Batik cap from Cirebon and Pekalongan, Java

Batik cap is a wax resist process in which designs are applied in wax with “cap”, stamps usually made of copper for their heat conductive properties. It has been produced in Java since the middle of the 19th century to speed up the production and lower the cost of batik cloth. Batik originated in the keraton, or royal palaces of the sultans, and the wax resist designs were applied by hand with the a canting, a pen-like tool with a reservoir and spout from which lines of melted wax could be drawn. It is a highly skilled craft and takes a long time to make. Batik cap requires less skill and is much faster to produce.

Batik is a living art throughout Indonesia and is considered not only a national treasure, but is designated by Unesco to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Most Indonesians however cannot afford batik tulis, the hand-drawn type, so batik cap is a low cost alternative. Producing it is still a labor intensive process requiring patience and skill. It’s done usually by men. Boys learn the skill at an early age and with experience can produce perfectly registered designs without the use of drawing guide lines or measuring. There are many variables in applying the perfect application of wax to achieve clarity and precision in the waxed design. The formulation of the wax itself is a guarded recipe, and the temperature has to be just right, the amount of wax on the cap just the right amount, and the speed of the application timed to perfection. The registration is the most difficult part of the work. Some designs require the use of a combination of several cap, and some intricate floral bouquet designs can have as many as 10 or 12 different cap to complete the design. The cap can be works of art in their own right, and the cap-makers are highly skilled in this specialized art.

I have traveled along the north coast of Java to look at batik cap production and these are some of the photos from various trips over the years to workshops in Cirebon and Pekalongan.


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