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Canting Batik - traditional hand batiking tool from Indonesia

In response to a request from a visitor to this site .. we've put together this page on the Canting Batik ... the traditional Indonesian tool that is used to apply wax in fine dots and lines on a cloth. Wherever the wax is applied, the cloth resists the next dye bath that it is put in .. leaving the white dot/line (or another color if the cloth has already been dyed).

Though the size of most canting are similar .. the difference is in the "tip" that allows the wax to flow from the "bowl". Bigger holes in the tip allow wider lines and bigger dots.
Looking down on the top of the "bowl" where the wax is held prior to application to the cloth.
This closeup shows the various sizes of opening holes in the tips.
Each wax dot is applied one by one by the canting.
The canting points to the curvy lines which it created in this finished piece of batik.
The canting points to the small dots it created in this finished piece.

Batik Canting, A Unique Art Form Using Batik Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housin

bu Hartati Ongkosutjahjo learned about the beauty of batik early in life, but she went on to use the designs to create something totally new. Her shop in Pondok Indah shows beautiful, quilted wall hangings and other unique items using the timeless designs of antique batik.

Batik Canting had its roots in Hartati's childhood. As a child she would visit her grandmother in Pekalongan who sold the distinctive brightly colored Pekalongan batik Beautiful wall hanging made from antique batik fabricfrom her home. Relatives and friends from throughout Java often came to Hartati's home in Jakarta to sell batik through her mother. Throughout her childhood she saw her grandmother, mother and other relatives wearing batik for everyday clothing.

These friends and relatives instilled in Hartati a love of the fabric with their many discussions about batik. She gained a deep knowledge of the traditional patterns and motifs distinctive of both the Chinese-influenced designs of the northern coastal cities of Pekalongan and Cirebon, and also the traditional darker colors and centuries-old designs of the sultanates of Solo and Yogyakarta in southern Central Java. Everyday exposure to the beauty of batik was a part of her childhood education.

Years later, after enjoying a career as a civil engineer, Hartati established a business with friends which allowed her to express her fascination with batik through the creation of intricate wall hangings utilizing the antique batik patterns she grew to love in her childhood.

Batik Canting is born

Hartati, together with her artistically inclined husband Bapak Johanes and two colleagues, Beautiful wall hangings made from batikLila Noerhayati and Kirono Arundatie - all of whom were also engineers, established Batik Canting in 1998. Each partner specializes in different home accessories, with Hartati creating the wall hangings. The creative synergy of their collaborative efforts has resulted in a truly beautiful one-of-a-kind home accessories shop.

Batik tulis designs are painstakingly created by hand with a canting, the pen-like applicator which is used to apply the wax to the cloth to create the intricate designs. The name, Batik Canting, was taken from the fact that they only use batik tulis in their creations.

Products offered by the talented foursome include one-of-a-kind wall hangings, tablecloths, runners, cushion covers, rugs, bedcovers, place mats, framed designs, purses and curtains. Fabric allowing, various items can be coordinated to create an overall look for any room in your home.

Some of the best selling items are one-of-a-kind wall hangings and mini-jackets, which are hung by wooden rods through the armholes. Made of old batik, the designs are quilted and various accessories are attached to complete the artistic creation. These accessories include other types of traditional fabrics, antique coins, semi-precious gemstones and hammered or molded brass ornaments. Batik Canting also sells the poles and wall fixtures to hang both the mini jackets and other wall hangings. The ends of the poles are decorated with hammered brass fittings and tassels can be purchased to hang at the ends for added effect.

Wall hangings range in price from Rp 500,000 to Rp 2,000,000, depending on the value of the batik, the size and intricacy of the piece and the accessories used.

Batik Canting products have gained distinction through international exhibits in Berlin and Japan and closer to home at Jakarta bazaars and exhibitions in foreign embassies and handicraft shows. You'll be able to view Batik Canting products at upcoming Christmas bazaars organized by expatriate women's groups in Jakarta.

How the wall hangings are made

Hartati's creative process focuses first on the concept around each individual piece. As her concept gains form, she looks at the design of the fabric she'll use and begins to plan her creation. Drawing the pattern on paper, she chooses the sections of the fabrics to utilize, selects accessories and assembles the piece. One of the biggest challenges is the difficult task of lining up the intricate patterns within the fabric so that the design achieves the artistic effect she is seeking.

All hangings utilize batik kain, a 2 1/4-meter length of fabric, which is traditionally worn asBeautiful wall hangings made from batik a skirt-like item of clothing. In the traditional Javanese women's clothing ensemble called kain kebaya, the batik kain is wrapped from the waist around the hips and legs, and worn with a traditional kebaya top.

