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History of the SARONG ...and the BATIK Process:

Sarong HistoryA SARONG - also called a PAREO, a wraparound, pareau (Tahiti), pakome (Thailand), lava-lava (Samoa), kain (Indonesia), sulu (Fiji), canga (Brazil), malo (Tonga), lunghi, etc. - is a piece of fabric, approximately 45 X 75 inches = 120 X 190 cms.

It is the traditional clothing for both women and men in Indonesia and is also worn every day on islands all over the South Pacific and in many countries of South-east Asia - especially Malaysia and Thailand.

Sarongs are generally produced by the BATIK process, although hand-woven sarongs are also common. BATIK is made by "resist" dyeing. The design is first pencilled onto the fabric to be dyed, then hand-drawn over the pencil lines with a copper pen containing hot (melted) wax - rather than ink. The wax is the "resist." (The "resist" can also be rice paste or mud, but these are rarely used nowadays.) The areas covered with the wax will "resist" the dye (in other words, they will remain white, if the fabric is originally white color).

The wax dries quickly and then the fabric is colored/painted by hand. Or the design is hand-stamped onto the fabric with copper stamps dipped into hot wax, then dipped into various dyes to color it. Any area that is covered with wax will not pick up the dyes, and thus the desired design is created. The "resist" is later removed by soaking the fabric in very hot water to remove the wax. Only sturdy natural fabrics (cotton, natural rayon, silk) will survive the immersion into near-boiling water and the resulting cloth is colorfast, and " wash and wear."

Producing batik fabrics is complicated, labor-intensive, and slow; creating each sarong requires the skill, knowledge and cooperation of a group of artistic craftspeople. Batik cloth has been found that dates back 2000 years, and this technique has been used over the centuries in Indonesia, China, Japan, India, Turkestan, Thailand, Europe and Africa.

Although countless millions wear sarongs every day and consider the sarong their normal clothing, BATIK is considered a great art form, and museums and collectors are always searching for rare batiks. The island of Java is the center of batik making for Indonesia, the country which produces most of the batik cloth used in the world today. Originally, batik sarongs were made at home by rich women, and were very expensive, only worn by members of the aristocracy. Over the years its popularity increased, and craftspeople started to produce batiks in large quantities. Eventually, the BATIK SARONG became the national costume worn all over the Indonesian archipelago.

The Dutch introduced batik fabric into Europe in the seventeenth century after they colonized the island of Java. Intricate HAND-MADE, HAND-PAINTED BATIK is becoming more difficult to find, and the "real thing" is again becoming a luxury as Indonesia rapidly converts to factory printed sarongs.

Nowadays, most Indonesians call any "printed" fabric a "batik," so the demise of hand-made BATIK seems to be not far off.

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