The World of Javanese Batik – Dragons and Clouds

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The differences in colouring and design were considerable. In Central Java

The traditional designs catalogued at this time numbered over 1,000. And the regional styles numbered more than 20 – primarily in Central Java (Yogya and Solo) and along the north coast (Indramayu, Cirebon, Tegal, Pekalongan, Demak, Kudus, Rembang, Lassem, Tuban, Gresik, Madura). In Central Java, batik making was the preserve of aristoctraic women, whereas on the north coast it was an aindustry pursued by Chinese, Arab and even by Indo-Ducth artians.

The differences in colouring and design were considerale. In Central Java, certain motifs were set aside exclusively for the court and members of the aristocracy. These in cluded the kawung (large ovals arranged in fours like leaves of a clover), the ceplok (an eight-pointed flower motif deriving from the Indian patola), the sawat or garuda wings (of a mythical Hindu bird), and the parang rusak barong or “broken sword” motig that consists of diagonal rows of interlocking scrolls, to name but a few.

Two primary colours were used: indigo and soga (a brown dye obtained from the bark of a tree) though these came in many shades and elaborate dye receipts called for the addition of substances like plain sugar, bananas, fermented cassava and chicken meat.

On the north coast, yellows, mauves, ochres, green and pale blues were more popular and the motifs showed Chinese, European and Islamic influence. In Cirebon, a Chinese clouds motif that symbolizes mystical energy was incorporated in all of the courtly batik designs that in one of the most famous motifs, the mega mendung or “menancing rain clouds,” they appear in bright, contrasting shades of red, blue, pink or green, like some supernatural strom. Chinese dragons and phoenixes appeared together with Hindu nagas and elephants and European lions, and some central Javanese motifs were executed in uncharacteristically bright colours. But the most popular design were of European origin – bouquets of the flowers with hovering humming  bird, or just bird alone – elegant, longlegged stroks and herons.

Less well konow but interisting from a technical point of view are the related dyeing techiques of planti and tritik. Both are methods of tie dyeing and are hence related to ikat expect that the cloth is dyed after being woven: plangi is produced by tying or pinching a spot of fabric with dye-resistant fibre so that a circular pattersn results; tritik involves stitching a cloth to create a linear pattern. The two methods are often combined with batik in a single scarf, sash or headwrap. Silk was for merly used, and several deep colours – burgundy, indigo and yellow would create shimmering, rainbow like effects. The scarves worn by Central Javanese court dancers are fine examples of plangi and tritik, techniques also practised extensively in Bali.

It is to say that at the turn of the century, everyone in Java wore batik. Women wore it more than men, perhaps, because the female sarung and kebaya costumes required it wheras men in important positions wore European cloths to the office. But once at home everyone would slip into a comfortable cotton sarung. The advent of batik cap (batik produced with the use of a wax stamp –cap) revitalized the industry during the 1890s because even the peasansts were then able to afford this cruder, mass-produced product. Batik was also widely exported from Java to other island as well as to Singapore and Malay, where local Chinese and Malay women still wear Javanese batik.

–> Read Also : The World of Javanese Batik – Batik Trends

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