The value of old batik far surpasses the newer batik designs in Hartati's mind. The colors are faded and the fabric is soft. The use of these old patterns is a special mission for Hartati, as she strives to build appreciation for older batik motifs.

Old batik fabric is becoming increasingly difficult to find and the search for the distinctive timeless beauty of the faded batik reaches far into Java to find quality fabrics in good condition. Hartati uses both the traditional muted colors of batik from Yogyakarta and Solo, as well as the more colorful motifs of the Pesisir batik, from the northern Java coastal towns of Cirebon and Pekalongan.

Wall hangings and mini-jackets are complemented by the creative use of natural materials including shells, dried fruit, grasses, fibers, leaves, bone, coconut shell, wood and fish teeth which all add to the overall designs in unusual ways. The more complicated the design, the more challenged Hartati is by its creation. She says she is constantly pushing herself with new medium, new styles and new patterns.

Can you make special orders? Requests for particular patterns would be almost impossible to fill due to the difficulties in obtaining quality fabrics in sufficient quantity. Thus, Hartati prefers to sell her existing creations and does not accept special orders.

The Batik Canting Shop

Batik Canting products are showcased in Hartati's home, which is a treat in itself to visit. She and her talented husband have adorned their eclectic southwest-style stucco home in Beauitful bags made from batikthe residential area of Pondok Indah with distinctively Indonesian artifacts, antique ceramic plates, skulls of indigenous deer, paintings and crafts. The open patio at the rear of their home is the setting for the displays of exquisite wall hangings.

You'll be in for a truly special treat if you are allowed to see Hartati's own private collection of antique batik. She still cherishes the childhood memories of the special pagi-sore kain worn by her mother and grandmother. Lovingly preserved against the ravages of time, Hartati treasures these special heirlooms of her cultural heritage and her childhood in a batik trading family.

Batik Canting creations expand the uses and popularity of traditional textiles as their creators use their artistic genius to show us that batik can be so much more than just clothing.

Batik Designs: A Cultural Development Influenced by Changes in Time & Environment

One of the fascinating characteristics of Indonesian batik is the changes in style, motif and color which have come about through exposure to various foreign cultures. Throughout Indonesian history, each time the rich batik tradition has come into contact with foreigner traders or colonial rulers, they have influenced the development of batik. Some of the more famous results are described below:

Batik Kraton

Batik Kraton is regarded as the basic batik of Java. It is rich in Hindu-influenced motifs that have influenced the courts of Java since the 5th century, and later on influenced by the culture of Islam. The Hindus introduced the sacred bird - Garuda, the sacred flower - lotus, the dragon - Naga and the tree of life. Islam, since it forbids the depiction of humans or animals, brought stylized and modified ornaments as symbols, i.e., flowers and geometric designs.

As a specific attire in the dress code of the courts of Java, Batik Kraton is easily recognized through its sub-divisions, Batik Kasunanan Surakarta, Batik Kasultanan Yogyakarta, Batik Pura Mangkunegaran and Batik Pura Pakualaman. Over time, changes and modifications distinguished Batik Mangkunegaran from Batik Kasunanan, even though both originated from the same source. Batik Pakualaman, from the city of Yogyakarta, originated from both Kasunan and Kasultanan design traditions and is more unique because the whole process was completed in Surakarta.

Batik Belanda

Even though Chinese traders arrived earlier in Java than the Europeans, their influence on batik was evident in a later period. Batik Belanda, literally Dutch Batik, appeared as early as 1840, decades before the appearance of Batik Cina, Chinese Batik. Records show that European settlers on the northern coast of Java started their batik producing activities in the mid-19th century. They pioneered a new era of international enrichment which is still visible in modern day Indonesian batik. Reaching its peak of creativity in 1890-1910, Batik Belanda is clearly recognized through various works of arts named after the great designers. Amongst the most famous of these are Batik Van Zuylen from Elize Charlotte van Zuylen, Batik Van Oosterom from Catharina Carolina van Oosterom, Batik Prankemon from Carolina Josephina von Franquemont, Batik Metz from Lies Metzlar, Batik Yans from A.J.F. Yans, and Batik Coenrad from Coenrad of Pacitan, East Java.

