Yet the batik proccess as we know it may not bevery old. Scholars debate whether the waxresist dyeing proccess was brought to Java from India, where it has been known for centuries, or whether it developed here independently. An antecedent for batik might be the kain simbut of West Java, produced by smearing rice-paste on cloth as a dye-resist. Others have said that the Javanese kain kembangan, produced by tie-dyeing, led ultimately to the use of wax and resin resists.
Names for various batik motifs have been traced to javanese literaly works dating from the 12th century. But the fcat remains that the terms batik and tulis (as applied to textile design) do not appear in Javanese court records until the Islamic period, when Indian traders were already active in the archipelago.
No one disputes, however, that Javanese batik is by far the finest in the world. The reason is that there developed in Java, possibly in the 17th or 18th century, a tool known as the canting – a pen used to apply molten wax to cloth and capable of executing very fine designs. Together with this, a complex technology of wax and resin compounding, of dye preparation and fixing, and a whole repertoire of elaborate motifs were necessary for Javanese batik to became what it is. Fine, tighlty woven cloth was also a prerequisite to high quality tulis work produced with a canting, and this was always imported until very recently.
The Batik Process: Some batik is produced on island other than Java-Sumatera, sulawesi and Bali, for example – but none can really compare. The reason is quite simple: fine batik requires extraordinary patience. beginning with a white silk or cotton cloth, the first step is to sketch a design. Areas not to be coloured in the first dyeing must then be covered with wax. depending on the delicacy of the design this can take hundreds of hours of painstaking labour. The clouth is then immersed in a prepared dyes solution and dried – when natural dyes were used, long repeated immersions and dryings are required and a single dyeing might be months. Next the clouth must be re-waxed in preparatio for the second dyeing. Sometimes this is accomplished by boiling out all the wax and re-waxing the centre cloth, but sometimes it involves scraping certain areas and adding wax to others. The dyeing and re-waxing process is then repeated as many times as is necessary to produce the number of colours required.
The art of batik making is generally assumed to have reached its zenith at the turn of this century. There are a number of explanations: the population of Java had increased dramatically during the 19th century so that labour was abundant and cheap; secondly, there was a great demand for quality batik fabrics among affluent Javanese, Chinese, Arab and even Ducth wurban residents; thirdly tehre was a steady supply of fine, important shoes, and cottons from abroad; and last there were many individual artists devoted to producing the very finest possible batik.
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