Batik is an ancient art that has been practised for 2,000 years across Asia and parts of Africa. The complex dyeing process of creating batik involves a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole, fibrous fabrics. The applied wax resists dyes and this allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water, and repeating if multiple designs and colours are desired.
When you buy authentic batik, which is often more expensive, you aren’t just paying for a fabric – you are paying for the artistry and the labour of people that continue to keep the heritage art of batik alive.
Here are three simple steps to help you identify real batik.
- Turn it over! Real batik is hand-printed and looks similar on both sides.
The easiest way to identify how a piece of batik was made is to check if the fabric looks the same on both sides. With authentic batik, both sides of the fabric are equally vibrant as the hot wax is drawn with a canting tool or stamped with a batik block and then hand-painted. The wax and dyes penetrate the fabric, leaving a similar quality of vibrancy on both sides. Machine-printed fabric, on the other hand, typically has a faded pattern on one side like many prints purchased in department stores or boutiques.
So, don’t fret if you’re wearing your authentic batik piece inside out – no one will notice!
- Take a closer look because just like art, real batik is not perfect.
Much like other machine-made products, machine printed patterns are perfect. With real batik, every piece is hand-drawn or stamped then hand-dyed, and this is reflected in the inconsistencies across the patterns depending on the temperature of wax, pressure applied to the blocks, precision of the artists, amount of time drying, and even recipe of the dyes.
This means that any authentic piece of batik you buy is unique, as no two pieces will be exactly the same. Every real batik product you buy is truly a piece of art.
- Feel the fabric – real batik can only be created on natural fibres.
An important element in the creation of hand-made batik is the use of fibrous fabrics such as cotton, linen. Fake batik (or batik inspired fabrics) are often printed onto synthetic materials. However, synthetic fibres do not hold the dyes properly in the batik dyeing process.
Natural fabrics are better in terms of environmental sustainability, and they often cost more as a raw material (white in color) which affects the overall cost of authentic batik. At the same time, 100% fibre fabrics are more breathable and feel more luxurious than synthetic fabrics.
Wearing these materials that have been hand-painted by artisans is a fashion and sustainability statement in and of itself.
Machine-printed, batik inspired textiles are an innovative method of textile production that makes batik scalable and financially accessible to a mass market, which can contribute to an increase in the appreciation and support of the heritage industry. However, hand-crafted batik has a quality and a story that a machine is unable to replicate and we should educate ourselves of the difference when choosing what to buy and what to label as batik.
Local social enterprise, Batik Boutique, exists to empower artisans by creating a demand for authentic, artisan-made batik products and appreciation of the process of authentic batik. They partner with local batik artists across Malaysia to provide a sustainable income and preserve the traditional art form while scaling it at a global level the world can enjoy too. “It is our privilege to work with artisans across the country to help their skills and talent be appreciated at a global level,” quoted Founder, Amy Blair. “We aim to put Malaysian batik on the world stage while scaling a company that does business for good.”
Encik Khairul Aznan is a third generation batik artist, and long-term artisan partner to Batik Boutique. He continues to cultivate his craft and expand his enterprise despite his harrowing struggle with the perennial floods in Kelantan. “Batik Boutique has helped me a lot with selling my batik on an international scale. [They have] given us the spirit to continue our batik legacy,” said Aznan.
If If you’re interested in an introduction to the art of batik, Batik Boutique has a collection of DIY Batik painting kits that are not only a fun way to explore batik art at home, but a therapeutic activity for people of all ages to give batik painting a go.
Beyond this, Batik Boutique is able to host virtual batik painting workshops for varying group sizes – from a small group of friends to a company with over 100 people. Drop the team a message or visit www.thebatikboutique.com to browse their collection of batik apparel, gift sets and homeware.
And whatever we do, let’s support local and support real batik Malaysia!