Batik Cina

Highly influenced by the Chinese culture, emerging decades after Batik Belanda, Batik Cina is easily recognized by the vast range of uniquely Chinese motifs including, dragons, phoenix, snakes, lions, traditional Chinese flowers and designs taken from chinaware. It is also easily recognized through its bright as well as pastel colors. In its effort to penetrate the Surakarta and Yogyakarta markets, Batik Cina appeared in two derivatives, Batik Dua Negri and Batik Tiga Negri, processed in the north coastal Pesisiran, Surakarta and Yogyakarta in Central Java. Batik Cina is still in production in the coastal cities of Pekalongan (Oey Soe Tjoen in Kedungwuni), Cirebon, Kudus and Demak. Batik Hokokai

Especially designed for the Japanese during the period that the Japanese occupied Indonesia (1942-1945) the specific designs of Batik Hokokai, which appealed to Japanese tastes, attracted Chinese consumers in Java and Malaya as well. Highly influenced by Japanese design in motifs and coloring, fine intricate backgrounds enhanced the appearance of beautifully designed flowers. Batik Hokokai was mostly styled as Kain Pagi Sore batik with the colors and patterns different on each half of the fabric length. Favorite motifs included Parang and Lereng.

Batik Indonesia

Freedom from Dutch colonial rule introduced new designs to Indonesian batik. In the early 50s, President Soekarno encouraged the creation of a new style of batik, popularly called Batik Indonesia. A symbiosis between various styles of batik, especially of the principalities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta and the north coast of Java, which still utilized soga brown as the basic color, Batik Indonesia was developed utilizing bright colors. Some appeared in a totally new design, i.e., Cendrawasih, Sruni, Sandang Pangan, Udang, while still using the traditional processing system. Batik Indonesia is also called Batik Modern.

Batik Sudagaran

An important genre in the development of batik, Batik Sudagaran emerged as early as the end of the 19th century in the principalities of Surakarta and Yogyakarta. Produced by sudagar or batik merchants, it is easily recognized through the modified classic ornaments styled to the taste of the merchants. Some of the popular creations are the patchwork style Tambal, Parang with the insertion of snail-like motifs, Lereng filled with extra fine spirals called Ukel and Semen that shows high quality workmanship.

Batik Pesisir

The distinctive designs of batik pesisir are those from the northern coastal cities of Java, including Pekalongan and Cirebon. The designs show Chinese influence through their use of brighter colors, flowers and cloud motifs.

Kebaya - Indonesian Traditional Dress for Women

History of the Kebaya

There is much speculation as to where the kebaya could have originated from. There are some who say that the kebaya originated in the Middle East, while others argue that it may have come from nearby China. Derived from the Arabic word kaba meaning “clothing” and introduced to Indonesia via the Portuguese language, the term kebaya has come to refer to a garment whose origins appear to be a blouse. It was first worn in Indonesia at some time during the 15th and 16th centuries. This garment is similar to what is described as a “long, fitted, flared kebaya known as kebaya panjang6, worn in the 16th century by Portuguese women arriving on the south-western coast of Malaysia, situated across the Malacca Straits from Sumatra, in northwestern Indonesia.

Many sources also cite Chinese influences on clothing of the time, one source comparing the kebaya to an open-fronted long-sleeved tunic worn by women of the Ming Dynasty. The introduction of this kind of dress were accredited to two major occurrences of this time; the emerging influence of Islam and the arrival of the Europeans to the archipelago. Whether it was Arabia or China that brought us the wonderful kebaya, there is no denying how quick the use of this garment was made uniquely Indonesian and spread from one island and ethnic group to another which its own regional variations. This quick diffusion of the use of the kebaya was also linked to the spice trade that was happening during this time in history.

Origins of the Kebaya

After Dutch colonization, the kebaya took on a new role as the formal dress for the European women in the country. During this time, the kebaya was made mostly from mori fabric. Modifications made to this traditional costume later introduced the use of silk and embroidery to add design and color. The most dominant form of kebaya worn on the islands of Java and Bali today, can be visibly traced to the kebaya worn in Java and Sunda from the late 19th - early 20th century onwards.

Many of the easily recognizable features of today’s kebaya – a tight fitting blouse that enhances the torso of the woman; the fold-back collarless neck and front opening; long sleeves; and the type of semi-transparent fabric – are evident in the kebaya of the past century. Traditional kebaya required the torso of the women to be wrapped with a long piece of cloth called a stagen. Women of higher social status would have help in wrapping their torso with the stagen however women who were not so fortunate to have help could dress themselves by tying the end of the stagen to a post and literally wrapping themselves into it.

The semi-transparent kebaya blouse was then worn overtop of the stagen. This blouse was fastened with a brooch rather than buttons and buttonholes. It was customary to combine the kebaya with kain – a length of unstitched cloth worn on the lower part of the body, often (and incorrectly) referred to in the English language as sarong. This kain was wrapped around the body with the pleats being placed at the front of the body. Traditinally this kain was dipped in a cornstach solution and then carefully folded by hand into pleats and pressed to produced the crisp look that was desired.

