5.9.11 Indonesian Arts & Crafts: Part 1

Batik shirts2 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
With my trusty driver, Toto, in an air-conditioned Toyota minivan, I ventured forth into the heart of Yogyakarta to do a little shopping. Beneath sulky grey skies, the city was smelly and palpably damp. Our hotel is in a rather unattractive neighborhood close to the airport, and the view out the window included some classic Third World sites: shanties with corrugated-tin roofs; entire families perched on a single motorbike, the parents with helmets and the barefoot babies without; scrawny chickens strutting in roadside ditches. The strange dichotomy between progress and tradition is perhaps best summed up by a poster I saw for a local technology convention, featuring an ox-drawn cart laden with the latest computers and electronics. Even the batiks for which I was shopping are evidence of this tension, an ancient craft now more and more being executed with mechanized techniques. Of course, I was in search of the real deal, the artisanal, hand-printed and –dyed version that is so much harder to come by.
Batiks 790 xxx
the classic yogyakarta design is the middle one on the bottom
Batik is a cloth that uses a wax-resist dyeing technique. It’s a traditional handcraft of Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and Singapore. The designs of traditional Javanese batik, especially from Yogyakarta and Sukarta, have meanings rooted in their concept of the universe. The three basic colors—indigo, dark brown and white—represent the three major Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Certain patterns were once reserved for nobility, with wider stripes or wavy lines of greater width indicating higher rank.
Batiks3 790 xxx
tourists seem to go for bright colors and big graphics
I discovered batik and ikat, another traditional textile, the last time I came to Indonesia in 1995. What I was drawn to were the older, more traditional pieces. The cotton is much softer and more worn in, the designs more complex and subtle. Naturally, these are much harder to find and, depending on where you do find them, they tend to be a lot more expensive. The first "gallery" Toto took me to wanted more than $1,000 each for the antique batiks they had. I was pretty demoralized, especially since my expert bargainer was laid up back at the hotel. At the next place, handmade batiks in the traditional Yogya style were about $500.
Yogya batik1 790 xxx
the brown, white and indigo of traditional Yogya batik
I had never paid more than $40 for a single batik, and I was really floored by these prices. But finally, just as I was about to give up and head to the puppet workshop, Toto suggested we try one more batik place.
Workshop 790 xxx
a small, much-used batik set-up
The minute I walked in the door, I felt the difference. No tourists. No glass cases. And the artisans right on the premises. They even had locally produced ikat! Eureka!
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all the tools were heavily encrusted with wax and dyes
Dyes 790 xxx
dyes are both natural and synthetic
Wax 790 xxx
boiling the fabric removes any last traces of wax
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i bought several ikat bedcovers
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and these beautiful, faded and well-worn "vintage" batiks
It turned out that the workshop was mostly producing "paintings," which tend to be pretty cheesy. I did find the one "old style" piece they had and I snapped it up. And they also had a few "not new" batiks; I bought two for less than $40.
Batik painting 790 xxx
primitive batik painting
All in all, a successful first foray. Stay tuned for my trips to the puppet workshop, the silver workshop, the traditional wet market (meat, vegetables) and the bird market...


Thanks Laura for the expedition...love ikat!! And puppets....can't wait for that installment.
bryan on May 9, 2011 at 5:08 am —
Amazing! Love the photos.
Mily on May 9, 2011 at 5:46 am —
Are the dyes used for the traditional Yogya batiks still natural/vegetable-derived? I looked at that workshop and wondered at the state of health of the dyer.
Vetivresse on May 9, 2011 at 9:27 am —
Both. The dyer had very few teeth, but I think that's from smoking and betel.
laura on May 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm —
I love shopping with you vicariously.... interesting... what I see in photo #3 (ikat bed covers) is exactly the ikat still done in Ecuador for women's shawls and men's ponchos. How did ikat get from Indonesia to Ecuador? Any ideas?
judy blankenship on May 10, 2011 at 5:45 am —
It beats me, Judy! I'm too geographically challenged to hazard an educated guess. But I've found ikat in Cambodia and India, as well. There's clearly some connection. It's like when I went to Tibet and was struck by how the people looked (and dressed) so Peruvian. Btw, are you in Spain yet?
laura on May 10, 2011 at 6:33 am —
Hi Laura, I know this post is really old, but I'm in Yogya at the moment having a difficult time finding regional ikat or much ikat at all.. Do you happen to remember the address of this studio?
NATALIE on August 14, 2016 at 11:17 am —
Natalie, I'm sorry to say I don't have the address for that studio. But don't give up! I find that asking hotel concierges and/or drivers can lead to very good tips. Also, in the main market (Beringharjo) I ended up finding lots of "vintage" batiks in a couple of shops upstairs. Good luck!
laura on August 14, 2016 at 5:33 pm —