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Friday, November 26, 2021




People of the Banyumas regency are considered descendants from the royal families of Yogyakarta and also the Kingdom of Pajajaran in West Java.  Banyumas was considered the outermost township of the Mataram Kingdom.  Their culture was identical to that of the Principalities.  Batik is initially thought to have been an aristocratic occupation in Banyumas to fill personal requirements for this cloth.  Compared to the batiks from other coastal areas/styles, batik Banyumas blended Principality/classical designs with the coastal style including European motifs and colours.  It must be remembered that Banyumas located in western Central Java, is not a coastal town.  Batik Banyumas is commonly known as banyumasan.  It is characterised by its reddish yellow sogan base colour, with golden ivory yellows and very dark blackish blue.  The sogan base colour is similar to the colour produced earlier by Jonas, a batik maker of Dutch parentage in Solo.  The ivory yellow is a tint lighter than that used in Solo.

Harmen C. Veldhuisen wrote about a very similar kain panjang in the Rudolf G. Smend Collection, to the cloth being discussed below, (the only difference between the two cloths appears to be their border variation): The first impression is that of a batik from the Principalities.  The imitation lace border along the right and lower edge indicates however, that this batik was made in an Indo-European batik workshop or copied an Indo-Chinese batik maker.  A second look confirms this opinion.  The bird garuda is drawn in a non-Javanese way. *

[BATIK - Javanese and Sumatran Batiks from Courts and Palaces, Rudolf G. Smend Collection.  Insider Information, Harmen C. Veldhuisen, page 93, 19.  The cloth from the Rudolf G. Smend Collection, also a kain panjang, is illustrated across pages 32 & 33 of this publication].  


Batik cloth with a combination of motifs: mirong (a pair of wings); sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers); surrounded by animals on a semen background
Banyumas, ca. 1920
Matheros Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, natural dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 264.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

The motifs on this cloth (above and below), belong to the group of patterns/motifs/designs known as the  Non-Geometric Free-Form designs.  The most common type of non-geometric motifs, known as semen (from semi, buds or sprouting leaves), covers a huge variety of different patterns which the waxer has great freedom to interpret, provided certain traditional rules are observed.  The common element is the use of leaf-like tendrils for the background.  

There are three main types of semen patterns:

1. Semen or 'sprouting life' pattern consisting only of leaves or buds, is an old Central Javanese court pattern;
2.  As can be seen on this Banyumas kain panjang, motifs depicting animals on a semen background including meru, a batik ornament shaped like a mountain always found in semen designs; and
 3.  As with this Banyumas kain panjang, motifs in which animals and leaves are combined with lar (wings of the mythical Garuda). 

In addition, there are three variations on the lar motif: 

(a) lar (a single wing of the Garuda bird);
 (b) the mirong (a pair of wings), and, 

(c) the sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers).

 Traditionally the sawat is one of the ornaments reserved for the highest nobility.  Rouffaer believes it was originally a kind of crest or symbolic talisman of the 17th century Central Javanese Kingdom of Mataram under the great Sultan Agung.

(detail including right-edge border)

The overall style of this Banyumas kain panjang is known as materos *, with its red, blue, and black colours on an ivory background, inspired by Dutch taste.  The various components of the pattern are partially framed in an L-shaped border made up of repeated bunches of three small white blossoms on a red wave-shaped ground.  It is the lines, that make up the border, that have been waxed and the background dyed: conversely, the motifs on the central field are waxed in the negative, which requires a certain skill when drawing without the aid of a paper pattern.   The red and white wavelike materos border, up the right edge and along the long lower edge, is a signature element of batiks from Banyumas.

* Note: The batiks of a niece of Mrs. Catharina Carolina van Oosterom (nee Philips) 1816 - 1900, Mrs. Matheron (nee Willemse), were known as batik matheron or matheros.  The batiks of the other niece of Mrs. Van Oosterom, Miss Willemse, were known under the name batik Wileman.  Many of Miss. Willemse's patterns were derived from European magazines.  These two nieces inherited the batik workshop of their childless aunt, Mrs. van Oosterom.

