The technique is thought to be more than a thousand years old, and historical evidence demonstrates that cloth decorated by means of this resist technique was in use in the early centuries AD in Africa, the Middle East, and in several places in Asia. Although there is no sure explanation as to where batik first was "invented", many observers believe that travellers brought it to Asia from the Indian subcontinent.
Melted wax is applied to cloth before this is being dipped into dye. Wherever the wax has seeped through the fabric, the dye will not penetrate. Sometimes several colors are used, with severl steps of dyeing, drying, and waxing. Thin wax lines are made with a tjanting (canting, pronounced chahn-ting) needle, a wooden-handled tool with a tiny metal cup with a tiny spout, out of which the wax seeps. Other methods of applying the wax to the fabric include pouring the liquid wax, painting the wax on with a brush, and applying the hot wax to a pre-carved wooden or metal wire block and stamping the fabric. One indication of the level of craftsmanship in a piece of batik cloth is whether the pattern is equally visible on both sides of the cloth. This indicates the application of wax on both sides, either with the canting or with mirror-image design blocks.
The finished fabric is hung up to dry. Then it is dipped into a solvent to dissolve the wax, or it is ironed between paper towels or newspapers to absorb the wax and reveal the deep rich colors and the fine crinkle lines that give batik its character.