Sunday, April 27, 2014

Malaysian Batik 2

Malaysia- Batik 2

Batik is a method of design using wax resist. The origins of this design technique remain unclear. We know this process dates back to Egyptian times, nearly 2,000 years ago, from samples found in Egyptian tombs.  Some believe SE Asian batiks originated in India as India produced the fine cotton necessary for the fine detailing of the designs.

The word “batik” comes from Malay “tik” meaning spot,dot or drop.  There are over 3,000 batik designs, which are grouped as follows:
  1. geometric: garis miring, ceplokan, kawang, tumpal, and tambal miring (a kind of patchwork design believed to have magical properties.)
  2. non-geometric: semen (swirling foliage with stylized animals and birds, cloud designs)
  3. isen : simple, repetitive  background designs found in the less expensive batiks

Motifs were inspired by culture, religion and nature.  There are few contemporary batik motifs, instead the tradition continues with the continued use of traditional designs.

One method of applying the resist is the use of a “canting”(Tjanting), a small copper vessel with a spout, resembling the bowl of a pipe with an attached handle.  Cantings may have more than one spout in parallel.  The bowl is filled with the molten wax (made from beeswax and paraffin) and holding the tool like a stylus the artist draws the design with the wax flowing from the spout.  This type of batik is referred  to as Tulis, meaning to write or draw. Since true batik is reversible, the waxing process must be repeated on the reverse side. The artist draws freehand and, therefore, Tulis batik may be very intricate.

Because producing designs with a canting is very time-consuming, batik artists may use a metal block made of strips of thin copper set upright soldered to a metal base with a curved metal handle. Using this metal tool (called a “cap”) dipped into molten wax, a single worker could stamp up to 20 lengths of cloth per day as each cap consists of the entire design element.  Several caps of different sizes and shapes could be used, with as many as ten pairs of caps needed for complex designs

After the waxing, the first dying is done using a combination of chemical and natural dyes.  After the initial dying, wax from the areas next to be dyed is scraped away or reapplied for additional dyeing.  Once all color has been applied the fabric is washed and soaked in as fixing solution.  Thorough rinsing follows and a boiling water bath melts remaining wax, which is then saved.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Malaysia Batik

Spring Break – Malaysia  Batik 1

My first introduction to batik production, many years ago, was in the Indonesian archipelago.  Trips to Ubud, Bali were planned around visits to the textile shops of Rai Rupini.  This lovely woman patiently answered my many questions and graciously showed me countless examples from her inventory of thousands of vintage Indonesian hand-made textiles.  I guess Rai is responsible for my out-of-control textile collection. From her I learned the value of the most humble textile and the beauty of the most elaborate.

 Rai Rupini

Homage to Balinese Women, The Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, 1994
Photograph by Beth Van Gelder

Although I purchased many, many types of Indonesian textiles, my favorites were always vintage batiks: their wonderful patterning, their natural dye colors, and the soft hand of much loved, much worn and laundered fabric.  

It is a fact that many textile enthusiasts ignore the textile traditions of mainland Southeast Asia, which are closely related to those of the Indonesian islands.  Our visit to Malaysia this spring reinforced my view that peoples of Asian cultures developed similar textile traditions and variations could possibly be due to cultural and religious differences.  Because of the close proximity of these countries it is often difficult to determine where certain textiles originated and which textiles were a result of the high amount of trade between these regions although all may share common beginnings.  The east coast of the Malay Peninsula also produced cotton as did Indonesia and India.

Batik Design, Pepin Van Roojen, Shamhala, Boston, 1997
Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast Asia, Gittinger & Lefferts, The Textile Museum, Washington,1992

Batik fabrics and clothing are abundant in Malaysian markets.  Instead of purchasing vintage, I bought many contemporary fabrics and caftans of vintage batik design.  The cost was enticing and the selection amazing.  While I would hesitate wearing clothing made from my vintage fabric collection within miles of spaghetti sauce, blueberry pie or red wine I happily wear my modern reproductions.     

Next blog will discuss the technique of batikdesign.              

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cloth for Taxes

It’s Tax Time!

I don’t think there is anything that inspires more dread than filing tax forms, unless it is an envelope from the IRS with an audit notification inside.

Face it!  Taxes have been around forever and aren’t about to go away anytime soon.

There are many examples in textile history about cloth used as tax payments as far back as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.  I thought I would share a few examples from other cultures with you today.

In Hawaii, before the islands were “discovered” by westerners, commoners worked the land owned by their chief and paid taxes to both their local chief and the king.  Tax payments were in the form of food and clothing.

In China (500BCE-1500 CE) taxes levied on each household were paid in grain and cloth, one bushel of grain equaled one bolt of cloth.  The state levied taxes in “new textile” (cotton) which was grown in the north.  The raw cotton was sent to the south to be made into cloth and re-exported back north where taxpayers bought the cloth to pay their taxes.

In 17thC Spanish Peru cloth was the most valuable commodity.  It was used as a form of currency and for the payment of taxes.

One of the most interesting tax stories I have read comes from Korea in the late 1600’s.  It seemed Korea faced a problem with the minting of coins for their cash currency, which was used for personal and government debts.  Somehow the principle of a monetary economy was somewhat lacking and the minting of coins became so rampant that the people started melting the coins for the base metal itself.  In other sectors, the coins were hoarded as they were expected to increase in worth beyond their face value. For centuries cloth had been used as a tax payment, now with “cash” as the acceptable form a serious problem arose when certain citizens were unable to pay in “cash” if they couldn’t sell their crops for a reasonable return..  This started a political debate about whether cloth or cash were preferable.  It went so far, that in 1726 a proposal to eliminate cash for taxes and reinstate cloth or grain was instituted, however this lasted only a short while and was discontinued some six months later. (probably after everyone used their cash to purchase cloth, as in ancient China).

So, I guess I should be grateful that I can file electronically, use my credit card to pay the damages (while gaining air miles) and not have to worry about spinning, weaving and sewing my payment.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

National Textile Museum of Malaysia

Spring Trip- Malaysia 1

While visiting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia we happened upon the National Textile Museum of Malaysia.  Located a short walk from the Central Market, The Textile Museum is housed in an elegant, historic, colonial building of Moghul-Islamic architecture.

The museum’s role is to “ collect, conserve and document and display the diverse national textile collection, especially the traditional handwork of the multi-ethnic society of Malaysia comprising Malays, Chinese, Indians, Orang Asli  and the indigenous peoples of Sabah and  Sarawak”.

The museum’s five galleries artfully display their beautiful textile collection with informative didatic panels. There is also a small video room, unfortunately the film is not in English but the visuals can be enjoyed nonetheless.  Also within the building is a small cafĂ© and gift shop.

Admission is free and the museum is open daily from 9am –6 pm.  Anyone visiting K L should plan on spending some time there.  A cool stop for a usually very hot afternoon.

For those not fortunate to be visiting the capital city and the museum check their website.

Blogs in the near future will explore the treasures of this institution.