Harmen C Veldhuisen writes*: Around 1910, via the batik trade in Bandung, batik Banyumas became very popular in Java.  In Banyumas, there were numerous small Javanese batik workshops, imitating the style of van Oosterom-Willemse, co-locating next to the large Intro-Europen batik workshops.  Traders from Bandung placed orders with these Javanese batik workshops, but they also let the van Oosterom-Willemse style be imitated in nearby Ciamis and Tasikmalaya.  Along with Garut these three towns were the batik centres in the Preanger.  Batik workshops from these three centres brought waxers/batikkers from the Javanese and Indo-European batik workshops in Banyumas.  These waxers/batikkers introduced the drawing style and specific isen Banyumas into these batik workshops. 

*(Veldhuisen, Harmen C. Batik Belanda 1840-1940, p. 123). 

Batik Panastroman, as Mrs. van Ossterom batiks were called in Java, were well known in West Java. The typical batik style of Banyumas was inspired by the style of Solo and Yogyakarta.  In Banyumas, however, Mrs. van Ossterom introduced the North Coast red and European motifs on the selendang (shoulder cloth for women) and on the ikat kepala (head cloth for men).  Mrs. van Ossterom was one of the foremost pioneers of Dutch Batik of the time.  She originally opened a batik workshop in Ungaran (Semarang), around 1845 and moved to Banyumas in 1855.    

Semen Gendong motif (Jogya)
After their wedding both husband and wife hoped that their union would be blessed with offspring.  This wish is reflected in batik with the semen gendong motif (above), which expresses their wish for a baby to gendong (carry around in a sarong used as a sling).  

From the publication, BATIK, Pola & Tjorak - Pattern & Motif, Penerbit Djambatan 1966, plate 62 (above) is an example of the Jogja motif, semen gendong.   On first impressions, it bears a strong visual resemblance to the Banyumas kain panjang, under discussion.  While it too consists of both, the mirong (a pair of wings) and the sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers), surrounded by animals on a semen background,  the wings and tail feathers differ in their drawn appearance (drawn in a non-Javanese way), and the animals are more abstracted in their appearance compared to those on the Banyumas kain panjang (below). 


While the influences in this kain panjang are Javanese (accentuated by the sawat [or Garuda], the emblem of the court of Yogyakarta), the cloth has been most likely executed in an Indo-European workshop in Banyumas.  

Batik cloth with a combination of motifs: mirong (a pair of wings); sawat gurdo (a pair of wings with extended fan-like tail feathers); surrounded by animals on a semen background
Banyumas, ca. 1920
Matheros Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, natural dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 264.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection


I wish to gratefully acknowledge Tina Tabone [TINA TABONE TEXTILE ART] from whom we purchased this beautiful cloth.  I so appreciated our correspondence relating to our shared passion for Javanese batik and also, your total trustworthiness, a plus for anyone when like us, making our/their first batik purchase online.......thank you Tina. 

Personal Note: This year has been life-changing for me with at last, a line in the sand drawn under 20 odd years of very poor health/pain.  Three new & brilliant medical specialists looked at my chronic head pain with fresh and inspired eyes and as a result, I have been pain-free for the last seven months and now back on my Blog, just wonderful.......Life Number Two!
...Thank You and Stay Well Always...

Please, I always greatly appreciate any comments/feedback/insights readers and textile enthusiasts may have as I firmly believe learning, appreciating and understanding is very much, an ongoing and shared process.


DJOEMENA, NIAN S.  Ungkapan Sehelai BATIK Its Mystery and Meaning (bilingual).  Jakarta:  Penerbit Djambatan, 1990.

ELLIOTT, INGER MCCABE.  Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java.  New York:  Clarkson N. Potter, 1984.

VELDHUISEN, HARMEN C.  Batik Belanda 1840 - 1940: Dutch Influence in Batik from Java:  Histories and Stories.  Jakarta:  Gaya Favorit, 1993.

SMEND, RUDOLF G. (Editor).  Javanese and Sumatran Batiks from Courts and Palaces, Rudolf G. Smend Collection.  Koln:  Galerie Smend, 2000.

ACHJADI, JUDI (Text by).  The GLORY of  BATIK, The Danar Hadi Collection.  Jakarta:  BAB PUBLISHING INDONESIA, 2011.


ANDERSON, B. R. O. G. (English Text).  BATIK, Pola & Tjorak - Pattern & Motif.  Djakarta: Penerbit Djambatan, 1966.

FRASER-LU, SYLVIA.  Indonesian Batik, Processes, Patterns and Places.  Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991.

ACHJADI, JUDI (Editor).  BATIK: Spirit of Indonesia.  Yayasan Batik Indonesia, 1999. 

