Batik, also known in Thai as batae, is a form of textile produced through the selective application of a “wax resist” which blocks dye from soaking into the fabric wherever the wax is applied. The dye, after having been brushed, dotted on, or soaked into the fabric, leavesbeautiful patterns in the fabric wherever the wax is not present. The most elaborate batik are quite difficult to make, perhaps going through the stages of wax application, dotting, painting and dying dozens of times.
The word batik or batae originally comes from Javanese, used to describe textiles with dotted patterns. The word tik means small or dot-like, so the word batik refers to textiles with various dotted patterns.
The batik industry in Thailand has a long history especially in the various provinces of the south, including the most famous tourist destinations. There the batik process is applied to all sorts of goods, whether they behand towels, scarves, ready-made clothing, house upholstery, and so on, all of which bring income to their local communities.
The complete batik process can be described as follows:
- Stretch the cloth tightly over a wooden frame, then trace the patterns or picture with a pencil.
- Take wax melted over a fire, then smear it on a frame (a different one than above) then stretch the cloth tightly over the frame, using the wax as a binder between the two. Rub the cloth near the edges of the frame with a coin or spoon handle to make sure the two are sealed tightly.
- Dip a pen-like instrument called a “canting” or “tjanting” in the wax until it is hot and use while the wax is still warm to trace the desired patterning, with each line no larger than 2-3 millimeters in size. Keep tissues underneath to prevent the wax dripping haphazardly while drawing, because any place the wax drips will then resist the dye. When drawing the wax lines, if the linebegins to grow thinand opaque, it indicates that the wax has begun to harden and won’t penetrate the fabric, so one must hurry to scrape it off and draw again. If not, when it comes time to dye, the colors will seep in around the edges of thewax.
- Mix the dyes into varying strengths and colors, then paint them on according to the design. In parts where colors should be blended, use the tip of the finger to nudge the colors back and forth to mix them.
Before applying the dye, water should be applied to the fabric. If the fabric is too wet, blot it with a tissue. When painting on the dye, start first at the edges or along the curves of the patterns because some patterns require a shift eitherfrom thicker to thinner strength dye, or from the pattern edge into the center area (note: applying water first keeps the edges from becoming too saturated with dye). Once dyeing has finished, put out to dry.
- Apply sodium silicate as a fixative (if the sodium silicate is too viscous, a little water can be mixed in). Let the fabric sit until the sodium silicate has dried, about 4-5 hours. While waiting for either the dye or sodium silicate to dry, the fabric must be laid flat. Don’t under any circumstances lift or prop up the fabric as it will cause the dyes to seep together.
- Melt the wax off. Take the fabric, which had been covered in sodium silicate and then dried, and clean it so that the colors and sodium silicate come out. Then boiltill the remaining wax is removed, clean with detergent, and then rinse with plain water till clean. As the final step, dry and iron.
Although the knowledge of batik has been inherited from Indonesia and Malaysia, the Thai people can beautifully convey,through the exquisiteness of their own batik, their own identity and way of life. Thai batik has not only become a product withits own unique charm but also a not insignificant source of income for those Thais who produce it.