Indigenous Dress in the Making of a Nation

Considering the enormous historical – political and social – shifts that have occurred in Indonesia during the last century, the form of the kebaya, has remained relatively unchanged. Its function and meaning however, in contrast to its form, has seen major changes in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia, operating to meet different groups’ political agendas, social needs and aspirations. The kebaya has come to symbolize the emancipation of women in Indonesia through a representation linking the kebaya to the 19th century “proto-feminist” figure of Raden A. Kartini.

During the 19th century, and prior to the Nationalist movement of the early 20th century, the kebaya had enjoyed a period of being worn by Indonesian, Eurasian, and European women alike, with slight style variations. During this time distinguishing class and status was important and produced variants of the basic costume. The kebaya of Javanese royalty were constructed of silk, velvet and brocade; Javanese women belonging to the commoner class wore figured cottons; the kebaya worn by Eurasian women was of white cotton trimmed with handmade European lace during the day, and of black silk in the evening; while the Dutch women preferred a shorter white kebaya. It was even possible for Dutch women planning to travel to the Dutch East Indies to purchase their kebaya in the Netherlands prior to leaving.

Bali’s Kebaya

In Bali, the kebaya has a much more recent history. The Dutch, whose occupation of Bali began as late as 1849 in the north of the island, and whose direct rule did not begin until 1882, are believed to have enforced the wearing of the kebaya. At the time Balinese women’s breasts were uncovered, except for formal and ceremonial occasions, during which a sabuk might be wound tightly around the upper torso, covering the breasts but leaving the shoulders and arms exposed. The women of Buleleng, the regency of northern Bali, therefore would have been some of the first to adopt the kebaya.

Other sources however, do not locate the kebaya being in use until the early 1920s by which time it was in full use in other areas of Indonesia. It is via the royalty and the palaces that the kebaya appears to have been disseminated out into the community. New dress codes adopted by members of the royalty returning to Bali from Java were passed down through the caste system. Yet despite the fact that clothing is often used to separate class, there seems to be no evidence of the time to indicate that there were any rules delineating styles of kebaya according to caste. Differences in kebaya cloth were more likely to be an outcome of differences in wealth.

Emerging as National Dress

By the 1920s however, and with the full emergence of the nationalist struggle in Indonesia, European women stopped wearing the kebaya because it was identified with typical Indonesian attire. For the European colonizers the Kebaya had become associated with Indonesian nationalism.

During the period of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia (1942-1945), educated Indonesian women prisoners-of-war chose to wear kain-kebaya rather than the western dress allocated to them as prison dress. A different set of political conditions produced a reversal of meaning. In this situation the women employed a cultural code (of traditional dress) to assert their political position, differentiating themselves from their European women that were also prisoners-of-war.

During the Proclamation of Independence by President Sukarno on August 17, 1945, the only woman in attendance, Ibu Trimutri was wearing kain kebaya. This image helped transform the kebaya from mere traditional dress, elevating it to the status of national dress for Indonesia women.

From the Palace to the Street - Popular and Traditional Images

While the kebaya is worn by a wide range of women from the former President Megawati to the jamu street vendor, the kebaya could never be claimed to operate as a social leveller. Women who sell jamu (traditional herbal medicine), from young to old, and right across the islands of Java and Bali are wearing kebaya. Today, in Indonesia the image of a woman wearing kebaya sells a variety of products from traditional herbs to Betadine to fried chicken. As an icon the women in her traditional clothing - kebaya - sells tradition and all the purity and goodness belonging to Indonesian cultural traditions. Perhaps she also evokes an element of nostalgia for urban consumers. Traditional as a way of life, is often less about the differences between rural and urban settings, than about socio-economic and class distinctions. For women 50 years and older, whose occupations and way of life come to distinguish them as traditional, traditional clothing of kain-kebaya is their choice of daily dress. These women, the majority of whom belong to the lower socio-economic group, often work in traditional settings such as markets, are employed as house servants or work in the agricultural sector.

Today’s Kebaya

If we try to define what a kebaya is, it may prove to be difficult as it is constantly changing to reflect the changing times and fashions that Indonesia is experiencing. Nonetheless, it is possible to make some generalizations about the kebaya. Most Kebaya are made from a lace brocade. Most kebaya fabric uses a floral motif either printed or woven into the textile and its length can fall somewhere from above the waist to below the knee. It usually, but not always, has long sleeves. It is usually fastened at the front, and if not, then gives a semblance of doing so. Some variations of the kebaya will use a batik sash, which is coordinated with the kain, draped over the shoulder as an added accessory.

Although women in the market can be seen wearing kebaya, we can also see exquisite variations of them in government gatherings and parties and high society social functions. The beauty of this national dress is undeniable. Some of the most influential women in Indonesia are married in kebaya that can be described as “works of art” with their hand embroidered detailing and beading. Designers such as Ami Amianto have helped to promote the kebaya not only as a important part of Indonesian clothing history but as a very beautiful item of clothing that Indonesian women are proud to wear.

