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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

History of Batik

Evidence of early examples of batik have been found in the Far East, Middle East, Central Asia and India from over 2000 years ago. It is conceivable that these areas developed independently, without the influence from trade or cultural exchanges. However, it is more likely that the craft spread from Asia to the islands of the Malay Archipelago and west to the Middle East through the caravan route. Batik was practised in China as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). These were silk batiks and these have also been discovered in Nara, Japan in the form of screens and ascribed to the Nara period (AD 710-794). It is probable that these were made by Chinese artists. They are decorated with trees, animals, flute players, hunting scenes and stylised mountains.

No evidence of very old cotton batiks have been found in India but frescoes in the Ajunta caves depict head wraps and garments which could well have been batiks. In Java and Bali temple ruins contain figures whose garments are patterned in a manner suggestive of batik. By 1677 there is evidence of a considerable export trade, mostly on silk from China to Java, Sumatra, Persia and Hindustan. In Egypt linen and occasionally woollen fabrics have been excavated bearing white patterns on a blue ground and are the oldest known and date from the 5th century A.D. They were made in Egypt, possibly Syria. In central Africa resist dyeing using cassava and rice paste has existed for centuries in the Yoruba tribe of Southern Nigeria and Senegal.

Indonesia, most particularly the island of Java, is the area where batik has reached the greatest peak of accomplishment. The Dutch brought Indonesian craftsmen to teach the craft to Dutch warders in several factories in Holland from 1835. The Swiss produced imitation batik in the early 1940s. A wax block form of printing was developed in Java using a cap.

By the early 1900s the Germans had developed mass production of batiks. There are many examples of this form of batik as well as hand-produced work in many parts of the world today. Computerisation of batik techniques is a very recent development.

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Central Java,at the heart of the batik art

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Batik is generally thought of as the most quintessentially Indonesian textile. Motifs of flowers, twinning plants, leaves buds, flowers, birds, butterflies, fish, insects and geometric forms are rich in symbolic association and variety; there are about three thousand recorded batik patterns


The patterns to be dyed into the the clothe are drawn with a canting, a wooden 'pen' fitted with a reservoir for hot, liquid wax. In batik workshops, circles of women sit working at clothes draped over frames, and periodically replenish their supply of wax by dipping their canting into a central vat. Some draw directly on the the cloth from memory; others wax over faint charcoal lines.
This method of drawing patterns in wax on fine machine-woven cotton was practiced as a form of meditation by the female courtiers of Central Java; traditionally, batik tulis (tulis means 'write' in Indonesian) is produced by women.


In the 19th century, the application of waxed patterns with a large copper stamp or cap saved the batik industry from competition with cheap printed European cloth. The semi-industrial nature of cap work allows it to be performed by men. Batik motifs recall characters from the Hindu epics, plants, animals, sea creatures and gamalan melodies.


What is Batik?

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  imageBatik is both an art and a craft, which is becoming more popular and well known in the west as a wonderfully creative medium. The art of decorating cloth in this way, using wax and dye, has been practised for centuries. In Java, Indonesia, batik is part of an ancient tradition, and some of the finest batik cloth in the world is still made there. The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot.

To make a batik, selected areas of the cloth are blocked out by brushing or drawing hot wax over them, and the cloth is then dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and remain the original colour. This process of waxing and dyeing can be repeated to create more elaborate and colourful designs. After the final dyeing the wax is removed and the cloth is ready for wearing or showing.

Contemporary batik, while owing much to the past, is markedly different from the more traditional and formal styles. For example, the artist may use etching, discharge dyeing, stencils, different tools for waxing and dyeing, wax recipes with different resist values and work with silk, cotton, wool, leather, paper or even wood and ceramics.

Batik is historically the most expressive and subtle of the resist methods. The ever widening range of techniques available offers the artist the opportunity to explore a unique process in a flexible and exciting way.image