Recently I was invited by my friend Saiful Nurudin to visit his family’s indigo production in the small kampung of Jlamprng Wetan about 10 kilometers from Ambarawa. It was a fascinating and educational 4 days during which I observed each step of the process from harvest to finished product. Here are some photos to illustrate the process.
This is Saiful (“Iful”). He’s an affable fellow, very knowledgeable and generous in sharing it. Iful is seen here in one of his family’s indigo fields about to begin the harvesting.
Scarf, detail, sekar jagad motif, batik tulis, indigo-dyed cotton.
A day begins with a mandi in one of the constantly flowing springs that provide public bathing places throughout the landscape.
The landscape is lush and green and quiet, except for the sounds of nature. It’s cool at night and moderate during the day. For me it was a great relief from the heat of Yogyakarta. There are coffee and rubber plantations up and down the mountainsides, and of course here and there you will see indigofera tinctoria.
Iful is studying marketing at a local college in Ambarawa and has his heart set on building up the business to the point where he can have a separate workshop for dyeing and textile production. Now his family shares their home with every aspect of production. He chose the word, “tinctori” as his brand name.
Iful’s family has enough planted in the area to be able to harvest 3-4 times each month.
Tinctori can be reached at
Facebook: Saiful Nurrudin
This is one of Iful’s recent scarf designs combining batik with shibori.
Recently I visited Bu Hartinah of the batik -making collective in Giriloyo, Jogjakarta. My friend, batik artist Brigitte Wallach introduced me to their work through an exhibition she had of her collection of Bima Sakti batiks at the Museum Tekstil in Jakarta in August of 2015. I was particularly taken by a batik with a spider web motif in that exhibition and decided to go to Giriloyo to see if I could find another one like it.
The batik on the left is tambal motif, made up of triangles, each with a different pattern.
Every year for the past 13 years I’ve transformed my garage into a temporary marketplace for handmade textiles. In the early years I called it a glorified garage sale, but gradually it became bigger and more like a real store. Now there is a term for “stores” like mine, pop-up shops. I like to showcase new artisans, and also the work of those that I have supported from the beginning. I’ve had textiles from Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, India, and my adopted home country, Indonesia. Over the years the batik of Java has become my passion, and I maintain a small workshop to create my own batik textiles in the back of my home in Yogyakarta. I love telling people how batik is made, and offer batik workshops from time to time. I try to have a wide range of prices and a selection from simple prints to elaborate, incredibly detailed designs. There are batik scarves from $10 to $350, and work hard to give the artisans who make the textiles a fair price, one that encourages them to continue their craft. I also have a zero waste practice, using every piece of scrap left to make new products. These patchwork scarves are an example:
The shop is located in the San Francisco Mission district, just up the street from Tartine bakery and cafe.
The Language of Cloth Pop-up Shop
650-A Guerrero St. (between 18th and 19th)
Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays
November 14 to December 24
This is one of the many exhibitors’ booths in the bi-annual Gelar Batik Nusantara, the biggest and most comprehensive exhibition of batik in Indonesia. It’s primary purpose is to promote batik in its many forms from every part of Indonesia, from contemporary designers, collectors of antique batik, writers, and historians. In the photo above are very fine examples of antique pesisir batik from the northern coast of Java, many rare, signed batik from the collection of Erie Prakoso, Enchanted Batik http://www.enchantedbatik.com/
Batik, Uniting Nations
The exhibition was held from June 24-28, 2015 at the Jakarta gelarbatiknusantara
It was my first time to experience this extraordinary exhibition and I would like to introduce you to just a few of the highlights with these photographs.
Museum Tekstil in Jakarta offered a number of demonstrations and programs during the exhibition along with a beautiful presentation of the finest historical batik representing the many traditional motifs. The museum has been very important in promoting and educating Indonesians about their batik heritage. museumtekstiljakarta
Many new batik designs based on motifs inspired by the sacred writings from the Pakualaman were shown for the first time in this exhibition. puropakualaman
This exhibition of Cirebonese batik within the context of the larger exhibition GBN was produced and presented by Komarudin Kudiya who has been a pioneering figure in the world of batik for many years. batik-komar
GBN featured a magnificent presentation of antique batik from the collection of Hartono Sumarsono.