So the next time you see a women wearing a kebaya you will understand that she is not just wearing a functional piece of clothing but she is also wearing a symbol of Indoneia’s cultural history which represents national symbolism and high fashion too!

Batik, Traditional Fabric of Indonesia

It would be impossible to visit or live in Indonesia and not be exposed to one of the country's most highly developed art forms, batik. On your first visit to a batik store or factory you will undoubtedly experience an overwhelming stimulation of the senses - due to the many colors, patterns and the actual smell of batik. Only through repeated visits and a bit of study will the types of designs and their origins become apparent.

The word batik is thought to be derived from the word 'ambatik' which translated means 'a cloth with little dots'. The suffix 'tik' means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. Batik may also originate from the Javanese word 'tritik' which describes a resist process for dying where the patterns are reserved on the textiles by tying and sewing areas prior to dying, similar to tie dye techniques. Another Javanese phase for the mystical experience of making batik is “mbatik manah” which means “drawing a batik design on the heart”.

A Brief History

Although experts disagree as to the precise origins of batik, samples of dye resistance patterns on cloth can be traced back 1,500 years ago to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa from past centuries. Although in these countries people were using the technique of dye resisting decoration, within the textile realm, none have developed batik to its present day art form as the highly developed intricate batik found on the island of Java in Indonesia.

King Kertajasa East Java 1294-1309Although there is mention of 'fabrics highly decorated' in Dutch transcripts from the 17th century, most scholars believe that the intricate Javanese batik designs would only have been possible after the importation of finely woven imported cloth, which was first imported to Indonesia from India around the 1800s and afterwards from Europe beginning in 1815. Textile patterns can be seen on stone statues that are carved on the walls of ancient Javanese temples such as Prambanan (AD 800), however there is no conclusive evidence that the cloth is batik. It could possibly be a pattern that was produced with weaving techniques and not dying. What is clear is that in the 19th century batik became highly developed and was well ingrained in Javanese cultural life.

Some experts feel that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty. Certainly it's royal nature was clear as certain patterns were reserved to be worn only by royalty from the Sultan's palace. Princesses and noble women may have provided the inspiration for the highly refined design sense evident in traditional patterns. It is highly unlikely though that they would be involved in any more than the first wax application. Most likely, the messy work of dyeing and subsequent waxings was left to court artisans who would work under their supervision.

Javanese royalty were known to be great patrons of the arts and provided the support necessary to develop many art forms, such as silver ornamentation, wayang kulit (leather puppets) and gamelan orchestras. In some cases the art forms overlap. The Javanese dalang (puppeteer) not only was responsible for the wayang puppets but was also Tambil Miring Designan important source of batik patterns. Wayang puppets are usually made of goat skin, which is then perforated and painted to create the illusion of clothing on the puppet. Used puppets were often sold to eager ladies who used the puppets as guides for their batik patterns. They would blow charcoal through the holes that define the patterns of clothing on the puppets, in order to copy the intricate designs onto the cloth.

Other scholars disagree that batik was only reserved as an art form for royalty, as they also feel its use was prevalent with the rakyat, the people. It was regarded an important part of a young ladies accomplishment that she be capable of handling a canting (the pen-like instrument used to apply wax to the cloth) with a reasonable amount of skill, certainly as important as cookery and other housewifery arts to Central Javanese women.

Selection and Preparation of the Cloth for Batik

Natural materials such as cotton or silk are used for the cloth, so that it can absorb the wax that is applied in the dye resisting process. The fabrics must be of a high thread count (densely woven). It is important that cloth of high quality have this high thread count so that the intricate design qualities of batik can be maintained.

Applying wax with a canting to create BatikThe cloth that is used for batik is washed and boiled in water many times prior to the application of wax so that all traces of starches, lime, chalk and other sizing materials are removed. Prior to the implementation of modern day techniques, the cloth would have been pounded with a wooden mallet or ironed to make it smooth and supple so it could best receive the wax design. With the finer machine-made cotton available today, the pounding or ironing processes can be omitted. Normally men did this step in the batik process.

Strict industry standards differentiate the different qualities of the cloth used today, which include Primissima (the best) and Prima. The cloth quality is often written on the edge of the design. A lesser quality cloth which is often used in Blaco.

Batik Design Tools

Although the art form of batik is very intricate, the tools that are used are still very simple. The canting, believed to be a purely Javanese invention, is a small thin wall spouted copper container (sometimes called a wax pen) that is connected to a short bamboo handle. Normally it is approximately 11 cm. in length. The copper container is filled with melted wax and the artisan then uses the canting to draw the design on the cloth.

