A step-by-step guide to Batiking in Indonesia

Note: Even in if you have no interest in batik this article will also cover a good bit of how things happen in Indonesia and what my daily life feels like.

Step 1:

Tell your ibu (host mom) that you want to go buy some batik. Find some free time in your crazy PST training schedule to go on a Sunday. Rope in another volunteers family because they have a car! On Sunday morning Ibu asks when you want to go and you just shrug and say whenever works. Then a few hours later Ibu is dressed and ready to go and you scramble to grab your stuff. Pile everyone into the car. Don’t buckle your seatbelt because there isn’t one.

Step 2:

You make it to the first shop. You start to peruse, the store has beautiful fabric and styles, but before you get a chance to try anything on the Ibus are explaining that you are going to another shop. You don’t really understand why, but you accept that you have little control in the situation so you everyone piles back into the car. Surprise! You have two new additions to the car seating arrangement. Two mysterious family members are picked up along the way.

Step 3:

In shop #2 you learn that Indonesian bodies are shaped very differently than American bodies. You’re typically a small, but in Indonesia you are a large, but the shoulders still fit funny or the chest isn’t right. You also notice that Indonesians like ridiculous collars and buttons. You find a few things that are okay and struggle with deciding whether to buy something just to be polite as a way of showing appreciation somehow. After trying on a bunch of different styles and sizes you pile back into the car empty handed.

Step 4:

You are in the car and you’re not quite sure where you are headed. Maybe it’s another shop? But it’ll probably have the same problem as the last one! In broken Bahasa Indonesia you explain that you would rather buy fabric by the meter and then visit the tailor, a cheap and common way to do batik here. Everyone immediately understands and you continue on your way.

Step 5:

Arrive at the gold mine. So much beautiful batik! Where will you ever begin? See a bunch of styles and slowly narrow down to three after drooling over them all. Your host family tries to talk you out of one of your selections. Why? The language is still a struggle, so you get out Google Translate on your phone. They think the fabric is too dark. You explain you like dark patterns and cut some fabric anyways.

This was me holding back. I got only three.

Step 6:

Pay the cashier and load back into the car. The shop doesn’t take cards and of course you don’t have enough cash so you promise to pay Ibu back later. (Figuring out how much cash to keep on hand is an ongoing struggle.) Make a pit stop at a bakso restaurant. Food arrives at the table. You wonder – when was the food even ordered? You spent your whole time confused because you were moved to three different tables before everyone settled on the right one. Eat the delicious bakso. Head home and take a nap.

Yum. Bakso!

Step 7:

It’s Wednesday and you are anxious to go to the tailor. You ask Ibu. Ibu says the tailor in your desa (village) isn’t not so great, so you’ll go to the one jauh (far). She says you can maybe go tomorrow. Tomorrow nothing happens. Saturday you’re done with training around 2:00 and you go home with plans to visit the tailor Saturday afternoon. Ibu is napping. Because she feeds you all of your delicious Indonesian meals and absolutely refuses to let you wash dishes you let her sleep. Instead you read on the porch all afternoon and enjoy the break from the busy training schedule.

View from the porch. Photo taken during the daily afternoon rain storm.

Step 8:

It’s Sunday – maybe today’s the day! Who knows? You ask Ibu after breakfast. She walks down the street and talks with the neighbor who has the car. She comes back and says 4:00. You read on the porch until then. When it’s time you walk two doors down. Hang out on their porch for a bit. Then you’re on your way! Just kidding. It’s starting to rain so you walk back and get your raincoat and umbrella. Now you’re on your way. You walk halfway down the street again and turn back. It has been decided that the Ibus will ride the scooter, which you are forbidden from riding as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and you will follow along on your bike, the approved mode of transit by Peace Corps HQ.

Step 9:

The “far” tailor is only 7 minutes by bicycle. You get out your fabric and you do your best to explain what you want made. You share some pictures and some clothes you already have in order to get the styling right. She measures you and asks lots of questions about where you are from and why you are here. This is fun because your Bahasa is good enough that you can understand about 70% of what’s going on and between your Ibu and Google Translate you figure out the rest. You get measured, you cross your fingers that she understood everything you asked for, and get ready to leave. But wait! Before you go you have to take a picture with her. Having a photo with a foreigner is like winning a prize here.

Getting measured. This is the essential part!

Step 10:

You dropped a Google pin at her house so you head back to pick up the clothes on your own. You are an independent American after all. You immediately fall in love with your tailor. She is the second best woman in Indonesia. She has made everything perfectly. The fit is perfect. It’s exactly what you wanted. You are so excited you can’t even explain how excited you are to her in Bahasa. You want to hug her, but hugging isn’t a thing here so you resist. You pay her and it’s only 30,000 Rp per piece, about $2.30. So between the fabric and the custom tailoring you pay about $11.50 for clothes that are exactly what you want. You realize that you are going to be very, very happy living in Indonesia.

Step 11:

Show everything off to your friends at training. Tell them you will take them to the gold mine of batik and the best tailor in Kediri. You realize that you will quickly develop a batik addiction here because a.) it’s beautiful b.) it’s super cheap c.) you love every part of this process.

On a closing note, I have now taken eight other Peace Corps trainees to her because she is the best!


4 thoughts on “A step-by-step guide to Batiking in Indonesia”

  1. Ca me rappelle tellement tous les moments avec ma famille d’accueille! Jamais aucune idée de comment mais tout finissait toujours en ordre!
    En tout cas tes vetements sont très beaux! Les batiks me manques!


  2. Ellie, thanks for sharing this experience. The batik you had made a beautiful. They look great on you. Love, Aunt Dianne


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