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.
Instead of applying the wax by hand with the canting, the wax resist is applied with a stamp made of copper, called a cap (tchap). The dye is indigo.
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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.
The natural color of the silk threads from the cocoons of wild silkworms vary in color as the result of what they eat. Domestic silkworms, Bombix mori, prefer the leaves of the white mulberry http://www.designboom.com/history/silk1.html, but they will eat other types of mulberry leaves such as those from the red mulberry or black mulberry tree. Domestic silkworms will also eat the leaves of the osage orange http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osage_orange. Silkworms found in the wild however have adapted to eating particular kinds of leaves, and they produce a silk thread that is much different from the silkworms that are cultivated domestically.
The Cricula can be found in the wild eating the leaves of the kedondong tree, and those of the avocado tree. It also eats the leaves of the mango tree the cashew nut tree, and almond tree. It produces a beautiful golden thread that is very strong and has a unique thick to thin texture that gives the cloth woven from it an incredibly luxurious hand. The color of the filament varies from cream to rich golden hues, the darkest outside to the lightest inside the cocoon. The naturally variegated color is very durable and when woven produces a subtle variation in color that any master weaver would envy. (below) The other type of wild silk is from the amazingly beauitiful Atacus atlas Linn silkmoth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r9Laslf4hcIt . produces a cocoon that has a thread similar to the Cricula tritenestrata but in varying shades of cream to dark brown. It eats the leaves of the sirsak, keben, gempol, mahogony, rambutan, kedondong, avocado, and guava.
I recently visited Pak Endro Kuswardjo in Yogyakarta who started working with wild silk over ten years ago. He has developed a unique relationship with wild silk producers in West Java to provide his workshop, Tugu Mas Yogya, with the very finest wild silk from which his master weavers can make scarves and shawls. The silk is rare and costly, so he produces a very limited number. I was fortunate to visit on a day that he had just brought in a new supply, so there will be some wonderful examples of his silk scarves and shawls woven from wild silk available in the special exhibition “Sutera” during The Language of Cloth annual winter pop-up shop in december in San Francisco. http://www.thelanguageofcloth.com/pop-up-shop-dec-2013
Tulis literally translated means “written” , so batik tulis is batik that is drawn or written, by hand. The canting is the pen used for “writing” batik tulis. Melted wax is the ink.The canting is a subtle tool and requires patience and practice to master. My application of those two principles is beginning to show results. I hope eventually to use the canting as freely and expressively as I use a pen. These are photographs of some scarves waxed with written words. The cloth is a hand woven raw silk from Phnom Sruk Province in Cambodia, and it has already been dyed once in vegetable dyes. it will be over dyed again with indigo to produce various shades of blue, grey, and green.
The scarves will serve as prayer banners, mantras, prayer shawls, or altar cloths.
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.