Batik Tulis: Traditional Indonesian Batik Making in Solo

Batik Tulis maker in Solo Indonesia
Batik Tulis maker in Solo Indonesia

I’ve seen the fascinating Batik patterns in many shops when I was wandering the streets of Solo Indonesia. An Indonesian Batik is a cloth traditionally made using a wax-resistant dyeing technique. It is believed the age old tradition of batik making was introduced in Java between 6th and 7th century from India and Sri Lanka. Batik are usually sold in meters (2-2.5m) like tubes or sarong, but these days wit has been widely popular for contemporary use like a polo shirt for formal occasions (akin to Filipino’s barong) or a kebaya, similar to what the female flight attendants of Garuda Airline wear. Interestingly, the Indonesian Batik was also awarded by UNESCO as one of the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, this makes it worthwhile to go deeper and inspect how these Indonesian Batik are made.

Initial design pattern drawn on the fabric
Initial design pattern drawn on the fabric

UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage List

I’m quite aware of UNESCO’s World Heritage List for some time now and have showcased a number of the wonderful sites monuments here included in their list. It is only recently that I learned that UNESCO also has an “intangible” list which focused more on age old traditions and culture. UNESCO defines oral and intangible heritage as “the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community expressed by a group or individuals and recognized as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity.” In October 2, 2009, the Indonesian Batik was included in that list to help preserve and retain the art of Indonesian Batik making.

There are at least a hundred workers inside the Danar Hadi warehouse
There are at least a hundred workers inside the Danar Hadi warehouse

The House of Danar Hadi

Coming from the Tourism Office, I decided to drop by the House of Danar Hadi known for its extensive collection of batik from different parts of Indonesia dating back up to early 1900s. Their shop also has quality batiks often imitated by other manufacturers. “So how do you deal with imitations?” I asked my guide. “They may try to imitate the design but they cannot imitate the quality of our materials” she replied as we went around the Museum.

The House of Danar Hadi has a Antique Batik Museum tour and a visit to their warehouse for 25,000 IDR (US$2.5). The staff was kind enough to allow me to take the tour even if I was on my own as usually they tour in groups. My female guide was well-spoken in English and she was very patient in explaining all about the exhibit items in the museum and in answering my questions.

I was just overwhelmed with the number of designs, patterns, on how they were used. How royalty wears the batik differently from the common folks. There were about 800+ pieces of batik on exhibit there and the tour took at least an hour including the tour inside their huge workshop.

The fabric with designs are turned over for wax application
The fabric with designs are turned over for wax application

Batik Tulis: The Art of Batik Making

The smell of melting wax was in the air inside the spacious and well-lit warehouse. My guide showed me how meticulous it entails to work on quality Batik. First, there’s a designer who makes the pattern on the fabric, then it is turned over to some women who puts the wax on the pattern. She uses a Tjanting, a wooden tool holding a tiny metal cup that can spout wax on fabric in precise detail. This process itself takes a lot of time and attention to detail. The cloth then is dyed, hung dry, washed with solvent to dissolve wax then ironed between paper to completely remove the wax. This is how they get the rich colors from the fabric. They repeat the process up to 8 times to create the traditional 3 colors of Indigo, Dark Brown and White. Modern batiks now use additional colors.

They call this traditional way of making batik as Batik Tulis. It takes about a minimum of 3 months to finish a design and the end product fetches for a high price.

Holding a Tjanting tool for applying wax on the fabric
Holding a Tjanting tool for applying wax on the fabric

Industrialization of Batik

With the popularity of Indonesian Batik growing even outside the country, Batik manufacturers explored other ways of making Batik faster. The traditional use of Tjanting just takes too much time so they decided to make wooden or copper block stamp or what they call Batik Cap, to make things much faster. But still, applying wax using the Batik Cap needs careful work and precision but it speeds up the process. This process is mostly used for commercial batik prints.

The tour was certainly worth the time, now when I pass by other Batik shops I have more appreciation for the product due to the  efforts of the people behind them and is able to tell the good ones from the ordinary commercial ones. UNESCO was on the spot for including their on their “Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage” as the art of making batik is a rich example of Javanese culture.

House of Danar Hadi
Jl. Slamet Riyadi No. 261
Surakarta 57141 – Indonesia
Telp. 0271 – 722042
Opening hours : Daily 09.00 – 16.00 pm
*Photography is not allowed in the showroom or museum except for the warehouse

Small stoves for melting wax
Small stoves for melting wax
A lady carefully applying wax on a pattern of a fabric
A lady carefully applying wax on a pattern of a fabric
Batik Cap or copper plate stamps for batik prints
Batik Cap or copper plate stamps for batik prints
A worker using a batik cap
A worker using a batik cap
Applying the wax from a batik cap
Applying the wax from a batik cap
Modern and commercial batik now uses different colors
Modern and commercial batik now uses different colors

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