs are applied before the next stage of dyeing begins. After the design is complete, the wax is fully removed and the fabric is washed with a mixture of boiling water and caustic soda to remove any remaining wax residue, revealing the masterpiece beneath. Commonly the fabric is cotton although more expensive pieces will be rendered on silk. This artistic process dates back close to two millennia with Batik discovered in Egypt, China, India, Persia, Peru and many more.
There are two methods of production that pertain to the availability of Batik and the complexity of design. that determine its’ quality and price.
Batik Cap (Block Stamp)
This style of Batik is created by carefully stamping a metal block with ornate designs side by side to apply the hot wax that will create the end design. This method is much faster than hand drawn Batik, and easily found. The quality of the materials and color complexity greatly influence the price of this type of batik.
Batik Tulis (Hand drawn)
Hand drawn Batik is exceptionally hard to find and is very expensive. No two pieces in the world are ever the same. It is painstakingly made and often artisans have learned the skill through a lifetime of artistic designing or was passed down through the generations before them. Often Batik collectors come from far and wide to find renowned batik artisans to get in line for pieces of their work which is often pre-ordered months in advance and sometimes even years.
Within the realm of Batik there are certain styles that are more prevalent in different areas of Indonesia. Each area of Indonesia reflects a distinctive era of influence and history telling their very own unique story. Indonesian Batik is divided into three types: Batik Pedalaman (Inland batik) also known as Batik Kraton (Javanese Court Batik) or Batik Pessisir (Coastal batik). All other Batiks are generally known by the city they were created in.
We hope you enjoyed your introduction to Indonesian Batik! We will get more in depth regarding Indonesian Batik in our next blog post. Watch out for new post on our “Discover magical Fabrics and Textiles” as we will launch fresh new posts as our fabric and textile selection grows.
The Art of Batik, written and published by The Batik Guild, 1999
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