Batik is an ancient art that has been practised for 2,000 years across Asia and parts of Africa. The complex dyeing process of creating batik involves a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole, fibrous fabrics.
A long and arduous process, batik art involves the stamping or drawing of intricate designs using hot wax. The applied wax resists dyes and this allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking or painting the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water, and repeating if multiple designs and colours are desired.
Both hand-made and machine printed batik appear similar as they both incorporate the same traditional motifs. However, there is a vast difference in the method of production and the quality of the batik. Beyond this, there is also a story behind every piece of batik art - a story which involves local artisans and their families.
When you buy authentic batik, which is often more expensive, you aren’t just paying for a fabric; you are paying for the artistry and the labour of people that continue to keep the art of batik alive. If you’re looking to make an impact on local craft communities with your next batik purchase, it is important to be able to differentiate between real and fake batik. Here are three simple steps to help you identify authentic batik.
1. Turn it over. Real batik is hand-dyed 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 from mass fashion brands.
So, don’t fret if you’re wearing your authentic batik piece inside out - no one will notice!
2. Take a closer look because just like art, real batik is not perfect.
Much like other machine-made products, machine printed patterns are perfect. With real batik, every piece is hand-drawn or stamped then hand-dyed, and this is reflected in the inconsistencies across the patterns depending on the temperature of wax, pressure the blocks are applied, precision of the artists, amount of time drying, and even mixture of the dyes.
This means that any authentic piece of batik you buy is unique, as no two pieces will be exactly the same. Every real batik product you buy is truly a piece of art.
3. Feel the fabric - real batik can only be created on natural fibres.
An important element in the creation of hand-made batik is the use of fibrous fabrics such as cotton, linen and silk for their ability to absorb dyes. Although not always the case, imitation batik is often printed onto synthetic materials. However, synthetic fibres do not hold the dyes properly in the batik dyeing process.
To identify what material the fabric is made from, you have to touch the fabric. If the fabric has a matte texture and feels like it would absorb water easily, this fabric is more likely to be a natural fabric. These fabrics are generally better in terms of environmental sustainability, and they often cost more as a raw material (white in color) and affect the overall cost of authentic batik.
At the same time, 100% fibre fabrics are more breathable and feel more luxurious than synthetic fabrics. Wearing these materials that have been hand-painted by artisans is a fashion and sustainability statement in and of itself.
Machine-printed batik inspired textiles are an innovative method of textile production that makes batik physically and financially accessible to the masses, which inherently contributes to an increase in the appreciation of batik art and design. However, hand-crafted batik has a quality and a story that a machine is unable to replicate and one should be aware of the difference when choosing what to buy.
At Batik Boutique, we exist to empower artisans by creating a demand for authentic, artisan-made batik products and the art of batik. By doing so, we are able to partner with local batik artists across the nation to provide a sustainable income and preserve the traditional art form while scaling it at a global level the world can enjoy and appreciate.
If you’re interested the art of batik, we have a collection of DIY Batik painting kits that are not only a fun way to explore batik art at home, but a therapeutic activity for people of all ages.
Beyond this, you can schedule virtual batik painting workshops for varying group sizes - from a small group of friends to a company with over 100 people. Drop us a message or browse our collection of batik apparel, gift sets and homeware.
And when you have a choice, please purchase real batik in support of the people behind the products.