“I am a cloth maker,” Ms. Josephine Komara of Bin House quietly declares. This modest introduction belies the textile art that her company creates. Looking extremely elegant in a traditional black kebaya top and batik sarong with warm hues of brown, black and yellow, Ibu Josephine shares with us her passion for an art form that many have credited her for not only reviving but renewing in her country.
For the uninitiated, batik is a technique, a wax resistance dying process requiring artisanship, skill, patience and time. It is only found on Java. Ms. Komara jokes that the patience to build the Borobudur temple is needed for batik and hence, it is no wonder that from the entire Indonesian archipelago, it is only the Javanese who developed this ancient art form.
The Batik Technique
The basic steps of batik making are:
- Sketch the design on the cloth with pencil
- Retrace the design with wax
- Block with wax the part of the design/cloth which should “resist” the dye
- Boil the cloth to remove the wax
- Repeat steps 3-5 as many times as needed to create composite colors and effects (blocking, dyeing with additional applications of color, boiling and drying).
No wonder Ms. Komara’s team from Bin House shared no less than 14 panels of a square piece of cloth undergoing the batik process. It made it easier to visually follow the five rounds of blocking, dyeing, boiling and drying as the cloth was treated with the colors blue (twice), purple, brown and yellow. Depending on the intricacy of the design and the colors desired, a minimum of six months and up to 1 1/2 years are required to create a single piece of batik.
Traditionally, batik is made with the woven cloth of kapok fiber encasing the seeds of a tropical tree with the same name. Interestingly, kapok is a filler for mattresses, pillows and other soft furnishings. In 1989, Bin House began the art of silk batik and went on to experiment with different fabrics and designs, which included branching out to ready-to-wear and accessories. Bin House also successfully researched applying the batik process to wool cloth, which does not respond well to boiling.
The so-called batik cloth one sees on beaches are just machine printed or tie-dyed and should not be confused with true batik.
My Own Amateur Attempt
This information alone should have us appreciating batik but if there were any doubters remaining among us, we all had a chance to try our hand at the batik process. Half of our squares of cotton were pre-outlined in wax with a design while the other halves of the squares were left blank for us to fill in. I cannot draw as I repeatedly tell my co-blog writer Sabine so I went for stamping. You simply dip the copper stamp block (a “cap” in Indonesia) and press onto the cloth and voila, we have our pattern resisting the dye.
However, Ibu Josephine insisted that I attempt canting, using a wax pen which basically looks like a pipe but instead of tobacco, melted wax is poured into the reservoir. The wax drips down the side of the instrument to the opposite end, a copper stylus. The sheer control required to achieve an even drip and to draw is mind boggling. Suffice it to say, I stuck to stamping!
Where It All Began for Me
I hope that you enjoyed reading about, and have learnt to appreciate, batik in this post as I do. Many years ago, I was fortunate to be introduced to batik and Ibu Josephine in Jakarta. I still remember fondly Bin House’s flagship Menteng, Jakarta shop in an old white Dutch colonial style house where many hours can be easily spent sipping sweet iced tea and examining the batik pieces -all individually unique – stacked in antique teakwood cabinets.
So I seized the chance this week to attend this workshop organized through a social group for parents at my daughter’s school- GSIS Connect. And, earlier on Monday, I participated in another of their activities – a Balinese cooking class.
Until this week, I admittedly did not avail myself of their diverse offerings which ranged from coffee mornings, walkie talkies and hikes through to cultural activities. I think that Ibu Josephine put it best…when you live in a country, it becomes a part of you. GSIS Connect’s activities this week called to that part of me. How opportune!