The Story of Batik

Many places in the world produce textiles made with a wax resist or batik process, however nowhere in the world is it more refined than in Central Java in Indonesia. Today batik has been elevated to high art, and is considered by UNESCO to be an ‘intangible treasure of humanity’.

Solo: The heart of Batik Making

Our name, “Solo Leisure”, comes from the name of the river that passes by the ancient capital of Surakarta in Central Java, Indonesia.  The city is referred to these days by the name ‘Solo’.

Solo is one of the great batik making centers of Java.  For centuries batik makers in Solo have been producing wearable batik fabrics and home furnishings using cotton and other fabrics such as silk and linen.

Boats on Solo River during Colonial Era.

Boats on Solo River during Colonial Era. Source: Tropenmuseum, Holland

Batik Tulis: Writing with Wax

Batik wax is either applied with a canting — a spouted copper funnel attached to a bamboo or wooden stick or a copper stamp or cap.  Drawing fine lines and intricate patterns with the canting is called batik tulis or written batik.  Wax is  heated in an iron pot called a wajan over a small fire.  The batik artisan takes the canting, warms it in the wajan, and scoops out some liquid batik wax — a combination of paraffin, beeswax, and other ‘secret’ ingredients.  The artisan then blows on the spout to remove air bubbles and starts applying the wax.  This method of drawing or writing with wax has not changed for centuries.

A National & Intangible Treasure

Earliest batiks were made for clothing. The popular waist wrap cloth known as a ‘sarong’ became standard wear for both royalty and common people alike.  Everything from waistcoats to hats and baby wraps were decorated using the batik wax resist method.

Traditional batiks carry special meaning, and are often worn at special events such as the birth of a child, marriage and formal social gatherings. Indonesians believe there is a spirituality or life imbued in each batik; a kind of power towards health, good fortune and more.

Dutch influence and invention

Indonesia was occupied by the Dutch for about 150 years (1800 until about 1942).  During that time, the Dutch influenced everything from the pattern (motif) to the methods of production.  Traditional batiks can take weeks to months to complete, and require 10-20 years of skill before reaching a level of artisan work that produces repeatable results.

Yards of fabrics for everything from curtains to bedding and dresses were desired and a new means of production was needed to reduce both the skill required and the time involved to produce finished goods.

Batik Cap ("chop"): Stamping Wax

The solution for reducing the time to make batiks (as well as the expense) came in the form of a copper stamp, called a Cap (pronounced “chop”).  Caps came in many sizes and shapes and patterns.  Stamping with wax is called batik cap.  Using a cap reduced the production time for a yard of fabric from days to weeks to less than an hour.

Working with copper caps provides the quality and cost-effectiveness to produce batik clothing and home furnishings that look rich and yet are remarkably affordable.