HERINGA, RENS; VELDHUISEN, HARMEN C.  Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.  Los Angeles, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, 1996.

LIN, LEE CHOR.  BATIK; Creating an Identity.  Singapore: National Museum of Singapore and Editions Didier Millet, 2007.

DOELLAH, H. SANTOSA.  BATIK: The Impact of Time and Environment.  Danar Hadi.


Thursday, November 18, 2021




Fishing villages in the vicinity of the town of Indramayu developed a bold, decorative style of batik with motifs depicting local flora and fauna.  The motifs/designs represented in the following three cloths  from the Batik Paoman Art workshop, are:

Jarot asem or Javanese tamarind motif,

Iwak etong or trubus fish motif, &

Kapal laju or fast sailing ship motif.  

(In Cirebon this motif is called Kapal kandas or the heavily laden 'ship aground' motif, symbolising maturity).

The Batik Paoman Art workshop was founded by Mrs. Hj. Siti Ruminah Sudiono.

Indramayu, like Cirebon, was once an important harbour for the inter-island and international trade.  The two towns have close cultural relationships and family ties, a result of being in close reach of each other.  As a result some of their batiks are similar both in appearance and interpretation, like Kapal kandas and Kapal laju.  Simple batik is made for local consumption by fishermen's wives with designs influenced by the sea life that gives them sustenance.


(Please click on images to enlarge)

Batik with Jarot asem or Javanese tamarind motif
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, 2000
Skirt cloth kain sarong (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes, batik tulis
103.0 X 191.0 cm
(Waxer - Tarsini)
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection


Batik with jarot asem or Javanese tamarind motif
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain sarong 
Cotton, synthetic dyes, batik tulis
103.0 X 191.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

This motif is called Jarot asem (Javanese tamarind motif) as it depicts the leaves and pods of this plant.  The tamarind has both culinary and medicinal applications and is commonly grown in many parts of Java.


A coastal town not far west of Cirebon, Indramayu has a strong Chinese input.  The waxes are women whose family's livelihood is derived from the ocean.  The trubos fish was found in the past in great quantities, in the ocean around Indramayu.  Thus, the ocean is evident in many of its motifs/patterns, like this one with trubus fish amongst the waterweed and the occasional, very large centipede.  In Chinese iconography the fish stands for wealth, while the poisonous centipedes protects against misfortune.  

Batik with design featuring sea-creatures and poisonous centipedes
Paoman village near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.5 X 252.0 cm
(Waxer - Cinayan)
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection.


Batik with design featuring sea-creatures and poisonous centipedes
Paoman village near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.5 X 252.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection


The design Kapal laju ('fast sailing ship') expresses the hope that everything in a person's life will run smoothly and without hindrance.  Initially this motif was associated with the palace traditions of the nearby town of Cirebon.

The patterns have been executed in thin lines against white background.  Large sections of the cloth had to be covered with wax, leaving only narrow openings for the dye to penetrate fibres and to create the contours of the designs.  The workmanship is significant when one remembers that it is the background that is drawn in wax, and not the individual lines of each of the figures.

Batik with Kapal laju motif meaning 'fast sailing ship'
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 241.0 cm
(Waxer - Jamiah)
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

Batik with Kapal laju motif meaning 'fast sailing ship'
Paoman near Indramayu
Batik Paoman Art workshop, around 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
105.0 X 241.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

When you set out on your journey along the very beautiful north coast of Java, the Pasisir, I would highly recommend you include dropping into and staying a while in Indramayu.  Its people and batik will not disappoint and you will receive a very warm welcome indeed just as we did.



Achjadi, Judi (text by)
The Danar Hadi Collection.

Achjadi, Judi (editor)
Spirit of Indonesia.

Elliot, Enger McCabe
Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java.
Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. /Publishers, 1984.

Djoemena, Nian S.
Its Mystery and Meaning.
Penerbit Djambatan, 1990.

Wronska-Friend, Maria
poetics & politics.
Caloundra Regional Gallery, 2010.


Sunday, November 14, 2021






Batik kelengan, used as a mourning garment
Paoman village near Indramayu
Antika Mukti workshop, 2000
Skirt cloth kain panjang (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.5 X 242.0 cm
Photo: Mick Richards
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection

Monochrome, dark coloured cloth is known as batik kelengen and worn as a mourning garment. Flying phoenixes placed among flowers and vines replicate on cotton the lok can design of the silks favoured by the Chinese community of Java.


