The origins of this intricate art form are largely
unknown. Evidence of batik work has been found all over the Middle
East, India and Central Asia however, for a long time it has been
most prevalent in Java, Indonesia.
The word batik conjures thoughts of exotic, Oriental textiles,
rich in colour and design. Bright batik cloth can be seen on almost
any beach in the form of sarongs and has been utilized to make shirts,
ties, scarves and even shoes in the fashion industry. Interior decoration
may use batik tablecloths, curtains, placemats and even picture
frames. This versatile and durable textile is being applied to more
areas everyday and not only that, but the process of making batik
is becoming a popular past time with visitors to Phuket.
The origins of this intricate art form are largely unknown. Evidence
of batik work has been found all over the Middle East, India and
Central Asia however, for a long time it has been most prevalent
in Java, Indonesia. When batik was introduced in Java, it was mostly
practiced as a hobby by "fine ladies' and so the ability
to make the exquisite cloth was considered a sign of refinement.
Initially batik cloth was used to make costumes for aristocrats
and royalty and sometimes, particular designs would signify a person's
family, social status or origin.
Ancient batik designs generally showed intricate patterns rather
than the elaborate scenes we see today. The method involved waxing
the cloth to make it dye resistant, then dyeing an un-waxed portion
in a chosen colour. The wax was then removed by plunging the fabric
into boiling water, where it would melt and separate from the fibres.
The batik was then dried out completely, before repeating the whole
procedure for each colour.
Nowadays the process is much the same but a number of design tools
have been invented to ease production. A pola, allows stencils or
patterns to be copied onto the fabric to be used as a guide for
wax application. Mass producers of batik use large copper blocks
to stamp hot wax designs onto the cloth. Alternatively, an artist
may "chant' a wax outline by hand, and for this he will
use a "cant', a copper tipped hollow pen that spills wax
smoothly onto the cotton or silk.
These two methods of making wax outlines allow the dye to be painted
on, just like painting on canvas. By painting the dye onto the fabric,
the artist is able to grade the colours, creating shades and shadows
necessary for more intricate and detailed designs. The batik will
only need to be boiled once to remove the wax, so the colourfast
cloth retains maximum brightness.
The mass production of batik is cost effective and very popular
however, hand painting is still practiced in many parts of the world
and there is an enthusiastic market for this high quality textile.
Some of the finest batik is made in Java where traditionally they
used deep indigo blues and browns to represent Hindu gods. Nowadays
Javanese artists are still heavily influenced by the Hindu religion
using the motifs of the garuda bird, lotus flower and the dragon
Naga. Islamic influences are depicted by more geometric and botanical
In the 17th Century when the Dutch colonized Java, they sent samples
of batik back to Europe where the technique was applied to leather,
ivory, paper and even metal, and with the introduction of German
dyes, the artists could choose from a new, diverse array of colours.
Chinese influenced batik is distinctive. The motifs include dragons,
the phoenix, snakes, lions and flowers. Chinese artists introduced
bright pastel colours and employed the use of beeswax rather than
paraffin wax to improve the quality of the lines.
In Africa, batik was made using a paste consisting of cassava flour,
rice and copper sulfate instead of wax. What a well travelled craft!
From its majestic beginnings in Java, the batik art form spread
throughout India, China, Malaysia and Europe and has gradually became
popular in today's fashion and home decor industries.
The largest producers of batik are Indonesia, and Malaysia, who
adorn batik as their national costume, however Thailand's industry
is growing. A number of batik artists operate in Phuket and most
of them will allow you to design and sometimes even make your own
batik cloth. In addition many 5-star hotels on the island are incorporating
batik art rooms into their hotel facilities. Many shops now sell
batik items depicting cartoon characters, abstract portraits and
various other ethnic designs.The most popular designs sold in Phuket
generally reflect our tropical climate with fish, dolphins, palm
trees and flowers being incorporated into lavish scenes which are
colourful and extremely eye-catching and serve as a perfect token
of Thailand for your loved ones at home.