Phuket variety: The origins of Batik
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phuket Leisure: The colourful world of Batik

 The colourful world of Batik

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 designs.

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.


- July Issue, 2002

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