But what is a Batik and which elements can still be found in todays Wax Prints?
To create Batik two techniques are being used: Batik Tulis and Batik Cap. Batik Tulis is unique for Java. With a copper pen like instrument called ‘canting’ wax is applied onto both sides of a cloth. The wax is a combination of beeswax and resin that goes onto and into the fabric to keep dyes from colouring these parts of the cloth. After dyeing the cloth with natural or chemical dye the wax gets bioled out in water. For every colour a new layer of wax is required.
With Batik Cap a copper stamp is used, the ‘cap’, to apply the wax. The stamps are made with small strips of copper and are an artwork in themselves. Batik Cap was developed to create Batiks faster. It was invented beginning early 19th century in Indonesia, but got popular with the commercialisation of the Batik industry in the 1850s.
The overlap and crackle effect in Wax Prints is specifically created. The fabric goes after the first, originally blue, dye through a machine that breaks and cracks the resin. Depending on which kind of Wax Print, the process is repeated after another colour bath. The overlap in colour happend first because it was hand-stamped. These missprints showed that it was handmade. So the missprints are still done today, but with machines. The machines can print perfect, but they choose to make it a little uneven. The combination of these two, the crackle effect and the overlap of colour, makes that every yard of Wax Print is unique although it is machinemade.
Wax Prints got probably introduced in Africa first in the East and later West Africa. There was already a market for Chinz from India, Blue prints from Europe and Batiks from Java, next to the local Kente, Bogolan and Adire cloth. Wax Prints got popular fast throughout Africa and if we see a Wax Print today we think of West Africa.
So we now know which technical elements in Batik and Wax Prints are similar and which are not. They are both a resist-dye technique. The wax is applied on both sides making the pattern equally visible on both sides of the cloth. The cloth is dyed several times. The textiles are both unique, but one is handmade, the other machinemade.
There are even more elements found in Wax Prints today that show it originated from Batik. They are found in the design. Especially in the older, classic designs the patterns of Wax Prints are put quite similar onto the cloth. Also to start with a base in blue is traditionally found in Batik.
What a significant thing is that will bind Wax Prints with Batik hopefully forever is the selvedge. The selvedge is the self-finished edge of fabric. On this part most Wax Print manufacturers put their brand and the code or name of the motif between a border with small lines. These small lines are also found on the selvedge of Batiks. In Javanese they call it ‘seret’. The ‘seret’ is originally made on Batik to give the idea of fringes around the edges.
I think it is wonderful that although Wax Prints look very different today from Batiks, this little element, the little lines on the selvedge, is still there after 150 years.
Book 'Katoendruk in Nederland'
My article Batik ‘Tiga Negeri’ & Java Print ‘Good Living’ for Modemuze
Previous blogposts Batik: Pattern vs. Technique, Take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me about stories in Wax Prints and The best kind of prize is a *sur*prise! about my visit to the Vlisco factory
On the Vlisco website Heritage & Wax printing process
I wrote this article actually for another blog, but because it didn't get published (yet), I decided to share it here. The next months I will be sharing more stories on African fashion, African textiles and therefor Wax prints. Also on Sustainable fashion & design. And more on my explorations and new finds on (Dutch) Traditional wear and Colonial history.
This themes already appear on my blog and if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you know I don't just talk Batik. I'm still looking for the right form and way of sharing everything I find interesting, inspiring and must-know-learning-experiences when it comes to our Colonial history. So my blog will vary the next coming months in type of posts; some will be more informal, others more documentation of events and others more expressive, hehe.
Please feel free to contact me, through Social Media or in the comments below, if you want to know more or want to share my content for other platforms.
Note: all photos are made by me in this post (and on my blog, otherwise the maker is mentioned) and from my own textile collection.