Canting have different sizes of spouts (numbered to correspond to the size) to achieve varied design effects. The spout can vary from 1 mm in diameter for very fine detailed work to wider spouts used to fill in large design areas. Dots and parallel lines may be drawn with canting that have up to 9 spouts. Sometimes a wad of cotton is fastened over the mouth of the canting or attached to a stick that acts as a brush to fill in very large areas.

For close-up pictures of canting.


Wajan is used to melt the waxThe wajan is the container that holds the melted wax. It looks like a small wok. Normally it is made of iron or earthenware. The wajan is placed on a small brick charcoal stove or a spirit burner called an 'anglo'. The wax is kept in a melted state while the artisan is applying the wax to the cloth.


Different kinds and qualities of wax are used in batik. Common waxes used for batik consist of a mixture of beeswax, used for its malleability, and paraffin, used for its friability. Resins can be added to increase adhesiveness and animal fats create greater liquidity.

Blowing into the Canting keeps the wax flowing freelyThe best waxes are from the Indonesian islands of Timor, Sumbawa and Sumatra; three types of petroleum-based paraffin (white, yellow and black) are used. The amounts mixed are measured in grams and vary according to the design. Wax recipes can be very closely guarded secrets. Varying colors of wax make it possible to disguise different parts of the pattern through the various dying stages. Larger areas of the pattern are filled in with wax that is cheaper quality and the higher quality wax is used on the more intricately detailed sections of the design.

The wax must be kept at the proper temperature. A wax that is too cool will clog the spout of the canting. A wax that is too hot will flow too quickly and be uncontrollable. The artisan will often blow into the spout of the canting before applying wax to the cloth in order to clear the canting of any obstructions.


Cap utilize copper string to make various designsCreating batik is a very time consuming craft. To meet growing demands and make the fabric more affordable to the masses, in the mid-19th century the . cap. (copper stamp - pronounced chop) was developed. This invention enabled a higher volume of batik production compared to the traditional method which entailed the tedious application of wax by hand with a canting.

Each cap is a copper block that makes up a design unit. Cap are made of 1.5 cm wide copper stripes that are bent into the shape of the design. Smaller pieces of wire are used for the dots. When complete, the pattern of copper strips is attached to the handle.

The cap must be precisely made. This is especially true if the pattern is to be stamped on both sides of the fabric. It is imperative that both sides of the cap are identical so that pattern will be consistent.

Sometimes cap are welded between two grids like pieces of copper that will make a base for the top and theApplying wax with cap bottom. The block is cut in half at the center so the pattern on each half is identical. Cap vary in size and shape depending on the pattern they are needed for. It is seldom that a cap will exceed 24 cm in diameter, as this would make the handling too difficult.

Men usually handle the application of wax using cap. A piece of cloth that involves a complicated design could require as many as ten sets of cap. The usage of cap, as opposed to canting, to apply the wax has reduced the amount of time to make a cloth.

Today, batik quality is defined by cap or tulis, the second meaning hand-drawn designs which use a canting, or kombinasi, a combination of the two techniques.


Traditional colors for Central Javanese batik were made from natural ingredients and consisted primarily of beige, blue, brown and black.

The oldest color that was used in traditional batik making was blue. The color was made from the leaves of the Indigo plant. The leaves were mixed with molasses sugar and lime and left to stand overnight. Sometimes sap from the Tinggi tree was added to act as a fixing agent. Lighter blue was achieved by leaving the cloth in the dye bath for short periods of time. For darker colors, the cloth would be left in the dye bath for days and may have been submerged up to 8 - 10 times a day.

In traditional batik, the second color applied was a brown color called soga. The color could range from light yellow to a dark brown. The dye came from the bark of the Soga tree. Another color that was traditionally used was a dark red color called mengkuda. This dye was created from the leaves of the Morinda Citrifolia.

The final hue depended on how long the cloth was soaked in the dye bath and how often it was dipped. Skilled artisans can create many variations of these traditional colors. Aside from blue, green would be achieved by mixing blue with yellow; purple was obtained by mixing blue and red. The soga brown color mixed with indigo would produce a dark blue-black color.

Design Process

The outline of the pattern is blocked out onto the cloth, traditionally with charcoal or graphite. Traditional batik designs utilize patterns handed down over the generations. It is very seldom that an artisan is so skilled that he can work from memory and would not need to draw an outline of the pattern before applying the wax. Often designs are traced from stencils or patterns called pola. Another method of tracing a pattern onto a cloth is by laying the cloth on a glass table that is illuminated from below which casts a shadow of the pattern onto the cloth. The shadow is then traced with a pencil. In large batik factories today, men usually are in charge of drawing the patterns onto the cloth. Click here to see the step-by-step process of making batik.


