I love batik that tells a story. By this I do not mean the European-influenced fairytale batik of the last century produced in Java during the Dutch colonial occupation in Indonesia, that depict snow white or little red riding hood. I mean batik that tells us something about real life. I have always loved the mega mendung motif batiks of Cirebon, East Java, and have in the past used the cloud symbol to tell the story of carbon pollution from the exhaust of modern transportation. Recently I have had the opportunity to work with a very skilled husband and wife team from Cirebon who specialize in producing magnificent mega mendung batik. The mega mendung motif is characterized by a series of gradations of color forming stylized cloud-like patterns. Bu Bun and her husband, Pak Uripah have produced the only 9 gradation mega mendung batik I have ever seen. They agreed to produce this latest story batik design, using the cloud again as a symbol of the carbon pollution from coal-burning electricity generating plants.
The format is the tradition kain panjang, 2.5 meters by 105cm, on primissima cotton, using chemical dyes.
It took approximately 7 months to complete. There are seven gradations of grey to black. Each gradation is a separate application of color followed by a submerging of the entire cloth in the dye bath. The background is covered with wax to protect it from the grey dye bath until the last gradation. Then all of the wax is removed, the gradations and other details are covered with wax, so that the background can be dyed red. Then all of the wax is removed and the cloth is finished.
The skill of Bu Bun is evident in the clean even lines of the gradations. This requires infinite skill with the canting. The even gradation of color demonstrates the great skill of Pak Uripah in mixing the dyes to achieve just the right variation of each gradation.
I want to also give credit to Mbak Atie who is my expert agent and coordinator for the batik of Cirebon. She personally supervised and assisted Bu Bun and Pak Uripah in planning each stage of the production. Her knowledge of the process was invaluable.
The 2014 edition of the Language of Cloth Pop-up Shop is now open. There are many new finds this year, and prices are still very reasonable.
Open every day except Monday, from 10am to 7pm.
December 2nd through 24th
Recently I visited Rowland and Chinami Ricketts in their studio in Bloomington, Indiana , where Rowland is an assistant professor on the textiles faculty in the School of Fine Arts.
“Rowland and Chinami Ricketts use natural materials and traditional processes to create contemporary textiles. Chinami hand-weaves narrow width yardage for kimono and obi. Rowland hand-dyes textiles that span art and design. Together we grow all the indigo that colors our cloth, investing ourselves and our time in our textiles because we believe this way of working to be an essential part of the material’s integrity and authenticity.”http://www.rickettsindigo.com/
Chinami is a weaver, creating cloth from hand dyed yarns in the traditional way, in widths suitable for making kimonos. She and Rowland have designed a line of table runners ,wall hangings, and room dividers that recently were awarded by The Martha Stuart American Made craft competition:http://www.marthastewart.com/americanmade/nominee/93030/crafts/ricketts-indigo
Sample swaths. Rowland emphasized the importance of testing the variables, recording details, and being consistent in the process.
The vat is alive.
I’ve looked at many batik colored with natural dyes, and often the results are somewhat dull and flat. When I saw this one by my colleague, Mas Solikhin Ahmad of Pekalongan on the north coast of Java, I jumped for joy at the liveliness of the color, all derived from natural sources, including indigo. The colors are unusually defined and distinct, not muddied at all, which is quite a feat. What also makes this batik outstanding is the composition. Although I am getting a bit bored with the butterfly fixation many batikers have right now, the color and overall design of this one makes it truly outstanding.
I tried my hand at using the canting to write with wax but it is a long and difficult process. My friend Asif suggested that I ask his friend who is a skilled tukang cap to make a “Love”stamp. I was skeptical that it could be done. Having never seen how a stamp, called a cap (pronounced tchap), is made, I was amazed at the skill and craftsmanship that goes into it. Here are some photos of the process.
What a joy to visit these lovely artisans in Kebon, Klaten, Central Java. Their work is beautiful and their spirit spirit is inspiring. They are a collective (kelompok) of 169 women from a group of small villages who have joined together, pooling their resources to make batik using only natural ingredients gathered locally to color their creations.
My friend and colleague, Solikhin , has been working very hard over the past three years since I saw him last. Still focused on indigo, never finding an easy solution by way of chemical dye, Solikhin has come a long way toward opening up the richness and versatility of indigo.
This is an example of the colors he derives by overdyeing with other natural vegetable dyes on a cloth that is first dyed with indigo.
Solikhin creates his own designs and does his own coloring. He does however rely on some very skilled artisans to apply the wax to the cloth.
This cloth is colored with indigo and overdyed with jelawe the fruit of a certain tree.