Batik has come to be used as a generic term, which refers to the process of dyeing fabric, by using a resist technique. Areas of the cloth are covered with wax or other dye resistant substance to prevent the cloth from absorbing color. Cloth decorated with this technique was in use as many as 1500 years ago in Egypt, Africa, the Middle East and in several parts of Asia. Many people think that batik was brought to Asia by travelers from the Indian subcontinent. Most people believe that Batik reached its highest artistic expression in Indonesia, particularly in Java. Batik has become a very central means of artistic expression for many areas of Asia and a deeply integrated facet of the Asian culture.
Some experts think that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty. Javanese royalty were know to be great patrons of the arts and provided the support necessary to develop many art forms. Others disagree and think that batik was prevalent with all people and an important skill for young women to learn, just like cooking and other housewifery arts to Central Javanese women.
Natural materials such as cotton and silk are used for the cloth. Wax is applied with a canting, sometimes called a wax pen. It is a funnel like pen that has a bamboo handle and the wax comes slowly out of the tip as the artist draws onto the fabric. They come is different size spouts to make different thicknesses of lines. Wax must be kept melted while the artist is working and is kept in a wajan, a little pan that sits on a small charcoal stove. Beeswax and paraffin are the most common waxes used for batik. Because batiked fabric grew to be so popular, a method of making the fabric more quickly developed. This made the fabric more affordable to the masses and much quicker to make. A copper stamp called a cap (pronounced chop) was made of copper strips bent into the shape of the design. Then it was dipped in wax and stamped onto the fabric.
Traditional colors for Central Javanese batik were made from natural ingredients and consisted of mostly beige, brown, blue and black. For lighter colors, the fabric was left in the dye bath for short periods of time and darker colors would be left in the dye for days. The batik patterns are usually drawn onto the fabric with pencil or charcoal prior to waxing. Men are usually in charge of drawing the design onto the fabric. Traditional batik designs are handed down from generation to generation. Once the pattern is drawn, the waxing can begin. The wax is first applied to the parts of the cloth that will remain the color of the cloth. The waxed fabric is immersed in the dye bath of the first color and when the right color has been achieved it is hung to dry. When dry, wax is applied to the parts of the fabric that will remain that color and the process continues until the entire cloth has been waxed and dyed and all of the desired colors achieved. Sometimes the wax is cracked before the last dye bath to produce a crackled effect of lines throughout the batik. In early times, this was a symbol of an inferior batik more recently the cracks are made intentionally. Once the dyeing process is complete, the wax is scraped off and the fabric washed in hot water and usually ironed to get the remaining wax out of the fabric. Then clothing or other items are made from the batik.