Once the design is drawn out onto the cloth it is then ready to be waxed. Wax is applied to the cloth over the areas Applying wax with a Cantingof the design that the artisan wishes to remain the original color of the cloth. Normally this is white or cream.

Female workers sit on a low stool or on a mat to apply the wax with a canting. The fabric that they are working on is draped over light bamboo frames called gawangan to allow the freshly applied wax to cool and harden. The wax is heated in the wajan until it is of the desired consistency. The artisan then dips her canting into the wax to fill the bowl of the canting.

Artisans use the wax to retrace the pencil outline on the fabric. A small drop cloth is kept on the woman. s lap to protect her from hot dripping wax. The stem of the canting is held with the right hand in a horizontal position to prevent any accidental spillage, which greatly reduces the value of the final cloth. The left hand is placed behind the fabric for support. The spout does not touch the fabric, but it held just above the area the artisan is working on. To ensure the pattern is well defined, batik is waxed on both sides. True tulis batik is reversible, as the pattern should be identical on both sides.

The most experienced artisans normally do first waxings. Filling in of large areas may be entrusted to less experienced artisans. Mistakes are very difficult to correct. If wax is accidentally spilt on the cloth, the artisan will try to remove the unwanted wax by sponging it with hot water. Then a heated iron rod with a curved end is used to try and lift off the remaining wax. Spilled wax can never be completely removed so it is imperative that the artisans are very careful.

Applying wax with a copper capIf the cap method is utilized, this procedure is normally done by men. The cap are dipped into melted wax. Just under the surface of the melted wax is a folded cloth approximately 30 centimeters square. When this cloth is saturated with wax it acts like a stamp pad. The cap is pressed into the fabric until the design side of the cap is coated with wax. The saturated cap is then stamped onto the fabric, leaving the design of the cap. This process is repeated until the entire cloth is covered. Often cap and canting methods are combined on the same piece of cloth.

Better quality batik may be waxed utilizing canting in one part of Indonesia and then sent to another part of Indonesia where the cap part of the process is completed. On better quality cap fabric great care is taken to match the pattern exactly. Lower grade batik is characterized by overlapping lines or lightened colored lines indicating the cap was not applied correctly.


After the initial wax has been applied, the fabric is ready for the first dye bath. Traditionally dying was done in earthenware tubs. Today most batik factories use large concrete vats. Above the vats are ropes with pulleys that the fabric is draped over after it has been dipped into the dye bath.

The waxed fabric is immersed in the dye bath of the first color. The amount of time it is left in the bath determines the hue of the color; darker colors require longer periods or numerous immersions. The fabric is then put into a cold water bath to harden the wax.

Dye BathWhen the desired color has been achieved and the fabric has dried, wax is reapplied over the areas that the artisan wishes to maintain the first dye color or another color at a later stage in the dying process.

When an area that has been covered with wax previously needs to be exposed so that it can be dyed, the applied wax is scraped away with a small knife. The area is then sponged with hot water and resized with rice starch before it is re-immersed in the subsequent dye bath.

If a marble effect is desired, the wax is intentionally cracked before being placed in the dye bath. The dye seeps into the tiny cracks that create the fine lines that are characteristic of batik. Traditionally, cracks were a sign of inferior cloth especially on indigo color batik. On brown batik, however, the marble effect was accepted.

The number of colors in batik represents how many times it was immersed in the dye bath and how many times wax had to be applied and removed. A multicolored batik represents a lot more work that a single or two-color piece. Numerous dye processes are usually reflected in the price of the cloth. Nowadays, chemical dyes have pretty much replaced traditional dyes, so colors are endless and much more liberally used.

Special Treatments to the Batik Cloth

Prada or Gold Cloth

For special occasions, batik was formerly decorated with gold lead or gold dust. This cloth is known as Prada cloth. Gold leaf was used in the Jogjakarta and Surakarta area. The Central Javanese used gold dust to decorate their Prada cloth. It was applied to the fabric using a handmade glue consisting of egg white or linseed oil and yellow earth. The gold would remain on the cloth even after it had been washed. The gold could follow the design of the cloth or could take on its own design. Older batiks could be given a new look by applying gold to them. Gold decorated cloth is still made today; however, gold paint has replaced gold dust and leaf.

Batik Designs

Although there are thousands of different batik designs, particular designs have traditionally been associated with traditional festivals and specific religious ceremonies. Previously, it was thought that certain cloth had mystical powers to ward off ill fortune, while other pieces could bring good luck.

Wedding Batik

Certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms as well as their families. Other designs are reserved for the Sultan and his family or their attendants. A person's rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he/she wore.

