Batik is not technically a type of fabric, but is method of dyeing fabric. However, after the dyeing the fabric is often referred to as "batik fabric", batik cloth, etc. In summary it is a fabric printed by a method of hand-printing textiles by coating with wax the parts not to be dyed. The portion of the fabric without the wax take on the dye.
Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to a cloth.
Resist dyeing (resist-dyeing) is a traditional method of dyeing textiles with patterns. Methods are used to "resist" or prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern and ground. The most common forms use wax, some type of paste made from starch or mud, or a mechanical resist that manipulates the cloth such as tying or stitching. Another form of resist involves using a chemical agent in a specific type of dye that will repel another type of dye printed over the top. The best-known varieties today include tie-dye and batik.
Batik is made either by drawing dots and lines of the resist with a spouted tool called a tjanting, or by printing the resist with a copper stamp called a cap. The applied wax resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to color selectively by soaking the cloth in one color, removing the wax with boiling water, and repeating if multiple colors are desired.
Wax resist dyeing of fabric is an ancient art form. It already existed in Egypt in the 4th century BC, where it was used to wrap mummies; linen was soaked in wax, and scratched using a stylus. In Asia, the technique was practiced in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and in India and Japan during the Nara Period (645-794 AD). In Africa it was originally practiced by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, Soninke and Wolof in Senegal. These African version however, uses cassava starch or rice paste, or mud as a resist instead of beeswax. The art of batik is most highly developed in the island of Java in Indonesia. In Java, all the materials for the process are readily available — cotton and beeswax and plants from which different vegetable dyes are made.
Wax or paste: melted wax or some form of paste is applied to cloth before being dipped in dye. Wherever the wax has seeped through the fabric, the dye will not penetrate. Sometimes several colors are used, with a series of dyeing, drying and waxing steps. The wax may also be applied to another piece of cloth to make a stencil, which is then placed over the cloth, and dye applied to the assembly; this is known as resist printing.
More detail regarding the Batik technique:
Firstly, a cloth is washed, soaked and beaten with a large mallet. Patterns are drawn with pencil and later redrawn using hot wax, usually made from a mixture of paraffin or beeswax, sometimes mixed with plant resins, which functions as a dye-resist. The wax can be applied with a variety of tools. A pen-like instrument called a canting. Sometimes spelled with old Dutch orthography tjanting is the most common.
A tjanting is made from a small copper reservoir with a spout on a wooden handle. The reservoir holds the resist which flows through the spout, creating dots and lines as it moves. For larger patterns, a stiff brush may be used. Alternatively, a copper block stamp called a cap; old spelling tjap) is used to cover large areas more efficiently. After the cloth is dry, the resist is removed by boiling or scraping the cloth. The areas treated with resist keep their original color; when the resist is removed the contrast between the dyed and un-dyed areas forms the pattern. This process is repeated as many times as the number of colors desired.
The most traditional type of batik, called batik tulis (written batik), is drawn using only the canting. The cloth needs to be drawn on both sides, and dipped in a dye bath three to four times. The whole process may take up to a year; it yields considerably finer patterns than stamped batik.