While the exhibition is primarily focused on batik, it would be impossible to exclude other textile traditions from the mix.
Batik is big business in Indonesia and people come to this exhibition from all over the world to look for look for the perfect piece to buy.
Brigitte Willach has been collecting batik from a remarkable group of women batik artisans known as Bimasakti from Giriloyo, Bantul for over 30 years. A selection of her extraordinary collection was recently featured at the Tekstil Museum in Jakarta. She is an accomplished batik artist as well.
Often batik is first discovered through books, and Rudolf Smend has made great contributions in this field with several books on batik and a new one soon to be published by Periplus periplus
Don Harper evaluating someone’s collection of batik. He is also a co-contributor to many books on textiles and The expert all collectors want to meet. He has an online museum of his collection here: eastindiesmuseum
The Museum Tekstil in Jakarta recently honored two Germans who have contributed greatly to the promotion and appreciation of Javanese batik internationally. Brigitte Willach of Hanover has been supporting the kelompok Bimasakti, in Giriloyo, Bantul, south of Yogyakarta, a batik collective of women dedicated to creating batik in the tradition of the keraton, since 1985. One half of the museum focused on a selection from her collection of over 140 of the finest pieces they have produced during her 30 year relationship with them. A selection of Rudolf Smend’s collection of antique pesisir batik was displayed in the other half of the museum. He is the author of several books about batik, Batik, 75 Masterpieces
Batik from the Courts of Java and Sumatera
This is a batik from the workshop of Sutoyo Slamet from Wiradesa, Pekalongan, also mentioned in my previous post on Pesisir batik. What stands out immediately for me in his work, is the delicate artistry and precision of the waxing. The canting his pembatik use has an opening so small, it can barely be seen with the naked eye.
Sutoyo’s pembatik (the person applying the wax) range in age from 25 to 65 and they all started as beginners, or just average batik makers ten years ago when Sutoyo decided to try to produce batik halus, the finest quality. With training and persistent patience, they have gained the skill necessary to become the foundation for Sutoyo’s batik production. They each have a repertoire of hundreds of patterns (issen-issen) and when to use them. Note details of the batik above and below, how each leaf, each blade of grass, each petal, each feather has an internal life of its own, enhanced by the delicate lines, dots, and flourishes created by the pembatik. This more than any other aspect identifies the batik as being in the Pesisir tradition.
In earlier times men also applied the wax with the canting, but now there are very few men who have the required skill. The designer is not unlike the director of a play. But in drawing the design on paper and conceiving and supervising the plan for the production from start to finish, he also writes the script.
There are many aspects involved in this process starting from the graphic design, always a linear drawing, to transferring the design to the cloth, the application of wax with the canting, to the the coloring, immersion in a dye bath or painting on the dye with a brush, and finally the removal of the wax to reveal the finished results. Usually the designer makes the drawing and directs the entire process, employing others who are expert in the various skills needed. Rarely can the designer master all of the skills required for each step.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sutoyo Slamet on a recent trip to Pekalongan, the rare batik designer who has mastered each step, and who can easily sit down with the women around the pot of wax, joining them in applying the delicate lines on the cloth. He colors all of the batik himself as well and is an excellent draftsman of beautiful balanced compositions.
I was impressed not only with his work, but also the way in which he works. His workshop is like his batik, clean and bright. It was clear that his staff is devoted to him and to their work, and they take great pride in their skill and the quality of the batik they produce.
Here are some examples of their incredible skill in applying the wax to the drawing on the cloth.
Batik Pesisir was produced in coastal areas of northern Java and Madura that were exposed to sea trading and consequently was influenced by cultures from other parts of the world. It was distinguished from the batik that came from the rest of Java which emanated originally from the keraton, or royal courts, and was fundamentally free from foreign influences. Pesisir batik was generally more colorful, and used floral motifs, Chinese and Arabic motifs, birds, animals, sea creatures, and motifs from nature.