In general, there are two categories of batik design: geometric motifs (which tend to be the earlier designs) and free form designs, which are based on stylized patterns of natural forms or imitations of a woven texture. Nitik is the most famous design illustrating this effect.

Certain areas are known for a predominance of certain designs. Central Javanese designs are influenced by traditional patterns and colors. Batik from the north coast of Java, near Pekalongan and Cirebon, have been greatly influenced by Chinese culture and effect brighter colors and more intricate flower and cloud designs.

High fashion designs drawn on silk are very popular with wealthy Indonesians. These exceptionally high-quality pieces can take months to create and costs hundreds of dollars.


Kawung DesignKawung is another very old design consisting of intersecting circles, known in Java since at least the thirteenth century. This design has appeared carved into the walls of many temples throughout Java such as Prambanan near Jogjakarta and Kediri in East Java. For many years, this pattern was reserved for the royal court of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. The circles are sometimes embellished inside with two or more small crosses or other ornaments such as intersecting lines or dots. It has been suggested that the ovals might represent flora such as the fruit of the kapok (silk cotton) tree or the aren (sugar palm).


Ceplok DesignCeplok is a general name for a whole series of geometric designs based on squares, rhombs, circles, stars, etc. Although fundamentally geometric, ceplok can also represent abstractions and stylization of flowers, buds, seeds and even animals. Variations in color intensity can create illusions of depth and the overall effect is not unlike medallion patterns seen on Turkish tribal rugs. The Indonesian population is largely Muslim, a religion that forbids the portrayal of animal and human forms in a realistic manner. To get around this prohibition, the batik worker does not attempt to express this matter in a realistic form. A single element of the form is chosen and then that element is repeated again and again in the pattern.


Parang DesignParang was once used exclusively by the royal courts of Central Java. It has several suggested meanings such as 'rugged rock', 'knife pattern' or 'broken blade'. The Parang design consists of slanting rows of thick knife-like segments running in parallel diagonal bands. Parang usually alternated with narrower bands in a darker contrasting color. These darker bands contain another design element, a line of lozenge-shaped motifs call mlinjon. There are many variations of this basic striped pattern with its elegant sweeping lines, with over forty parang designs recorded. The most famous is the 'Parang Rusak' which in its most classical form consisting of rows of softly folded parang. This motif also appears in media other than batik, including woodcarving and as ornamentation on gamelan musical instruments.

Washing Batik

Harsh chemical detergents, dryers and drying of fabrics in the sun may fade the colors in batik. Traditionally dyed batiks should be washed in soap for sensitive fabrics, such as Woolite, Silky or Halus. Fine batik in Indonesia is washed with the lerak fruit which can be purchased at most traditional markets. A bottled version of this detergent is also available at batik stores. Be sure to line dry batik in a shady area and not in direct sunlight.

Modern Batik

Modern batik, although having strong ties to traditional batik, utilizes linear treatment of leaves, flowers and birds. These batiks tend to be more dependent on the dictates of the designer rather than the stiff guidelines that have guided traditional craftsmen. This is also apparent in the use of color that modern designers use. Artisans are no Modern Batiklonger dependent on traditional (natural) dyes, as chemical dyes can produce any color that they wish to achieve. Modern batik still utilizes canting and cap to create intricate designs.

Fashion designers such as Iwan Tirta have aggressively introduced batik into the world fashion scene. They have done much to promote the Indonesian art of batik dress, in its traditional and modern forms.

The horizon of batik is continuing to widen. While the design process has remained basically the same over the last century, the process shows great progress in recent decades. Traditionally, batik was sold in 2 1/4 meter lengths used for kain panjang or sarong in traditional dress. Now, not only is batik used as a material to clothe the human body, its uses also include furnishing fabrics, heavy canvas wall hangings, tablecloths and household accessories. Batik techniques are used by famous artists to create batik paintings which grace many homes and offices.

Fine quality handmade batik is very expensive and the production of such works is very limited. However, in a Modern Batikworld that is dominated by machines there is an increasing interest in materials that have been handmade. Batik is one of these materials.

During your stay in Indonesia, take advantage of your time here to learn more about the fascinating world of batik. Have a batik dress or men's business shirt made for you by a seamstress or tailor. Visit batik factories in Jogjakarta, Surakarta or Pekalongan to see for yourself how the intricate process is conducted or ask questions of batik artisans giving demonstrations in stores such as Sarinah or Pasaraya in Jakarta. You will come away with sense of wonder over the time, effort and patience put into the creation of each batik cloth. You too may soon grow to love the distinctive waxy smell of batik and your batik acquisitions will provide many memories of your stay in Indonesia. Your support of the batik industry will also ensure that this art form grows to even greater peaks.