Abdul Wahab

wahabAnything you want to know about batik Abdul Wahab can tell you.

His family has been making the traditional Indonesian fabric for as long as he can remember, and his group, KPTB, since 1978.

“Mostly our people learned from their fathers,” says Abdul. “Batik is the main skill.”

KPTB formed three years after Pekerti began working with Abdul’s father, Pak Umar, to develop and protect the batik production process, and for good reason.

Abdul explains how batik was brought to Indonesia through India in the 5th century, and what is referred to as ‘patola’ in India is now known as ‘jlamprang’ in Indonesia – a motif specific to the island of Java.

“We have almost lost the motif because no one wants to develop it, I think because it’s difficult to make the pattern,” says Abdul.

But KPTB is determined to continue its legacy.

“Revival is the right word, because few people know how to make it today.”

syalJlamprang is made in a vat, with patterns drawn on to fabric and covered with wax, then coloured and sun-dried. This process is repeated up to fifteen times to achieve the correct colour.

When it comes to the dyeing process, Abdul’s favourite colour to work with is indigo, because it is an ‘absolute blue’, meaning it becomes blacker the more times it is added.

KPTB uses mostly synthetic dyes today, but natural dyes are still in demand in certain markets.

To make these natural dyes Abdul uses the leaves of the Indigofera plant for blue, tree bark for gold and the roots of the Noni plant for red.

To achieve a multi-colour effect, material is strung out after drawing and dyed with a sponge tool in a diagonal pattern. Sometimes brushes or bamboo are also used, depending on the intended effect.

KPTB weaves the cotton, silk and rayon materials it uses to make batik, mostly producing men’s and women’s shirts and blouses, and scarves.

Abdul describes the group as having ‘partners’ rather than ‘staff’, as it outsources its weaving and spinning and some ‘batiking’ to women living up to 35 kilometres away from KPTB’s base in Pekalongan.

Despite the distance, these women are fully involved in the Fair Trade system, including choosing their wages.

“They work from home because some have two or three children,” says Abdul.

syallKPTB has an affinity for working with women, Abdul says because his own mother passed away when he was only age five, and he has grown up with these female producers.

In February 2010 Abdul and his sister Kamilia visited Japan to speak at a conference at a university in Osaka, Japan. Kamilia spoke about women’s rights, and Abdul about Fair Trade. KPTB has many buyers from Japan, which is the main importer of their natural dyes and silk.

The group now spins silk from silkworm cocoons purchased from the Department of Agriculture, but prior to this, Abdul says the group harvested cocoons themselves. This is a hugely valuable resource for the group, as one cocoon can give way to over 1000 metres of yarn.

Now that he has his own three year-old son, Nafees, Abdul hopes he will continue the tradition, but is adamant it must be his decision alone.

“My father didn’t push me to learn fabrics, I just learnt from watching him do it. So I would not push Nafees to learn batik, but he is very interested. When he sees the fabric he wants to take part in the process. Then everything is a mess!”

If Nafees continues to enjoy the batik process, perhaps the print so loved by the Javanese will be able to live on.

Abdul says: “It is like the kimono for Japan or the didgeridoo for Australia, Indonesia has something special too, and we want the world to see that.”