The Batik Road - Pekalongan - The Batik City

Firstly and importantly I wish to apologise to all those regular visitors to my Blog, for this being the first Post since 17 February, 2012.  Perhaps like some of you, I live with chronic pain, the result of occipital neuralgia to the left side of my head.  As I say to my friends, on the good days I Post and on the bad days I go to bed! 

My ongoing passion for batik from the north coast of Java, the Pasisir, is one of the things that brings balance to my life - thank you for returning.

Pekalongan has become one of our favourite batik destinations.  It certainly lives up to its name, Kota Batik, the Batik City of Indonesia.  By 1850 this port city was already an important batik centre and around 1860 Indo-European women began establishing batik workshops here.  More about this later but today it is the people we know like Zahir Widadi the former director of the Pekalongan Batik Museum and batik artists like Dudung Alie Syahbana, Sapuan and Liem Poo Hien and batik workshops like Wirokuto Batik, that make Pekalongan special for us.  Also  it  is Pekalongan's distinctive batik style and motifs that keeps drawing us back to this delightful city.  It was also here that the Japanese-inspired batik style known as Batik Djawa Hokokai developed during World War II.  These highly complex and extremely detailed designs were executed in an unusual range of colours.

Over the coming Posts we will meet these people and visit their workshops and see their work.  The initial Posts will highlight a number of antique works from Pekalongan, that are new additions to our collection.  I would be most grateful if you have any insights into any of these works, to please leave your comments.  Your knowledge will benefit many of us who are still developing our own understanding and appreciation of these magical cloths. 

(Please click to enlarge all images)

Pekalongan, Java, cc. 1890s
Skirt cloth kain panjang
Cotton, natural dyes; batik tulis
[Mick Richards Photography]
(Detail of above - click to enlarge)
(Detail of above - click to enlarge)

This exquisite batik with its perfect repetition of the tableau, closely resembles batik with the Taman Terate or lotus garden theme.  This theme was introduced through European magazines when Japanese art was in fashion in Europe.  Mrs. Lien Metzelaar was the first to introduce the theme into her work.  The theme was adopted by many manufactures including makers of Chinese origin, as with this batik.  Instead of egrets or cranes standing in ponds or swamps here we have five cheerful ducks parading across the landscape.  Separating each bird are free flowing plant forms topped with cascades of flowers, perhaps wisteria.  The cascading flowers are interspersed with flying swallows and butterflies.The white ground is embellished with wavy lines running diagonally from left to right.  In the foreground beneath the tufts of grass and flowers are lines running horizontally across these wavy lines of the back ground, giving the work depth.  A sense of depth is also achieved by placing the base of each plant behind the ducks. The use of the darker blue in the border also gives the work a sense of enclosure.

The outer border on the top and bottom horizontals consist of: a secret, the rows of small vertical lines; and the wider border that surrounds the central field, the badan, is decorated with flowers leaves.  Each end consists of three borders (from inner to outer): the inner border of flowers and leaves; the centre border, the pingger, which is the same width as the secret, contains repeated small diamond shapes and; the outer border consisting of small repeated triangles, not unlike the triangles found in kepalas.  The vertical lines and the triangles are said to represent a fence or a row of arrowheads which provide protection for the wearer.

This is a work that exudes an overwhelming feeling of joy and has a strong sense of prosperity.  The ducks in this work carry the message of marriage happiness.  The butterfly motif with its flowing lines and graceful curves, was introduced by the Chinese.

(Detail of signature - click to enlarge)

The signature, running vertically, is in the top right corner.  It appears to be: KWEE G_ _ _  PN? 

The only Kwee I could identify were: married in 1924, Oey Soe Tjoen's wife was Kwee Tjoen Giok.  She assumed a European-style name , Nettie Kwee; and from the same family as Nettie Kwee there was a batik maker in Pekalongan Kwee Kwie Nio (1910 - 1986), who started a workshop in 1934 and signed Netty Kwee.  This family took over the rights of The Tie Siet in 1970.  Both of these batik makers were producing work later then when this cloth was made.   

If you can recognise who the batik maker of this exquisite cloth is please could you share your knowledge with us all - many thanks.


Rens Heringa's two essays in the catalogue Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java,  The Historical Background of Batik on Java and Batik Pasisir as Mestizo Costume, are a rich and wonderful source for anyone wishing to expand their appreciation, knowledge and understanding of batik Pasisir.

Rens Heringa, Harmen C. Veldhuisen, Dale Carolyn Gluckman, Peter Cole.
Fabric of  Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Weatherhill, Inc., New York City,

See you again soon.


  1. I really love Batik Pekalongan because of the variety colour and there are a lot of pict of flower or animal. I have been drawing a Batik Pekalongan for my school assignment and I got B for it.

  2. Deylla,

    Many thanks for your comments and I am very happy that you also like batik from Pekalongan. For me what makes Pekalongan batik special, is the influences on their designs from other cultures like the Chinese and Dutch. The influences of these two cultures are best illustrated by the use of new colour combinations including rich yellow, bright red, royal blue, green and turquoise.
    Congratulations on obtaining a B for your assignament. What motifs and colours did you use in your design? Do you now make your design into a batik art work? You will see some very beautiful Pekalongan batiks in my upcoming posts. I look forward to reading your comments.

  3. Dear Greg,
    I went to Java to visit many batik factories on 2011 to search for one that can realize my batik design which will be made into one batik tulis shirt. I visited Bogor, Bandung, Solo and Yogyakarta. But I missed Cirebon and Pekalongan beacause the north coast was difficult for me to travel alone as I have never been to.
    I have now selected a batik factory: Wisata Batik Komar in Bandung. They do Cirebonian designs as well as contemporary. I have finished my design sketch on paper in colour, also the life size line drawing on translucent paper ready for transfer onto cloth.
    I have never done business with Indonesians. I am wondering how I would go about commissioning the batik tulis. Do I need to pay in full after price discussion? or Do I need to make a contract?
    I am thinking of going there in 2013 August (when I also attend the Flora Malesiana Conference in Bogor) to discuss the matter, and then have them start the batik work and return in 2014 to pick up the batik tulis shirt.
    Is this kind of plan workable?

  4. Dear Victor,
    I have responded to your questions via your email address on your Profile. The gardens at Bogor have given me much pleasure. What a wonderful conference to attend....Flora Malesiana Conference....the batiks from many parts of Java are reflected in their designs.
    While in Java next year I highly recommend a train trip along the north coast visiting many of the key batik workshops in towns like Cirebon, Pekalongan, Tegal, Semarang, Demak, Kudus, Lasem, and down to Surabaya. From Surabaya you can now drive to Madura. This is a rich and wonderful part of the world and the people you meet will warmly welcome you and share their stories with you.
    I am only to happy to assist you in anyway I can with travel recommendations, batik workshops to visit, etc.
    Best always, Greg.

  5. Hello Greg,
    Thanks for your e-mail of great infos. I am really glad to find good advice how to go about of my project.
    In Bogor, there is batik too. I bought from Batik Bogor Tradisiku, kind of rustic simple designs of taro, agricultural tools, Amorphophallus, rain clouds, deer as motif, very fun.

  6. This unusual style has a wide range of colors and motifs. It is a kind of inspiration to create something new and magical. Such work captures the imagination.

  7. terimakasih untuk informasinya, sangat bermanfaat....
    semoga sukses selalu...

  8. This blog is really great. The information here will surely be of some help to me. Thanks!. ewapoker


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