A traditional wax resist dyeing technique, in which a pattern is created by the contrast between dyed and un-dyed areas. It is a method thought to have originated in Java, though is now a staple craft practised throughout the world, in Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, and thought to have been introduced to various parts of Africa through European traders… although seeing as the technique is basic and the materials needed all readily available, it’s equally likely that African and South American communities already had their own version.
* Melted wax, clay or rice paste is applied to the base cloth, usually a hand-woven cotton calico, in a random or defined pattern before the cloth is dipped into a dye vat. The wax (or other substance) holds to the fabric and resists the dye. Very fine cracks appear in the wax through which the dye finds its way, and it is these tiny rivulets in the ‘un-dyed’ sections of the cloth that give batik its unique character of patterns that are not sharp but marked and toned with fine detail. Once the dye is set and dry, the wax, clay or rice paste must be removed. Depending on the materials, the process and the locality, this is done by dipping the cloth into a solvent, and then either washing in very hot water, or pressing it between absorbent papers. The fabric is now ready to be turned into clothing or furnishings.
* Batik patterns may be formed with straight or flowing lines, open circles, dots, or include meaningful designs of flowers, trees, birds connected with local mythologies. As with all craftsmanship, both design and techniques are, more often than not, symbolic, and far more complex than appears at first sight.
* Textiles tell their own stories, and every culture used design as representation and language before the written word became widely available … and others still do…
* Perhaps especially in Africa, textiles are not just representations of local forms but are imbued with non-figurative meaning, some more clearrly defined than others in often breathtakingly vibrant colours and strong patterns.
“The batiks remained the favourite cloth for wrapped skirts. This particular use of the latter made it possible for the cloths with a political or commemorative motif to be used by the Africans to make quiet but effective commentary on the existing establishment. This was done by positioning the printed portrait of British or French rulers or their own political leaders in such a way that one could ‘innocently’ and irreverently sit upon them. Some days such a print could be worn upside down ‘accidentally’.”
(Justine M Cordwelll in the appendix to Ruth Nielson 1979: 495)