You know you’re in Batik country as soon as you land in Indonesia. It’s available for sale everywhere. The make shift shacks on the beachfront , the small road stores as well as the air conditioned boutiques all carry different kinds of hand crafted batik clothing in a variety of fabrics.Intrigued to learn about the actual technique for this craft I went on to make enquiries about the same.
I was thrilled to find out that there was a Batik centre not too far from my hotel. It was enroute to the Ubud area on the island of Bali. The place comprised of both ikat weavers and batik crafts-persons.We were allowed to visit the smaller Batik workshop along with a guide who knew a smattering of English. She walked us through the whole process.
The Indonesian women sat in bent concentration as they continuously dipped a small tool in hot molten wax to etch out the pencil drawn pattern on the cloth.The instrument which looked like a tiny pipe with a sharp prong is called a canting. It was made of copper and wood ,small enough to facilitate easy gripping between the fingers.This portion which held the wax in the small cup flowed easily into the spout allowing the artist to trace intricate designs in free hand.
The table placed beside the women contained a paraphernalia of items ,essential for this craft. Pieces of ufo shaped solid wax lay in juxtaposition to wooden blocks and dried fruit peels. These dried peels formed the source of natural colours required for dyeing the garment. Pomegranate,papaya and mango peels were among the materials that were most popular.
The process was quite riveting to watch. I had to be careful not to distract the crafter as I watched over her shoulder in fascination. She quickly outlined the designs with the hot bees wax. This wax acts like a resistant to the dyes. When the colour is applied ,the wax,referred to as a dye resist prevents it from spreading to the other areas.Then begins a long drawn out process of washing and dyeing that can take months depending on the number of colours used.
Batik soon gained in popularity worldwide and this led to it being produced in bulk by using carved blocks to print the design using the same wax process.
Batik for me is a happy fabric.It’s synonymous of relaxed holidays and fun times spent in easy camaraderie with loved ones. I think it’s got to do with those flowing silhouettes not to mention the bold bohemian designs!
My first batik from Bali was a linen sarong painted with big pink frangipani against a cerulean backdrop.I love how the lines blur and merge into one another creating that beautiful tye and dye effect.
The tour ended at the Batik store ,next to the workshop. It was overwhelming to be in that huge space filled with Batik garments from end to end.Though the locals say that the hand drawn batik that draws insipiration from nature is more beautiful than the block printed ones,to my eyes,they were all equally enticing.
There is just so much to choose from. Balinese dancers in their elaborate costumes and dramatic poses are featured against a black background ,making it perfect for a wall adornment.
Men’s shirts of every possible hue were hung on stands. A rough cotton shirt with an assortment of leaves in blue,yellow and green seemed just perfect for my son but it turned out a size too small so I settled on one with earthy tones.
My eyes then wandered to some brightly hand painted fabric.A sarong filled with colourful corals and exotic fish reminded me of my daughter and her love for the beach,I just had to buy it for her. Bird of paradise ,chrysanthemums and lotuses on vibrantly coloured stoles made it difficult to settle on one !These make for the nicest gifts when bought from the place of origin.
The staff at the store were friendly and polite making the experience not only a memorable one but one that I would highly recommend to any visitor to Bali.The people here take great pride in their craft.I even dined at a restaurant called Batik in Seminyak where the owner had his walls covered in batik blocks and cloth !
I left the Batik centre feeling happy that the country was supportive of sustaining this centuries old art form.