Batiks were traditionally made by Javanese women in their homes. They were also made in the royal courts of central Java. At the end of the 1800s, European, Chinese, Arab and ethnically mixed Javanese began forming workshops that employed local women on the north coast of Java. In these workshops the owners, their spouses and their patrons may have been involved in the design of the textile, the women workers waxed the patterns by hand, and men stamped patterns and dyed the textiles.Today batiks continue to be made in small and large workshops across Java.
Designs are formed when hot wax is applied to a cloth, either with a small tool or a stamp of wood or copper. The textile is then immersed in a dye bath. The waxed portions of the cloth will remain undyed. For batiks with many colors, the textile has to be boiled or scraped free of wax, and then rewaxed to protect different sections of the cloth from each new color.
Most of the textiles in the exhibition were hand drawn, using a bamboo penlike tool, with a small copper receptacle for hot wax, and a thin spout or spouts from which the wax was poured onto the cloth. The wax was applied to both sides of the cloth before it is dyed.
Before the introduction of chemical dyes in late 1800s, women were highly regarded for their abilities to make natural dyes, and often kept their recipes secret. The process of dyeing a textile with natural dyes could be very time consuming. To obtain a deep blue, a textile might need to be immersed in an indigo bath as many as sixty times.