Batik fabric is made with a wax resist technique, where wax is applied to the fabric prior to dyeing to limit the areas where the dye can penetrate. To make multicolored fabrics, multiple applications of wax and dye may be used to achieve the desired outcome. While modern mass-produced batik fabric is often made with the assistance of stamps and printers, traditional batik made with hand drawn patterns is still available, and is known as batik tulis.
Wax resist techniques appear to be ancient. Fabrics produced using this method have been found in regions like Egypt and China, and some specimens are very old, while documentation of the process is even older. Batik, most closely associated with Indonesia, became very widespread after the 18th century. Many other Asian nations including Thailand and Malaysia also produce batik fabrics.
For a traditional batik tulis, the craftsperson uses a stylus known as a canting. It includes a needle attached to a small reservoir for warm wax, with a wooden handle. The needle is periodically dipped into a larger pot of hot wax, and depending on how wide the opening is, it can be used to draw anything from thick lines to very small dots. The fabric usually needs to be prepared ahead of time to remove any chemicals left over from processing, and cotton and silk are preferred, as they take dyes well.
Regional batik fabric production techniques may incorporate a variety of colors, ranging from somber browns and creams to more vivid colors. The patterns are also traditional, and historically carried important meanings. Some prints were reserved for certain social classes and in regions where Islam became predominant, batik fabric patterns are usually abstract or contain flowers, complying with the ban on depicting living figures in art.
For mass production, stamps and printing devices may be used to apply wax, and some producers don't use the wax resist technique, preferring other methods for generating printed batik patterns. Traditionally produced batik fabric can be quite costly, as it can take a very long time to make, especially in the case of fabrics finished with gold. Some very fine examples of traditional fabrics can be seen on display at museums and are sometimes used at cultural events like demonstrations of traditional dance. Dancers may be happy to share information about the origins of their garments and can provide more details on the pattern of the fabric and its meaning.