Judi Achjadi wrote: Pekalongan’s batik industry thrived on catering to the diverse tastes of clients from all over Indonesia. The batik of Demak and Kudus on Central Java’s north coast was so well-known for its fine detailing that the Pekalongan enterprises often wrote ‘Kudus’ or ‘Demak’on the cloths (see below), so that they would be recognised by people who wanted one of these famed cloths but did not have access to Kudus or Demak batik-makers. [Judi Achjadi & H. Santosa Doellah. The Glory of Batik- The Danar Hadi Collection. Solo, Pt. Batik Danar Hadi , 2011].
This opulent batik was made by Liem Siek Hien in Pekalongan but in addition to her signature she has included the name of the town Kudus, which is further east along the coast from Pekalongan. While she lived and worked in Pekalongan, the batik was executed in the Kudus-style. The art work’s colourful floral motifs along with a family of small exotic birds (Details 2,4 and 6), are set against – the most intricate backgrounds to be found on the entire north coast – (Inger McCabe Elliott. Batik- Fabled Cloth of Java, p.144). The three generations of this important family of Pekalongan batik makers were: Oey Soen Khing (Java,1861 – 1942), who was the mother-in-law of Mrs. Oey Kok Sing née Kho Tjing Nio ( Java, d. 1966), who was the mother of Oey Djien Nio [Liem Siek Hien and post 1965 Jane Hendromartono], (Java, 1924 – 1986).
While the work has a pagi-sore structure the diagonal divisdion can be seen above in Detail 1. The two halves have a common background made up of an overall shade of brown that was widely used in Kudus. The background has been broken-up by the repetition of small white dots and multicoloured flower petals. Perhaps these petal shapes also resemble the clover leaf shapes known as tanahan Semarangan motifs. Tanahan motifs fill-in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background. Batik Pasisir is renowned for the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process. Central to the achievement of these qualities is the incorporation of tanahan and isen-isen motifs by highly skilled batikkers with extraordinary canting skills. Isen-isen are the tiny filler motifs used within the outlines of the key motifs. Together these tiny motifs are what distinguishes Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used.
This extremely beautiful art work has a complete terang bulan border in both halves. A section of the left side border can be seen above, in Detail 3. The borders are so saturated with very fine isen-isen motifs, they appear as if in a light haze or perhaps like the transparent veils shielding the Milky Way. The amazing number of minutely detailed isen-isen and tanahan motifs would indicate the wearer was from a wealthy background. This intricate work is a variation of the Kudus batiks made before the occupation of the Japanese, and is known as buketan Semarangan. These even more densely detailed works were produced by Peranakan owned workshops for Peranakan customers after Independence. The terang bulan border was a key characteristic of Djawa Hokokai batiks which were developed in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients during the 1943 – 1945 occupation of Java.
Liem Siek Hien’s attention to variations in surface detail is highlighted by her exquisite treatment of the birds’ feathers, as in Detail 4 above. The exotic plumage of each of the four birds utilises an array of combinations of intricately developed decorative approaches and colours . The birds are placed against an equally intricate but darker in colour background. The delicate water-colour treatment of each birds’ heads has most likely been achieved by the batikker first encircling the shape with wax-resist, followed by hand-colouring. This is a process known variously as colet, besut, and dulit, depending on local terminology.
All of the various flower and bird arrangements in this inspired work are flexible and flowing. All elements possess the spirit of life. As in Detail 5 above, a sense of depth is added to the flowers by the use of darker central areas and shaded filler motifs. The extreme finest of the linear use of white dots (that appear like lines), flowing from the tips of each bloom back down into the centre, are extraordinary! The more dense the dots, the lighter the colour becomes. This is an excellent example of the use of isen-isen motifs to enhance the main motif The delicate pink of the blooms lights up against the darker background.
This is an art work I become absorbed in every time I remove it from the safety of its storage cabinet and unroll it across the work table. Its richness is adored by all and it is with astonishment they survey the intricate canting work. It is made from the finest cotton and now with age, it feels like sensuous silk. In the image above of the full work, it is easy to decipher the two halves of the work’s pagi-sore structure. The key motif on the left side consists of various groupings of a family of birds which are balanced on the right side by the random placement of bouquets of heavenly pink blooms. Each of these key motifs are also interwoven into their respective terang bulan borders. Additionally, each half of the pagi-sore has motifs in common including blue/mauve chrysanthemums, blue/mauve and orange orchids/daffodils and floral sprigs in blue and pink. The motifs in common with each half contribute to the work’s overall sense of balance and harmony. Both of the short ends have a kepala consisting of multi-coloured small triangles against a background of the brown shade covered in white dots. Both long sides are edged by a finely striped secret.