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The Art of Batik in Bali, Indonesia

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

On our honeymoon trip we were lucky enough to travel 6 weeks in Southeast Asia. One of our favorite places we visited was Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. It was here that we got to meet HaNa Eka Susanti and learn about the art of Batik.

I learned about the Batik classes she offers from a Bali Facebook group and reached out to her. We set up a day for both Wade and I to go to their shop and make a batik sarong.

One of the designs we sell

What is Batik?

Batik is a technique of applying hot wax, by artists, to a stretched piece of fabric creating a design or pattern. They then fill in the various sections with colored dyes. The wax is then carefully melted away revealing the outlines of a beautiful work of art. Batik making is found in various countries throughout southeast Asia. The batik of Indonesia, however, may be the best-known as this is where the technique originated from.

We arrived to meet HaNa and toured their beautiful store. While there, we learned that this was a family business that’s been going strong for nearly 30 years. Her father designed the pieces and the rest of the family dyed the sarongs and sold them in their store.

She told us to pick out any design we liked and we could make it. There were so many great options it was hard to choose. Wade went with a dragon and I did the circle.

Once we had our designs picked we were taken to the back where the sarongs are made. We worked right next to the artist as we traced our chosen design onto the sarong with a pencil. The work space was open on one side to the elements with a roof. Everyone worked together alongside each other including us.

After we had traced our design we got to try our hand at applying the hot wax. It was harder than it looked. The dye-resistant wax is used to create elaborate patterns and designs. The hot wax is usually made from a mixture of paraffin or beeswax, sometimes mixed with plant resins, which functions as a dye-resist.

These designs are made using a canting, a pen-like instrument that draws the hot wax onto the fabric. The tip of the canting is usually made of copper so that the wax flows smoothly onto the cloth and will be placed exactly where the artisan draws. The fabric holder is wood so that the heat is conducted into the wax instead of the artisan's hand.

I'm surprised they actually let us sit down and give it a try just to experience the process. It requires a steady hand using grace and precision with a tool that quickly earns your respect. After applying some hot wax ourselves and realizing how hard it is, we were happy to let the artist do the rest for us.

The next step was to apply the color. We got to choose the colors we wanted but I would often ask for feedback from the experts. We painted the colored dyes onto the fabric between the wax pattern. After hours of concentrating on literally “keeping it between the lines” we took a break to enjoy the lunch we had been offered by our host.

We then got back to work applying the colored dye to our Batik Sarong. This took hours for both Wade and I but thankfully we got some help from HaNa. However, the ladies that work there, all work together 4 at a time applying the dye and can knock them out surprisingly fast.

After working all day in the humidity of Bali and being humbled in the presence of true artists, we had finally finished applying the colored dye to our Batik Sarongs. Our job was done so we left it to the experts to finish the process for us as we headed back to our hotel.

After we left, they waited until our piece was dry then they set it by soaking our Batik Sarongs in what’s called a fixative. Finally, the fabric was boiled to remove the wax and reveal the colorful and beautiful design. The seams were hemmed and our Batik Sarong was ready for delivery to our hotel.

TIP-You can tell a piece is truly Batik when the colors and the design are on both sides of the fabric, whereas screen printing would be one-sided. (Our Batik Sarong is, of course, colored on both sides)

Since that trip we have thought a lot about our experience that day and how it is one of the most unique things we have been able to do in our travels. I was so intrigued, I did some research and learned even more about Batik Art.

Like I had no idea Batik art is so important to the Indonesian culture that on October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian Batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. After the UNESCO recognition, the Indonesian administration asked Indonesians to wear batik on Fridays. And wearing batik every Friday has been encouraged in government offices and private companies ever since.

In looking for a way that we could sustain our travels while doing good I thought “maybe we could teach people about Batik and sell some sarongs for extra money”. So I contacted HaNa in June and the process of us selling Batik Sarongs started.

Making the Batik Sarongs we ordered from Bali

Because there is no middle man and I went straight to the source and paid the regular prices we are able to help support a local family business. And when you buy a sarong from us you help HaNa and her family and a small business (us). Check out the Sarongs here.

Batik is an important part of the local economy in Indonesia and the UNESCO designation has helped improve the small business economy. Batik sales in Indonesia had reached Rp 3.9 trillion in 2010, an increase from Rp 2.5 trillion in 2006. The value of batik exports, meanwhile, increased from US $14.3 million in 2006 to $22.3 million in 2010.

Why You Need a Sarong?

When It comes to packing for a trip, multi-functional items are key to keeping your luggage light. With this in mind, I think a sarong is an essential item to pack for any trip. It doesn’t matter where I’m going, warm climate or cold, I always pack at least one sarong and it is always well used. Sarongs are so versatile. And if you are going to travel with a sarong why not make it a Batik work of art? They also make great gifts for the traveler in your life.

5 Ways You Can Use a Sarong

A Batik Sarong can be used as a blanket. Weather at the beach or lake you can use a sarong in place of a blanket. You can even use it when on a picnic. A Batik Sarong can also be used to cover up with when on a chilly plane, boat or bus while traveling.

A Batik Sarong can be used as a bathing suit cover. It can be worn as both a skirt and dress or even draped across your shoulders. There are many ways to tie a sarong. Learn ways to wear a sarong in this video here.

A Batik Sarong as a cover up. Many times when traveling overseas you may be visiting temples or places of worship. In such places it can be required to cover your legs before entering (for both men and women). While many places will have sarongs available for purchase or that you can borrow why not have your own? A Batik Sarong can even be worn casually as a skirt or dress.

A Batik Sarong can be used as a towel to dry off after a swim. Wouldn't you love to avoid packing a heavy towel? Bring a sarong instead. It is a much lighter option and doesn’t get heavy when it’s wet and it dries quickly. It’s also a great way to protect yourself from the sun.

A Batik Sarong can be used as a scarf or shawl. For cold nights or chilly days use a sarong as a scarf or shawl to keep you warm. You can also use it to cover your hair if it rains. A sarong is also a great way to dress up any outfit.

As you can see there are many uses for a sarong and they are quite useful when traveling. Every traveler needs a sarong so why not make it a work of art and use a Batik sarong?

Thinking about going to Bali? Four reasons why you must go!

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