Get Cracking With Batik, a Hand-Block Printing Technique That Uses Wax Resist
Batik, derived from the word ‘ambatik’ means ‘a cloth with little dots’ whereas ‘tik’ means little dots, drops or points, and it is also believed that the word ‘batik’ originated from the Japanese word ‘tritik’ that defines a resist process for dyeing.
Local legends share stories of the Batik practice of block printing being carried to Kachchh during the time of the Ramayana by seasoned, master craftsmen. For years, people have enjoyed the floral and figural motifs of Batik textiles by Khatris, a community creating Batik, Ajrakh, Bagru, and Bandhani all over Kutch. The port of Mandvi is one reason Batik probably became the main industry in Kachchh. It was a popular textile export to Indonesia from Gujarat as early as the 1500s. Indonesian populations were particularly fond of the Gujarati madder, a deep red colored dye that was meaningful to their community.
Originally, Batik prints were made by dipping a block into hot piloo seed oil, which was then pressed onto the fabric. After dyeing, the oil paste was peeled off to reveal a print. Over time, wax was adopted in the technical process of Batik printing as a more practical and sustainable alternative to oil, which had to be pressed from thousands of small seeds. The adoption of wax changed the appearance of the textile, giving it its characteristic lacy veined look. In wax printing, thin webs of dye run through the motif creating a beautiful veined appearance. Wax print batik flourished in Kutch in the 1960s due to the craft’s rising popularity in foreign markets coinciding with the hippie movement and the emergence of chemical dyes, which worked in tandem with wax printing in contrast with vegetable dyes that were unfit for Batik making.
Moving on to the technique, in this craft paraffin-wax is used as a resist material. The wax is first melted in a metal tray with the help of a kerosene stove. Then, a carved wooden block is immersed in the melted wax and printed on a white cloth placed on a table. Prior to this, sand is spread on the table surface, which helps the wax penetrate into the cloth and at the same time cool down quickly. The first resist helps retain the white portion of the cloth. Next, the cloth is dipped into a lighter colour, followed by the application of resistance once again. This process is repeated a couple of times until the colours penetrate. The wax resist is removed by immersing the cloth in boiling water and often reused. Lastly, the cloth is dried and pressed. Traditional batik designs utilise traditional and typical Batik dots, geometry and floral patterns handed down over the generations.
Today, Batik artisans are struggling to stay afloat in a modern and competitive marketplace. Their style of printing is oftentimes replicated by screen and laser printers, who can make textiles in larger quantities to sell in bulk. Post-60’s the popularity of Batik has faded, often associated with that decade rather than with modern, high fashion. In Kutch, communities that once wore Batik are more eager to buy mill cloth that is available for cheap prices in the local marketplace.