Batik is a design on cloth made by a wax-resist dye process. According to J. A. Loeber, an authority on Indonesian arts, batik is likely to have originated in the Indian archipelago. Batik can be traced back to the 10th century in Java. The work “batik” is thought to be derived from “ambatik”, a Javanese word meaning cloth of little dots.

The invention and use of “chanting” (tjanting) dates back to the 17th century. A canting is a waxing tool; a small copper cup with a spout and fitted with a bamboo or wooden handle which together resemble a smoking pipe. The molten wax is added to the cup and flows through the spout while being held like a stylus to draw the design. The wax resists the dye preserving the color of the cloth. Successive waxing, dyeing and removal of the wax from certain areas results in a variety of colors and patterns.

Around 1840 a copper stamping block called a “cap” (tjap) was developed to apply the wax. With this implement the most time consuming part, waxing the design on cloth, was done faster. In terms of quality and individuality, cap batik cannot compare with the ones drawn with changing. However, cap enabled batik to be produced quickly and economically making batik cloth more available to the common people. The batik industry has survived, unlike many other indigenous textile arts that had to compete with machine made cloth.

The motifs of the designs differ from one region to another. A piece of batik may reveal some characteristic of the region, foreign influences, geographical location, migration patterns, etc.

The current principal batik regions are Solo (Surakarta), Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta), Cirebon, Pekalongan, Lasem, Madura, Indramayu and Garut. There are many batik regions whose glory days of batik are past.

Batik is very much alive to Indonesian people, from the aristocracy to the general public, unlike many traditional clothes in other countries. It is daily wear for most people in traditional, formal and informal situations. President Sukarno had encouraged the Indonesian batik industry as did President Suharto. President Suharto encouraged men to wear batik shirts as formal wear instead of western suits and ties. His wife, Madame Tien Suharto’s patronage and support also helped to sustain an interest in classical Javanese batik for women. Many new ways of wearing and using batik cloth are constantly being introduced and new motifs are often developed.