September 23, 2017

Wax Prints are based on Javanese Batiks

But what is a Batik and which elements can still be found in todays Wax Prints?


Clockwise starting left upper corner: Super Wax Print by Vlisco, Batik Tulis by Ibu Maryati, Wax Print from Vlisco and Batik Tulis made after my design in Jeruk

Batik is a resist-dye technique to create patterns in different colours on cotton or silk. Decorating cloth with a resist-dye technique is over a millennium years old and it is hard to pinpoint when Batik was first made. Since 2009 Batik is an UNESCO heritage of Indonesia and it is practiced today on Java and in many other countries around the world.
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.

Birds on textiles, left upper corner Batik Tulis by Ibu Maryati, 
next to it unfinished (last colour not added) Batik Tulis by Ibu Ramini, 
under 'Happy Family' Wax print by Vlisco


The first Wax Prints where also being made around the same time. In Europe there was a flourishing cotton-print industry based on the Indian woodblock printing technique. While trying to make an imitation Batik for the Dutch East Indies textile market, the Wax Print technique was created. Wax prints are made by applying “wax”, which in this case is a resin, onto both sides of a cloth with big copper gravures on rolls. The colouring is done first in a colour bath, traditionally blue. The second colour layer is printed onto the cloth. Until 1990s this was done partly by hand with wooden stamps. Today all is done with machines.

Infinity pattern by Julius Holland Wax, Bananas by African Textiles Holland, chequered pattern by Vlisco and spiderweb by Holland Textiles, all these Wax Prints are made in the Netherlands

As mentioned before Wax Prints started as imitation Batiks for the Dutch East Indies. The original market on Java wasn’t too keen on these cheaper versions of Batik. For them these “Cottons” (“Katoentjes” in Dutch) lack the refinement of Batik Tulis. They found the lines too thick. The lines with canting can be as fine as half a millimeter. Lines made by cap are a lot thicker. They also didn’t like the colour overlapping nor the crackle effect; which is for many people still what is typical for Batik. In Batik a crack in the wax is a lack of technique. Colours need to be even, plain surfaces perfect and overlap is only used to create an extra colour.
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.

Selvedges of Batik Tulis, Wax prints, Java prints and Khanga's


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.


Read more:

Book 'Katoendruk in Nederland'

My article Batik ‘Tiga Negeri’ & Java Print ‘Good Living’ for Modemuze

Previous blogposts Batik: Pattern vs. TechniqueTake 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 HeritageWax 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.


September 8, 2017

Too Sad to Talk


After getting this mourning wear jacket, 'Jakje' in Dutch, from Spakenburg I have been thinking of its meaning and function. While trying the jacket on two ladies sitting in the café of the Museum Spakenburg dropped their knitting needles.
"Do you like it?" asked one, yes, I replied
"Fits perfect", the other one, yes, it fits good I guess
"Do you like it?", yes, I think I'm going to get it
"Are you going to wear it?", yes, I think so.
"You know its Mourning wear", yes, I guessed as much.
They were fussing, pulling the jacket and discussing the price with the lady working there. I wanted it, but I didn't know if it was okay. One kept asking if I wanted it, the other said, she wants it, I can tell. I thought the jacket was newly made after an old design. It turned out is wasn't. It was secondhand, or as one of the ladies put it "No one can make that anymore, they are all dead"...

After examining the jacket, we found all these little mended parts, new pieces of fabrics added and repairs. The jacket was also clearly worn by different wearers or at least was repaired by different people. Most repairs were done with much detail and care, but probably the last one, was done fast and without finishing it neatly as all the other alterations. A jacket tended to for many years while it was worn during the roughest times.


Inside out, at least 9 different fabrics were used in this jacket

I'm so surprised by the details on the inside 
and I wonder if they are pure practical re-use or are these pieces used for a reason?





In de back a piece of carton is sewn in to make it stand up nicely


There are so many different traditions of showing grief in clothing. We assume that black is the ultimate colour for mourning, but probably it is more the go-to colour when people want to dress fancy aka smoking & the little black dress. Black was considered a fancy colour and still is. First because it was difficult, and therefor expensive to dye textile black. Later it had already reached its status and became easier to get, so everyone wanted it. As mentioned in 'Fragments Of' (see my previous post New Perspectives on Traditional Wear, which is in Dutch) in Brabant people wore black almost daily, and specifically for funerals & weddings. And it was common in more places to wear a black wedding gown.
I read somewhere there is a tradition of wearing torn clothing during a funeral, I forgot were and why (if you know, please comment below). It had to do with honouring life and showing your grief. I liked that idea.
In the Netherlands every traditional wear had its own set of rules. On Marken they have seven gradations of showing mourning in their clothing. In Spakenburg, were this jacket is from, after a first period of wearing black comes dark purple and after that five years, five years(!), of light purple. At one point you end up wearing mourning wear always. And this is one of the main reasons traditional wear, in the Netherlands, disappeared. The strict rules of mourning. The clothing didn't only express your loss, your feelings, it also came with a pack of rules. You had to act the part, you weren't allowed to do certain things. Going to festivities, go dancing and I'm sure there were a lot more things you couldn't do. I don't know if the rules were the same for man and woman...So it wasn't just expressing loss but actually acting appropriate after loss. Which in some cases would be more acting then feeling I'm sure. But I still think when it comes to expressing feelings with clothing, I wouldn't mind a kind of mourning wear. Not one that makes the wearer act a certain way, mourning is a personal process and shouldn't been surrounded by rules, but one that works for their surrounding. If you are too sad to talk, how great is it if your clothing can do the talking.

The back, outside with embroidered buttons

The back on the inside

I'm personally never dressing to my mood, I like to wear clothing that makes me happy. It has to do with people here wearing a lot of dark or "neutral" colours. Why wear gloomy colours when our skies are already grey... and if you look at our traditional wear traditions, gloominess or colourless is not really how you would describe our historical way of dressing, so why the gloomy colours? I always wanted to go against it. I don't wear black (got some black basiscs) and I never wear blue demin jeans. Both clothing choices were made when I became a girl. Sounds maybe weird to put it that way, but that is how I felt when I was 14 years old... Or better said, I embraced being a girl. It had not so much to do with dressing 'girly', I just wore jeans all the years before that and started a new chapter. I started adding more colours to my wardrobe and being totally fascinated by the art movement 'Impressionism' influenced my choice not to wear black also. Dating a gothic a few years later changed that for a while, but still black is hard to find in my dressing choices.

I'm still not sure if it is okay for me to wear this jacket. I think I can, because I'm outside of the tradition. I'm actually thinking of wearing it inside out. The most mended side on the outside. Honouring this handmade beauty and not offending anyone with the actual function of this jacket.





Mourning wear within traditional wear is an interesting topic which I definitely will re-visit in the near future, for now read more on:

The colour black in 'Past & Present: The Color Black' on Design*Sponge

Article 'An historical overview on dyes, dying and fabric colors in the Renaissance'

Mourning Glory: Two centuries of funeral dress

Articles in Dutch:  'n Draadje meer of minder - dat maakt het verschil by Jacco Hooikammer and Rouwen of trouwen? on Modemuze

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