Batik cap is a batik method in which designs are applied in wax with cap stamps or ‘chaps’ as they are pronounced. They are usually made of copper for its heat conductive properties and used to ‘print’ hot wax on to cotton. Batik made like this has been produced in Java since the middle of the 19th century to speed up the production and lower the cost of batik cloth.
Producing batik cap is still a labour intensive process requiring patience and skill. It is usually done by men, who as boys learn the skill at an early age and with experience can produce perfectly registered designs without the use of drawn guide lines. There are several variables in applying the perfect amount of wax to achieve clarity and precision in the waxed design. The recipe of the wax itself is often a guarded secret and the temperature has to be just right, the amount of wax on the cap just enough to avoid blotches or loss of definition, and the speed of the application timed to perfection. The registration is the most difficult part of the work, some designs require the use of a combination of several caps to complete the design.
The cap is a stamp made of copper used to ‘print’ hot wax onto fabric. The cap heats up on a pad in a shallow pan of wax, when the ideal temperature is reached the cap will hold enough wax to print a single time on the cotton. The process continues by replacing the cap into the wax pan and then carefully aligning the next application of the cap on to the fabric to repeat the design.
This task takes great skill, having tried it myself with much difficulty, I really appreciate the ease at which the men appear to race through their metres of cloth, applying perfect wax motifs every time, all faultlessly registered.
We visited a cap making workshop with Tatang our guide and watched the different stages of the cap being made. Cap-makers are highly skilled in this specialised craft and their caps are works of art in their own right.
The cap is constructed from hundreds of small pieces of copper, carefully bent and arranged to create a motif or pattern involving many hours of intricate and fiddly work cutting and fixing the copper shapes into a delicate design, then it is soldered into place.
After soldering, the cap is set in a wax resin which is then left to harden before filing the printing edge of the copper cap. This is the only way to file flat such a soft metal.
The finished cap has been filed. The wax resin will now be removed with heat.
While there I commissioned a cap of my own using a motif design with my signature logo incorporated. After six days my cap was delivered to the hotel, my drawing had been interpreted exactly by Saelan the cap-maker, every little detail and swirl was translated to copper, I was really impressed !
I realised at the last moment that my design would need reversing to a mirror image of itself for the cap print to appear true.