This is a sarung signed The Tie Siet, Pekalongan and reflects the trend during the 1920’s for Chinese batik makers to imitate the success of the Indo European batik makers of the previous generation in supplying “buketan” motif batik for European tastes.
From the collection of Rudolf Smend, Cologne, Germany http://www.athm.org/museum_exhibition/batik-from-courts-and-palaces-the-rudolf-smend-collection-batik-fashionamerican-style/
The Chinese taste at the time favored a softer, pastel color pallette.
This is a detail from a contemporary batik from Wiradesa, Pekalongan, a batik producing center on the northern coast of Java by Sutoyo Slamet. https://web.facebook.com/sutoyo.slamet?fref=ts It can be considered pesisir both geographically and stylistically.
In contrast to the coastal or pesisir batik, that which came from the keraton in Central Java was of a much more limited color palette, using shades of sogan brown and indigo blue depending on which court it came from. The motifs were highly symbolic with specific cultural significance, some even reserved solely for the use by members of the royal court.
This batik is by Nyonya (Mrs.) Lie Boen from Kudus in the 1930’s. Considered pesisir, it is characteristic of batik from the few makers in that area near the northern coast of Java, by it’s detailed background using traditional keraton (court) motifs from Central Java, such as this parang motif in the traditional sogan color, with the buketan popular at the time in coastal batik. Already at this time styles were being mixed up and composed into unique combinations. From the collection of Rudolf Smend, Cologne, Germany.
This is a detail from a contemporary work from Batik Setyowijaya https://web.facebook.com/raji.setyowijaya?fref=ts of Yogyakarta in Central Java, composed of traditional nitik patterns in sogan color from Yogyakarta. It is a unique and intricate composition of traditional motifs.
Much has changed in the the production of batik in Java in this last century. Styles have been mixed and there is no longer exclusivity of use. The traditional parang and kawung patterns originally reserved for members of the court are now worn everyday by anyone and are often combined into one composition with bouquets and butterflies originally seen only on pasisir batik. It would be very difficult to determine the origin of a contemporary batik today.
This is a contemporary batik by Solikhin Ahmad of Artho Moro Batik https://web.facebook.com/solikhin.ahmad.3?fref=ts from Wiradesa, Pekalongan that combines parang rusak, a traditional pattern from the royal courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, with typical floral motifs of coastal, Pesisir batik, in natural dye colors.
In the past, there were distinguishing characteristics that identified the origin of a batik, for example the batik from the court of Yogyakarta were predominantly shades of blue and cream, and those from the court of Surakarta (Solo) were sogan brown, with black.
Lassem batik was distinguished for its rich red coloring. This is a pesisir batik sarung from Lassem made in the 1930’s. The rich red coloring was only possible in Lassem or possibly Semarang. The peacocks in the composition suggest that it was for a European customer. From the collection of Rudolf Smend, Cologne, Germany. http://www.smend.de/
Besides color, certain patterns can help identify batik from certain areas as well. But not always. For example the mega mending pattern (clouds) is considered unique to Cirebon. The delicate shading is achieved by successive lines of wax and immersions in the same dye bath color, in this example, blue. This is a contemporary piece commissioned by The Language of Cloth made by Bu Bun of Cirebon.
Undoubtedly the most skillful examples of this motif are made in Cirebon. This one has seven gradations! But here are some other examples of mega mendung made in other areas of Java.
In this batik the artist Hanafi of Pekalongan uses the gradation technique to outline ginko leaves instead of clouds, giving the batik a glowing quality. The color is natural indigo. https://web.facebook.com/naturaldyer?fref=ts
The resist in these scarves was achieved by clamping some wood scraps together on folded raw silk from Phnom Srouk Province in Cambodia and dipping them into an indigo vat. When the clamps and wood blocks are removed the pattern is revealed.
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.