When travelling overseas and visiting new countries, most people want to bring home a souvenir representing where they’ve been. Malaysia offers visitors something unique, beautiful and functional: batik. Whether purchased as a wall-hanging or you find a suit or top suitable for wearing out, the exquisite patterns created represent centuries of Malaysian history.
In simple terms, batik is a technique for decorating textiles where the part of the textile that will not be dyed or coloured are covered in molten wax. The wax prevents the textile from absorbing the dye during the decorating process. In Asia, this technique has been practised throughout China and Indonesia and has spread to parts of Africa as well. In the Malay Archipelago there is documentation of this technique in use since at least the 16th century.
Malaysian batik has been heavily influenced by the Javanese, having incorporated many of their styles and motifs, however with time Malaysian batik has forged its own path with simple, delicate designs to please most people. There are two main types of batik in Malaysia today; hand-painted and block printed. These types differ in production techniques, motif and aesthetic expression, and are often classified according to the tool that has been used for their creation. The painter of the batik uses a canting – a small copper container filled with molten wax – attached to a wood or bamboo handle and with tips, or pips, of various sizes to create different thickness of lines.
Throughout Malaysia it’s possible to find batik textile art and fabric, with each state creating unique designs. The most popular motifs used by batik artists include leaves, flowers and abstract shapes like spirals. Malaysian batik is mostly large floral motifs, light and vibrant in colouring, and animals are rare for religious reasons.
So whether you are entranced by a gorgeous batik shirt, skirt or piece of art, pick up batik and know that you are bringing home something truly unique.