The motif on this cloth is known as burung Huong (Phoenix) motif which proudly exhibits its Chinese influence. Perhaps the repeated use of red and in the case of this illustrated batik, blue, in batik from Indramayu was encouraged by the Chinese, for whom red symbolised fertility, happiness, good luck; blue meant sadness, mourning, and death.  In the Qing dynasty a flying phoenix became the emblem of the empress, thus a symbol of femininity and fertility.  

The batik of Indramayu is often referred to as Dermayon.  The fishermen's wives batiked while their husbands were away at sea, sometimes for as long as three or four months, in order to supplement their incomes.  For this reason they did not wish to make batiks that would take too much time to complete.  They would use a large canting on plain cloth and had very little filling of either the motifs or the background, on their batiks.  To fill the empty spaces they made cocohan (tiny dark dots) with a utensil called the complongan, shaped like a comb of sharp needles used to prick a layer of wax that covers the whole cloth, prior to the dyeing of it.  The dye penetrates the small holes and these dots take on the colour of the dye.  This myriad of small dots enhances the cloth's overall sense of detail and level of complexity. 

Court-influenced batik evolved in regions especially touched by or involved in the history of the Mataram kingdom in the 17th century, among others Indramayu, Cirebon, Garut and Banyumas.  The batik styles of Indramayu do include court-influenced batik.  In these times, this region, which is also called Dermayu, was a part of the kingdom of Galuh.  The batik-making culture was already an established part of of life in Dermayu, generated by merchants from Lasem trading in natural indigo, nila/tom. 


Hence, batik Dermayon is similar to Lasem batik in both design and production technique.  Not only is the cocohan technique also used as background filling but also the dyeing process is the same, utilising natural indigo, nila, giving batik Dermayon a unique character: batik with the application of a single colour only (kelengan).

(It is truly wonderful to be back on my Blog.  After many many years now good health has been returned.  I hope all is terrific for each and everyone of you.  I am so looking forward to returning to magnificent Java and visiting friends and batik workshops along the Pasisir.)



Elliot, Inger McCabe
Batik: Fable Cloth of Java.
ClarksonN. Potter, Inc./Publishers,1984

Wronska-Friend, Maria
Batik of Java: poetics & politics.
Caloundra Regional Gallery 2010.

Heringa, Rens; Veldhuisen, Harmen; Carey, Peter
Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996.

Nian S. Djoemena
Ungkapan Sehelai
BATIK Its Mystery and Meaning.
Penerbit Djambatan, 1986.

Doellah, H. Santosa
The Impact of Time and Environment.
Headline Creative Communications 2002.

Titra, Iwan
Batik, A Play of Light and Shades.
PT. Gaya Favourite Press, Jakarta, 1997.

van Hout, Itie (ed)
BATIK - Drawn in wax.
Royal Tropical Institute - Amsterdam / KIT Publishers - Amsterdam. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Millar Sungkar 

Rumah Batik dia-dio

Pekalongan - Yogyakarta

     We cannot begin to truly appreciate this magnificent story telling batik made by Ibu Millar Sungkar from Yogyakarta, until we appreciate the role of isen-isen and tanahan motifs.

     Batik from the Pasisir was and still is, famous for the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process and for its exquisite use of colours.  Central to the achievement of these qualities is the incorporation of isen-isen and tanahan motifs.  Isen-isen are tiny motifs used to fill in within the outlines of the key motifs while the tiny tanahan motifs fill in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background.  It is the isen-isen and tanahan motifs that distinguish Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used.

     Isen-isen and tanahan are not contrasting motifs but rather have much in common.  
Depending on the region where the batik is made, the same tiny filler motif may be used as 
an isen-isen motif or as a tanahan motif.  In each region the batikkers/Pengobeng (hired women who waxed the batik),  consider their own version of isen-isen and tanahan motifs a condition for what is regarded a superior work.

Ibu Millar Sungkar - Rumania Batik dia-dio, Yogyakarta
Batik Workshop - Pekalongan
Pekalongan (north coast of Java), 2010
Skirt cloth Kain sarong and selendang (a shawl)
Handwoven silk, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
Photo: Mick Richards
     With the emergence of batik Belanda in the 1840s isen-isen and tanahan motifs were employed to strongly enhance the main motif and the overall visual and technical sophistication of the batik cloth.  This enabled the creation of not just the illusion of a colour change, but also the introduction of actual shades of colour, by intensifying or dispersing the isen-isen dots and/or lines.  Also the illusion of depth and form is achieved by the use of dots that from a distance appear like fine lines.  To serve this purpose, filler motifs that were once of uniform size and distribution were now dispersed at random, sometimes in sparse spacing, and others more concentrated, and they varied in size.  These two filler motifs are still used extensively today.

