The Batik Cap process goes back to the mid 1800s, and since that time the craft of the hand waxed batik process has hardly changed. The following is a brief summary of the steps involved in making the fine handmade textile that is made into a pair of shorts. There are three main steps involved in the process: pattern making, stamping and finishing.
The pattern is translated from drawing into a copper stamp, a “cap” (pronounced “chup”), by a copper craftsman known as a cap maker. It is delicate work, and can take several hours or days, to intricately bend and braze hundreds of pieces of millimetre thick copper rods into place to recreate the design. Any area which requires a blocked-out shape is made from many rods of copper positioned closely together to create the effect. This allows for better flow of the wax in the stamping process. The assembled cap is then dipped and left to cool in a waxed resin. The cap maker files down the copper stamp to be filed down to an even surface, and the wax resin is subsequently melted off with heat. It is a craft one devotes their entire lifetime perfecting.
The stamping of the wax requires a breadth of technical coordination. Kanif, seen above waxing our Huxley pattern, firstly needs to judge the temperature of the wax in the pan before starting the process. The recipe of the wax, which although mostly comprises of beeswax, is a workshop secret, and differs by atelier.
When the wax is ready, he dips the cap onto the pan, and applies it onto the cloth, pressing down with both hands. The cloth is laid on a table, above a damp sponge keeping it cool. This solidifies the wax as quickly as possible.
The cap will only take enough wax for one stamp, Kanif has to continuously dip the cap into the wax pan between each stamp. On cotton twill, the design needs to be stamped twice in order for the wax to permeate through the fabric. Kanif needs to ensure that each re-stamp is perfectly aligned, and there is seamless continuation of the pattern along the fabric. This is a skill that only comes with experience, which Kanif has been perfecting for twelve years. He can tell you, that wax is not a forgiving friend.
Once the wax has cooled, the waxed fabric is sent to Bapak Trisno, a veteran of the workshop who has been there for over 30 years. He plunges it into dye twice to absorb the chosen colouration and subsequently, places it into hot water where the wax is removed. The wax can be mixed in and re-used again in the batik process. When Pak Trisno lifts the fabric out of the water above, you can see that any wax imprint has left a trace of white, outlining the revealed pattern of our Kraton shorts.
This process can only be the beginning, and is repeated for any fabric with colours greater than one. It is a demanding craft, and a dwindling craft. The industry today, a fraction of what it used to be.