BATIK is an ancient art that has been practised for 2,000 years across Asia and parts of Africa.
The complex 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 are not just paying for a fabric — you are paying for the artistry and the labour of people who continue to keep the heritage alive.
There are three simple steps to 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.
Real batik is not perfect
When it comes to real batik, every piece is hand-drawn or stamped then hand-dyed. This is reflected in the inconsistencies across the patterns depending on the temperature of the 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.
Feel the fabric
Real batik can only be created on natural fibres.
An important element in the creation of handmade batik is the use of fibrous fabrics such as cotton and linen.
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 colour), which affects the overall cost of authentic batik.
Local social enterprise, Batik Boutique, exists to empower artisans by creating 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.
“It is our privilege to work with artisans across the country to help their skills and talent be appreciated at a global level,” founder Amy Blair said.
“We aim to put Malaysian batik on the world stage while scaling a company that does business for good.”
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.