Examples of isen-isen motifs, their names and interpretation.
APPENDICES, page 214, Index of Principality Isen Motifs -
Batik - Spirit of Indonesia, YAYASAN BATIK INDONESIA,1999,
ISBN 979- 95801-0-2

     My appreciation of isen-isen and tanahan motifs is totally encapsulated in the following cloth that speaks volumes about the utilisation of these two types of filler motifs by leading contemporary Javanese batik artist, Ibu Millar Sungkar of Rumah Batik dia - dio.  

     While Millar’s retail outlet is located in Yogyakarta, her batik is made at varying workshops in Pekalongan.  Her work is exceptional in both its creativity and its craftsmanship.  The following hand-woven silk sarung and selendang (shawl), tells the story of Yogyakarta’s famous war hero, Diponegono, a Javanese prince.  He fought the Dutch colonials in the Java War of 1825-1830.  It is him on the horse-back.

As this cloth is a sarung it contains a kepala, the dark coloured rectangle with the hero on horse back motif.  The kepala is surrounded by a floral border, a continuation of the same floral border pinggir, running along the complete top and bottom of the cloth.   

In addition to the prolific incorporation of tanahan and isen-isen motifs, Millar's lead batikkers/Pengobeng possess extraordinary canting (wax pen), skills.  With agile hands, a highly developed eye, breathing control, and immense patience, the batikker is able to produce a myriad of lines, dots and shapes by the application of flowing hot wax onto the cloth.  Like the ink painter's brush, the canting is intrinsically suited for linear expression, responding to the subtle shifts in the flow or motion of the batikker's hand and canting.  The highly skilled batikker with a single glide of the canting, can translate the outline of the desired motif into flowing line, conceiving it simultaneously as a single gesture of life.  This approach is less concerned about repressing given appearances accurately and more a response to the spirit of living things- birds, butterflies, trees, tulips, lilies, horses, etc.  Like the ink painter the batikker only has one chance to harmoniously apply the wax outlines to the cloth as the medium does not allow for a "second chance".  A batik hand-waxed with a canting is known as batik tulis, the most expensive form of batik to purchase.

This detail enables you to more clearly see the outstanding use of line to capture the sense of battle and action and pattern to provide you insights into the terrain on which the battle is taking place, the various uniforms worked by the soldiers, both dead and alive, along with clouds, birds, sky, etc.  I love the decision to leave the gorgeous flow of the cloud outlines, above in centre sky, as lines!  We see this use of dark coloured outlines on other parts of the surface.   

I hope you have enjoyed being introduced to this very much 'alive' cloth.  It is always a favourite with friends when looking through the collection cabinet housing the batiks, folded on their individual roles.  On opening the doors you are always met by the rich fragrance of cloves, a good protector.  The cloves are accompanied by a small bowl of white pepper- corns.  I would so appreciate any comments you may have about this cloth, a cloth you have, or batik in general.  It is always great to hear the stories of others who have been captured by the beauty and the stories of and attached to, Javanese batik.

Appreciation:  Followers who have received this Post would be amazed that it is the first since May 30, 2013, nearly six years.  I now hope this is not going to repeat itself but I do feel I am more able for that not to occur.  Extremely poor health has been and sadly remains, the culprit.  Passion, perseverance, curiosity, and love of life has to remain at the centre of each day. 

I would love to express my gratitude and thanks to two wonders of the batik world, for their support and generosity of spirit, such powerful motivators.  If you are an enthusiast of Javanese batik you will certainly know the names of Maria Wronska-Friend and Rens Heringa.  They have both made a significant contribution to knowledge, understanding and appreciation of batik from Indonesia via their teaching, writing, exhibition development, conference presentations and numerous other face to face interactions.



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pekalongan - Oey Djien Nio - Liem Siek Hien - Jane Hendromartono


A Pekalongan Batik made in the Kudus Style

Oey Djien Nio (1924 - 1986),was a third generation batik-maker in Pekalongan.  She signed her earlier works with her husband's name, Liem Siek Hien.  Post 1965 she used her new Indonesian family name, Hendromartono, adopted by her husband (Peranakan citizens were advised by the government to adopt Indonesian names as a demonstration of their loyalty, post Independence.  She combined this family name with the name people used to address her by, Jane -

Jane Hendromartono.

