Learning Batik at Kampung Batik Kauman

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Thick smell of burning wax is wafting heavily in the air as I step into this old Batik Shop. A weathered wooden board is hanging sturdily in front of the shop with the name of the shop largely engraved on it, it says “Batik Tulis Gunawan Setiawan”. Located at the heart of Kampung Batik Kauman, Surakarta, the shop is one of around 30 other batik shops and entrepreneurs which have also been operating there since 19th century.

Learning how to create batik pattern art on a piece of cloth as well as getting to know more about the batik process itself is the main reason I am here on this perfect Sunday morning. A young Javanese lady greets me with a slightly smile then she directs me into another room at the back of the shop where the batik lesson is going to take place. Several small batik stoves have already been prepared there. So, I just sit there quietly on a plastic mat in front of the stove hardly can wait for the class to start.

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The young lady comes back into the room and hands me three different sizes of canting, a small pen-like tool which is used to transfer hot liquid wax neatly onto the cloth. Along with the cantings, she also gives each participant three small buckets of colorful natural wax paint which will be used to fill whatever drawing we created with the hot liquid wax.

Using the canting to neatly transfer the hot liquid wax onto the cloth turns out to be an impossible mission for a clumsy first-timer like myself. It took me more than half an hour to finally finish my piece of batik art. Having been through this experience, now I do understand why the price of a piece of hand painted batik cloth sometimes can cost us more than $100.

If you think that you can bring home your batik cloth immediately after you finished painting it, well, unfortunately you still have to wait. The batik process is not done yet. It still needs to be washed to clean out the wax by soaking it into three kinds of solutions before finally immersing it into a drum of hot water to release the excess wax from the cloth.

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The friendly young lady told me to come back to the shop in an hour to pick up my batik cloth. So, I decided to use my spare time to walk around the Kampung Batik Kauman compound. Not only provides us with its rich cultural batik heritage, Kampung Batik Kauman can also be a sexy magnet for those who are in love with unique architectural buildings. Most of the old buildings in Kauman are painted in broken white paint with large door and window frames displayed as main ornaments. Its architectural design is a mix of Javanese and Chinese design with a little hint of art deco here and there.

My batik painting has readily been washed when I come back to the shop. “You can hang this painting on the wall at home,” the young lady explained to me. I thank her as soon as I received my batik painting and leave the shop. As I am walking back to the entrance of the Kampung Batik Kauman, a becak driver rings his bell and in his thick Javanese accent, he offers to take me to Pasar Laweyan, another famous batik market nearby. I agreed on his suggestion. Settling myself on the sticky leather seat of becak and armed with my newly found knowledge to differ between hand painted batik from stamped and a mere printed one, now I am ready for a batik hunt at Laweyan. 

*Photos are taken from my own personal Instagram account.

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