Batik cap is a wax resist process in which designs are applied in wax with “cap”, stamps usually made of copper for their heat conductive properties. It has been produced in Java since the middle of the 19th century to speed up the production and lower the cost of batik cloth. Batik originated in the keraton, or royal palaces of the sultans, and the wax resist designs were applied by hand with the a canting, a pen-like tool with a reservoir and spout from which lines of melted wax could be drawn. It is a highly skilled craft and takes a long time to make. Batik cap requires less skill and is much faster to produce.
Batik is a living art throughout Indonesia and is considered not only a national treasure, but is designated by Unesco to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Most Indonesians however cannot afford batik tulis, the hand-drawn type, so batik cap is a low cost alternative. Producing it is still a labor intensive process requiring patience and skill. It’s done usually by men. Boys learn the skill at an early age and with experience can produce perfectly registered designs without the use of drawing guide lines or measuring. There are many variables in applying the perfect application of wax to achieve clarity and precision in the waxed design. The formulation of the wax itself is a guarded recipe, and the temperature has to be just right, the amount of wax on the cap just the right amount, and the speed of the application timed to perfection. The registration is the most difficult part of the work. Some designs require the use of a combination of several cap, and some intricate floral bouquet designs can have as many as 10 or 12 different cap to complete the design. The cap can be works of art in their own right, and the cap-makers are highly skilled in this specialized art.
I have traveled along the north coast of Java to look at batik cap production and these are some of the photos from various trips over the years to workshops in Cirebon and Pekalongan.
In February I had the privilege of assisting Rudolf Smend again with his collection of extraordinary antique Javanese batik exhibited at the annual Textile and Tribal arts Show at For Mason in San Francisco. Mr. Smend is the owner of Galerie Smend, a textile gallery in Cologne, Germany, and is the author of several books on batik.
This rare batik portrait of a young woman dressed in western clothing is dated 1933, from Banyuwangi. It’s origin was the subject of much speculation during the exhibition. It was one of many rare and beauitful batik cloths presented in February of this year at Fort Mason in San Francisco.
This year’s shop was successful beyond my wildest dreams. Each year I meet friendly new textile lovers referred by loyal friends and past customers. I love having the opportunity to talk about my travels and the textiles I bring back, and there was a steady stream of eager listeners even in the rain!
Here are a few photos from this year’s offering.
I recently spent a week in and around the town of Sapa, in the far northwestern part of Vietnam.
Besides the spectacular scenery of mountains and ricefield valleys, the area has much to offer anyone who is interested in textiles, because it is home to around 8 different ethnic groups that still make and wear their traditional clothing. I had visited Sapa 17 years ago and was curious to see what it would be like now, and how much of the textile traditions were still being practiced. I had been there once before 17 years ago and it was interesting to see the changes that have taken place since then. Tourism has developed substantially during that time and it was clear to see that it benefitted the H’mong in many ways. However it is also clear to see that they are still very poor and their life is not easy. It was sad to see that even though they still cling to their traditional ways, consumerism has taken a toll on the way the H’mong people make their traditional clothing. I had hoped to find indigo batik-making on hemp, but unfortunately cheap cotton imported from China, printed in blue ink with the H’mong patterns has all but replaced the beautiful hand-made wax resist designs on indigo-dyed, hand woven hemp used for the bottoms of skirts. The purses these Black H’mong women are carrying are mass-produced by machine in China. They used to embellish these by hand with meticulous and beautiful embroidery.