Judi Achjadi wrote: Pekalongan's batik industry thrived on catering to the diverse tastes of clients from all over Indonesia.  The batik of Demak and Kudus on Central Java's north coast was so well-known for its fine detailing that the Pekalongan enterprises often wrote 'Kudus' or 'Demak'on the cloths (see below), so that they would be recognised by people who wanted one of these famed cloths but did not have access to Kudus or Demak batik-makers.  [Judi Achjadi & H. Santosa Doellah. The Glory of Batik- The Danar Hadi Collection.  Solo, Pt. Batik Danar Hadi , 2011]  

Detail 1
Java, Pekalongan, c. 1950
Liem Siek Hien ( post 1965, Jane Hendromartono), 1924 - 1986
Skirt cloth kain panjang pagi-sore (detail)
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
104.0 x 259.5.0 cm 


Detail 2

This opulent batik was made by Liem Siek Hien in Pekalongan but in addition to her signature she has included the name of the town Kudus, which is further east along the coast from Pekalongan. While she lived and worked in Pekalongan, the batik was executed in the Kudus-style. The art work's colourful floral motifs along with a family of small exotic birds (Details 2,4 and 6), are set against - the most intricate backgrounds to be found on the entire north coast - (Inger McCabe Elliott. Batik- Fabled Cloth of Java, p.144). The three generations of this important family of Pekalongan batik makers were: Oey Soen Khing (Java,1861 - 1942), who was the mother-in-law of Mrs. Oey Kok Sing née Kho Tjing Nio ( Java, d. 1966), who was the mother of Oey Djien Nio [Liem Siek Hien and post 1965 Jane Hendromartono], (Java, 1924 - 1986).

While the work has a pagi-sore structure the diagonal divisdion can be seen above in Detail 1.  The two halves have a common background made up of an overall shade of brown that was widely used in Kudus.  The background has been broken-up by the repetition of small white dots and multicoloured flower petals.  Perhaps these petal shapes also resemble the clover leaf shapes known as tanahan Semarangan motifs.  Tanahan motifs fill-in the spaces outside the main motifs, on the background.  Batik Pasisir is renowned for the finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process.  Central to the achievement of these qualities is the incorporation of tanahan and isen-isen motifs by highly skilled batikkers with extraordinary canting skills.  Isen-isen are the tiny filler motifs used within the outlines of the key motifs.  Together these tiny motifs are what distinguishes Indonesian batik from that of other countries, where they are not used.


Detail 3

This extremely beautiful art work has a complete terang bulan border in both halves.  A section of the left side border can be seen above, in Detail 3.  The borders are so saturated with very fine isen-isen motifs, they appear as if in a light haze or perhaps like the transparent veils shielding the Milky Way.  The amazing number of minutely detailed isen-isen and tanahan motifs would indicate the wearer was from a wealthy background.   This intricate work is a variation of the Kudus batiks made before the occupation of the Japanese, and is known as buketan Semarangan.  These even more densely detailed works were produced by Peranakan owned workshops for Peranakan customers after Independence.  The terang bulan border was a key characteristic of Djawa Hokokai batiks which were developed in response to the aesthetic preferences of Japanese clients during the 1943 - 1945 occupation of Java.

Detail 4

Liem Siek Hien's attention to variations in surface detail is highlighted by her exquisite treatment of the birds' feathers, as in Detail 4 above.  The exotic plumage of each of the four birds utilises an array of combinations of intricately developed decorative approaches and colours .  The birds are placed against an equally intricate but darker in colour background.  The delicate water-colour treatment of each birds' heads has most likely been achieved by the batikker first encircling the shape with wax-resist, followed by hand-colouring.  This is a process known variously as colet, besut, and dulit, depending on local terminology.

Detail 5

All of the various flower and bird arrangements in this inspired work are flexible and flowing.  All elements possess the spirit of life.  As in Detail 5 above, a sense of depth is added to the flowers by the use of darker central areas and shaded filler motifs.  The extreme finest of the linear use of white dots (that appear like lines), flowing from the tips of each bloom back down into the centre, are extraordinary!  The more dense the dots, the lighter the colour becomes.  This is an excellent example of the use of isen-isen motifs to enhance the main motif     The delicate pink of the blooms lights up against the darker background.    

