The batik of Cirebon has long been a favorite of mine. There are several techniques used there that distinguish the work from the batik of other areas in Java. One is the amazing gradation effect produced by multiple applications of lines of wax and the alyternating multiple applications of color to the mega mendung, or cloud pattern which is probably the most familiar and distinguishing motif in the world of batik. Almost any Indonesian who sees this pattern will immediately recognize it as one from Cirebon. The other technique which is actually much more difficult to produce, and the fine lines of color against a creamy white background, characteristic of many different motifs in Cirebonese batik. The fine lines are produced by leaving fine lines of cloth open to the dye bath, and the rest of the cloth covered to resist the color. It is in effect a reverse of the first waxing where the lines of the motif are laid on the cloth with a canting in wax, resisting the color in the dye bath, and producing white lines against a colored background when the wax is removed.
This is an example of a mega mendung batik by Ibu Ninik of Batik Ninik Ichsan that has nine lines of gradation (the most I have ever seen in a mega mendung motif).
Each line of color is a separate application of wax, the white line being the first. The area in red is also covered with wax at the beginning. Then the cloth is immersed in the first of many blue dye baths. Next a second line of wax is applied to create a line of wax covering the lightest blue from the first dye bath, and then the dye bath is repeated. Next a third line of wax is applied and a subsequent immersion in the same dye bath to create the a slightly darker blue line resulting from the repetition of the blue dye bath. This continues until the last dye bath creates the darkest blue on the batik. So it is a technique of applying color on color and covering it gradually line by line, each one successively darker, building up the hue to the deepest possible tone. After all of the desired blue linear gradations have been applied, the wax is removed by immersing the cloth in boiling water. Next all of the blue areas are covered with wax including the original white line of the very first waxing covering all of the gradations of the cloud motif leaving the areas in between, the background, exposed to the next dye bath. Then cloth is then immersed in a dye bath of red to color the background. The final step is to remove the wax by immersing the cloth one last time in boiling water. With this step the batik is finished. It is an extremely labor intensive process to produce this effect. I had not seen a nine gradation mega mendung until recently, in Ibu Ninik’s gallery in Trusmi, Cirebon. It is incredibly beautiful.