Batik -- a form of wax-resistant fabric dying -- is Indonesia’s most advanced art form and one that predates written records. Traditionally, batik fabrics were sold in lengths long enough to be worn as a sarong, used as an infant sling or draped over a body as a funeral shroud. Different batik patterns were reserved for various social classes.
As you’ll see in a visit to a batik workshop, the process involves applying a dye-resistant wax to a natural and densely woven fabric -- typically cotton or silk -- to form intricate patterns which would appear in white once the fabric was dyed. Today, mass-produced batiks are made using a copper stamp, called a cap, to apply the wax. When buying batik fabrics, those where the pattern was applied by hand are usually much more expensive than those made using a cap.
The colors of Indonesian batik have changed over the centuries as well. Originally, fabrics were dyed using natural ingredients, and the most prominent color was a deep blue made from the leaves of an indigo plant. Today, artificial dyes allow for batiks in any color imaginable. Balinese batik is characterized by bright colors, usually with a tie-dye appearance.
If you’re shopping for batik in Bali, you’ll find the best artisanal shops in and around Ubud. When you’re shopping, especially if you’re planning to spend serious money on your fabrics, it’s good to know the difference between a true batik (made by hand or with a cap) and one printed in a factory. An authentic batik will look the same on both sides in both pattern and coloration. Printed fabrics typically look more dull or faded on the “bad” side.