Detail 6

This is an art work I become absorbed in every time I remove it from the safety of its storage cabinet and unroll it across the work table.  Its richness is adored by all and it is with astonishment they survey the intricate canting work.  It is made from the finest cotton and now with age, it feels like sensuous silk.  In the image above of the full work, it is easy to decipher the two halves of the work's pagi-sore structure.  The key motif on the left side consists of various groupings of a family of birds which are balanced on the right side by the random placement of bouquets of heavenly pink blooms.  Each of these key motifs are also interwoven into their respective terang bulan borders.  Additionally, each half of the pagi-sore has motifs in common including blue/mauve chrysanthemums, blue/mauve and orange orchids/daffodils and floral sprigs in blue and pink.  The motifs in common with each half contribute to the work's overall sense of balance and harmony.  Both of the short ends have a kepala consisting of multi-coloured small triangles against a background of the brown shade covered in white dots.  Both long sides are edged by a finely striped secret.

Other images of art work by Liem Siek Hien (Jane Hendromartono) can be found in the following publications:

Djoemena, Nian S.  Batik dan Mitra (Batik and its Kind), Jakarta, Djambatan, 1990. page 20.
Knight-Achjadi, Judi & Damas, Asmoro.  Butterflies and Phoenixes- Chinese Inspirations in Indonesian Textile Arts.  Singapore, Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2006.  page 160.
Kerlogue, Fiona.  Batik- Design, Style & History.  London, Thames & Hudson, 2004. 
pages 68 & 69. 
McCabe Elliott, Inger.  Batik- Fabled Cloth of Java.  Singapore, Periplus Editions, 2004. 
pages 126, 127 & 148.


In addition to the four publications listed above:
Judi Achjadi & H. Santosa Doellah.  The Glory of Batik- The Danar Hadi Collection.  Solo,
I have an article which includes Liem Siek Hien, in the latest edition of: ASIAN TEXTILES- Magazine of the Oxford Asian Textile Group, Number 54, February 2013, pages 18 - 26 inclusive.  This edition of Asian Textiles is available online in full colour in a pdf file to download, view and/or print.  Access to the pdf file is either via whilst it is the current issue or always via the back issues page by first clicking on the cover image thumbnail.

I hope you enjoy this truly wonderful art work and I would greatly appreciate receiving your thoughts about it and/or the artist, Liem Siek Hien.  Sourcing information about individual batik artists is difficult so all feed-back is greatly appreciated.  It is marvellous to be back sharing my passion for batik with you, after such a long absence.......for those of you with good health, embrace and hold onto it, so you can spend much more time travelling Indonesia and enjoy the great experience of visiting the batik workshops along the north coast of Java!



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pekalongan - European Fairy Tales

Towards the end of the 19th century with the expansion of Dutch colonial power, completely new batik designs with naturalistic images began to appear.  The themes of these batik designs included boats, trains, card games, fans, bicycles, bank-notes and coins, and European fairy-tales.  The European fairy-tales which were popular as themes for batik designs included Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty but Red Riding Hood was especially popular.  Fairy- tales were popular as batik designs from around 1900 until 1920.  The Indo-European made versions of these themes were also made in Javanese and Chinese workshops, with interesting variations occurring.

Please click on all images to enlarge.

Detail 1- Red Riding Hood (Roodkapje) theme was very popular as a theme for European and Indo-European batik-makers from about 1900 to 1920.  These themes were also adopted by the Javanese and Chinese batik-makers with some very interesting variations in interpretation occurring.  The Chinese maker of this cloth has chosen to supplement this design with the integration of fish and prawns into the borders of the work as well as two lobsters into the kepala!
[Photo Mick Richards].

The variations that occur in the batik designs with the Red Riding Hood (Roodkapji) theme are many.  This does not depend on the maker being Indo-European or Chinese or Javanese.  Eliza van Zuylen produced works with a particular theme that differed from others she had produced with that theme and differed again to others executed by her colleagues, with the same theme.  Perhaps this may have been an attempt by each batik-maker to personalise the design as many batik workshops including van Zuylen's, worked from large drawings purchased from freelance artists.  Hence all workshops who purchased the large drawings began with identical patterns.  The large drawings were used as the support for the wax tracings.

