How to spot the difference between handmade and machine-made (imitation) batik


The Indonesian textile batik is a culturtal heritage of the country – a pride of the nation. It’s even awarded as cultural heritage from UNESCO (oh yeah!). Local artists make these cloths all by hand with such dedication to their art. What makes me so sad is, there's so much ‘machine-made’ imitation batik in Indonesia and a lot of people buy these cloths. (Often) not knowing it’s mass produced in big factories and all printed by machines - not made by the skillfull artists. These textiles have nothing to do with the textile batik. There is no soul, there is no story and way less quality.

Like my batik friend Sabine Bolk says: "Batik is a technique and a philosophy, not just a pattern on a cloth" So what does that mean? It means that it can only be named batik if it’s made with a wax pen or wax stamp – the wax-resist dyeing process. There’s actually a very talented person who creates the patterns with meanings on the cloth, and all by hand. Sabine says, and I totally agree: "With printed 'batikmotif' you will not get the handwritten pattern created with canting (wax pen) or by cap (wax stamp), nor the meaning that goes with it. Every Batikmaker works in a tradition, creating patterns passed on for many generations or creating new ones with a strong knowledge of the history of Batik". Read more about: What is batik? 

Spotting the difference

It is not always easy to spot the difference, even for me. But at least we can try. So how can you spot the difference between handmade and machine-made batik? 

Handmade batik:

  • You can't tell the front from the back. The dye goes through the cloth making the pattern indistinguishable on both sides. 
  • Imperfectly perfect. The patterns are not 'perfect'. There are smudges and all. We call this art. I love this because every cloth is different then.  
  • It smells like wax. 
  • Colors will fade, it will get that vintage look. The textile is alive and will change it colors during the years. 
  • You pay the right price for a piece of art. This means you pay a fair price for the maker and far more than the imitation batik (+/- €30 - €200 or more). 
  • Most of the times you can only buy sarong-size, not per meter. 
  • It takes weeks, months to even a year to make 1 cloth.

Machine-made imitation batik:

  • The dye and pattern is faded on the back. Because it's printed on one side.  
  • It's too perfect. All patterns look a like. Dots are perfectly in line and lines are too straight.  
  • Colors will not fade. 
  • It's cheap, it's too cheap (+/- €10). 
  • You can buy it per meter. 
  • It takes a few minutes to make a cloth.

So how do I know all this? 

On the road to adulthood, I started to explore my Dutch-Indonesian roots. I had (and still have) a special interest in batik, which is not very strange - our whole house was full of batik. And there's was always somebody in our family wearing it. I learned more and more about batik from my mom, my family, textile friends and all the hours and hours researching about batik in Indonesia en the Netherlands. Later on I found out that batik making is part of my family heritage. My mother's grandmother used to batik, and we still have beautiful cloths from her art. How awesome is that! 

Out of respect for this art, the makers and my family heritage I started my company in Indonesian textiles LARAS. I want to share the stories of these beautiful cloths and their makers. I want to make it possible for people to wear this beautiful art, let people proudly show their Indonesian heritage or their love for the art.

So conclusion: do a bit of research and spend a little more money for the real deal. Out of respect for the art of batik and their makers.