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 perfect surfaces and overlap is only used to create an extra colour.
The overlap and crackle effect in Wax Prints is specifically created. After the first, originally blue, dye the fabric goes 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 introduced in Africa, probably first in the East and later in 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.
These 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 on 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.


John Ang said...

Thanks for this detailed
write up on Vlisco batiks. Learnt a lot from it.

Sabine Bolk said...

Dear John, thank you so much, happy to write for great readers like you :))), Warm regards Sabine