Batik (pronounced ba-teek), is an ancient handmade fabric art that originates from the island of Java, Indonesia. Today, batik has also become increasingly spread in Ghana providing a form of living for many women. The art of batik making in Ghana is similar to that of African print fabric but the difference being that batik is made all by hand, not machines.

A brief history of batik

The exact origin of batik is not known, but mostly associated with Indonesia. The word “batik” comes from “ambatik” which means to mark with spots or dots in Javanese language. In a wider sense it means drawing, painting or writing.

This ancient art has been carried forward for thousands of years to other countries such as Thailand, India, China, Philippines, Middle East and Africa, amongst others.

It is said that it was passed down by European merchants coming from Indonesia to Africa. Since then, each region started to produce batik with their own unique style. The Yoruba from Nigeria, Wolf and Soninke from Senegal and Bamana from Mali started experimenting with their own designs using mud, cassava starch and rice paste instead of using the dye.

How is batik done?

Things you need for batik making:

  • Melted wax
  • A sponge
  • Cotton cloth
  • Dye
  • Your hands!

The whole idea of batik making is to print a design onto a cotton fabric using melted wax. This fabric is then dyed and the parts of the design which are covered in wax, are resisted.

During the dying process the wax is removed from the fabric by the melting process. It is then left to be dried out, making the original background colour of the fabric visible where the wax previously was. As we mentioned previously, this is a 100% handmade process. They tend to use cotton fabric because the natural fibres of the cotton take the dyes more readily.

The wax is left to be melted inside a pot. The selection of sponge designs is very vast. You can choose just one design and have it repeated throughout your fabric, or alternate different designs (put your creativity skills into practice!).

Once the wax is melted, the sponge is dipped inside of it and then printed directly on top of the cotton fabric, also called “stamping”. Quick tip: do not press the sponge too hard on the fabric or else the stamp will not come out well defined, the secret is to press very gently.

Process of traditional batik making in Ghana

Once the stamping is done, the fabric is put inside the dye bath (again you can choose whatever colour dye you wish). It is left inside the dye for some time. The last and final step is to dip the fabric into boiling water to remove any remaining wax on the fabric. It is then left to be dried out and voilà your batik fabric design is ready!

Here are some examples of finished batik designs:

And another:

A more sustainable approach towards batik making

During the process of dipping the fabric inside the boiling water, any remaining wax tends to come up to the surface of the boiling water. This wax is removed and “recycled” by steaming it in order to remove any water from it and then ready to be melted again for the next batik making process.

What type of dyes are used?

Vat dyes, refers to dyeing that takes place in a bucket or vat, the original vat dyeing being indigo that was once obtained from plants but nowadays obtained synthetically. They use stronger chemicals so the colour is more resistant on the fabric compared to reactive dyes for example.

Batik making today

Nowadays in Ghana, batik is mostly practiced by women which has become another form of source of income for them. These skills are passed down from mother to daughter. You can find the beautiful batik designs on an array of modern clothing items as well as bags, bed linens, tablecloths, pillow cases and much more.

Organisations such as Global Mamas have been created with the objective of creating prosperity for African women and their families through the business of handmade clothing lines (batik). While helping women grow their businesses and expand into new markets, they make sure they are paid a fair, lovable wage.

Where can you learn batik in Ghana?

Osu at Esther´s batik shop (also known as Exmac Fabrics) is a great place to learn batik. Esther offers a range of beautiful batik fabrics at an affordable price but she also organises batik workshops. You can either give her a call or pop into her shop directly and if you are lucky you will find her there and can arrange a batik workshop.

Batik shopping is also an activity you definitely want to do if you’re travelling to Accra.

Another great spot for a batik workshop is in Elmina, Cape Coast. You can find the location on the road to Stumble Inn lodge. If you type on Google Maps “Aseda River Resort and Hotel” it should be on that road. The exact address is hard to tell as it doesn’t really have an address so this would be a bit of an adventure, but if you want something more secure you can go through Global Mamas who organise these batik workshops in Elmina.

At Green Views we love to let everyone interested in moving to Ghana, learn all about its cultural and artistic manifestations, as we believe ithey represent a pillar of what makes Ghana a great destination to live and to work.