The background of this cloth is decorated with a classic Javanese motif, the banji (Detail 1).  The basis of this motif is the swastika.  The word 'banji' is of Chinese origin and carries symbolic meaning for the Chinese of happiness, wealth and prosperity.  There is certainly a feeling of happiness as the wolf strides along-side Little Red Riding Hood who is carrying a bunch of flowers. 

The format of kain sarungs had gradually changed over time.  Initially the kepala bisected the badan then later it was placed at one end of the cloth and finally in Indo-European designed cloths the kepala was placed at one hand's width from the end of the cloth.  The Chinese batik-maker of this cloth has adopted the Indo-European format as seen below and in Detail 2.

The borders at the top and bottom of this cloth are symmetrical. The same design is used in the outer edges of the kepala.  The bow border consists of unrecognisable flowering creepers which have been interwoven with fish and prawns.  The drawing style of the large lobsters in the kepala and the fish and prawns in the borders reminds me of the Indramayu style except in this work, the flow of line is not as free.  There is an outer edge of small vertical lines at both the top and bottom.  These vertical lines appear to be further apart then seen in earlier examples.

Pekalongan, 1900 - 1920
Skirt cloth kain sarung
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
[Photo Mick Richards]

Note the variations in the colour of each wolf with the left and right wolf being blue and the wolf in the middle is red.  Also the batik-maker has varied the colours used in the hem line of Red Riding Hood's dress: again the left and right are the same colours and the middle one is different.  An aubergine colour applied by hand over red, has also been used sparingly and with no consistency- on the odd flower or leaf, and all prawn heads.  It is as if it was a new colour that had to be utilised by the batik-maker!


Detail 2- kepala with diagonal bands- the use of diagonal bands, dlorong, in the kepala was one of the decorative innovations introduced by the Indo-European designers at the turn of the 19th century.  The central panel within the diagonal band of the kepala consists of only plant forms- creepers with cream stems and tendrils, blue leaves and red flower buds all placed on a green background.  The large central band has three smaller diagonal bands on each side.  The centre band of these three smaller diagonal bands are the more dominate because of the use of the cream colour and its width being double that of the other two. 
Intriguingly, the design of the two red triangle shapes each side of the central diagonal band, consists of a large lobster interwoven with flowering creepers.  For me, this combination of marine and plant forms is very unusual!  The design and use of colour and line in both the kepala and borders almost disguises the marine forms.   
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 3-  apart from the wolf displaying his vicious teeth the scene seems one of happiness.  Birds and butterflies flutter above her amongst the flowering trees.  In Eliza van Zuylen, Liem Metzelaar and other Indo-European batik-makers' versions of this theme the trees were usually more European in style and rarely were flowering.  The slender roots of each tree reach down into the soil unlike many of the European designs where the roots were thick and heavy.   Her clothing and the basket she carries on her left arm, are European in style.  The Peranakan Chinese batik-maker of this cloth has combined both Chinese and European design elements.  The actual design of the tree that is, the placement of branches and leaves, does have similarities to one produced by Lies van Zuylen on a kain panjang in 1900 (Batik from the north coast of Java- Fabric of Enchantment, Catalogue no. 34, p. 140).

It is interesting to compare the design of the flowering tree in this batik with those in the two earlier posts.  All three batiks were produced by Peranakan Chinese batik-makers and have been influenced by the buketan style.
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 4- highlights the use of the banji pattern as background. The banji pattern (its basis is the swastika)  is the oldest type of ornamental motif used for batik.  Red Riding Hood is dressed in European designed clothes and carries a basket over her left arm, which is also European influenced in designed.  This section of the border highlights the incorporation of  sea-creatures including fish and prawns, into the floral border. The fish and prawns are not immediately recognisable as they have been cleverly interwoven with the floral elements.
[Photo Mick Richards] 

Detail 5- this cloth could be given as a present to a young woman expressing the hope that she will be happy in marriage.  The tree is certainly full of life, the birds are singing, the butterflies flutter freely and it is a rich red that holds the work together.
[Photo Mick Richards]  


Maxwell, Robyn J.  Textiles of Southeast Asia: Tradition, Trade, and Transformation.  Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd, 2003 design and National Gallery of Australia and Robyn Maxwell, 2003 text.

Heringa, Rens and Veldhuisen, Harmen C.  Fabric of Enchantment- Batik from the North Coast of Java.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Weatherhill, Inc.,1996.

Van Roojen, Pepin.  Batik Design.  Amsterdam: The Pepin Press, 2001.

See you again soon and as always, I would love to hear your comments, thank you.