A batik sarong is a rectangular piece of cloth featuring hand-drawn or block-printed motifs made using the resist dyeing method. Hand-drawn batik is called batik tulis (tulis means ‘write’) while block-printed batik is called batik cap. A cap (pronounced ‘charp’) is a stamping block made of copper wires fixed onto a metal base. Each block produces a different motif. Batik tulis is generally more desirable than batik cap because it is more labour-intensive and requires more skill. The application of the wax-the most common resist agent in the production of batik-is done by skilled artisans using a stylus with a reservoir called a canting (‘charnting’). Some batik uses a combination of tulis and cap methods. The base cloth for both methods is usually cotton, sometimes silk.
A typical batik sarong is divided into two sections: the kepala (head) and Wan (body). The kepala, located midway along the sarong, occupies about a third of its length while the badan occupies the rest. In older sarongs, the kepala is bordered by two long, rectangular panels called papan (literally ‘wooden plank’). The batik prim on the kepala section is usually easily identifiable. The main motif is often different in design or positioned vertically on the sarong so that it is more visually prominent. The base colour and motif of the kepala may also be different from the badan.
Not all batik sarongs, however, follow the kepala-badan template. The pagi- sore batik, for instance, has two sections divided equally in the middle, with each section featuring different motifs and/or base colours. (Pagi-sore loosely means ‘morning and evening’ and refers to the two contrasting sections.) Some batik sarongs only contain a badan section. The finished sarong is usually sold as a rectangular piece of cloth. Depending on the wearer, the two ends of the sarong can either be sewn together to form a cylinder, or left open. Nyonyas prefer to sew the ends as the sarong is easier to put on. When worn with the kebaya, the tubular sarong is stepped into, pulled up and gripped at the waist. The extra cloth is folded right over left and secured tightly around the waist with a silver belt. Nyonyas usually tie the sarong in such a way that the kepala can be seen in the front rather than the back (as is usual with the Malays). Sometimes pleats are sewn at one end of the sarong to produce a fan-like effect. When folded, the pleats fall in front.
Batik has a special place in the cultural history of the Southeast Asian region for it represents one of the most sophisticated innovations in local textile production. It is generally agreed that batik originates from Java, Indonesia. The resist dyeing technique that lies at the heart of batik production is thought to have been introduced by traders from the Indian subcontinent whose presence in Java was recorded as early as Ao 100. By the sixteenth century, early European traders had noted the use of Indonesian batik among the Malays and other indigenous groups in Java, Sumatra and the Malay