Burke Residency 25: The Batik Library

Written by Emma Olson


Posted on May 04 2023

EMMA: Please introduce yourself, and tell us about The Batik Library. You launched in summer 2021 - what inspired you to launch The Batik Library?


BERNARDA: Hey! My name is Bernarda, born & raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since fashion school, I've always worked with traditional Indonesian fabric but always thought of making a collection with these motifs and patterns. The year was 2020: I was set to fly back home and planned on conducting research on batik. The pandemic hit and I wasn't able to go back home (or "mudik" as we say). I was actually saved by the advanced technology of Instagram, where I found a couple of Indonesian artisan groups that supported my research—and who I worked with to launch my gender neutral collection.

Indonesia has an incredible history of using batik patterns as storytelling. Each pattern holds its own meaning, including rituals, celebrations and specific occasions from birth to death. That's why I came up with the name The Batik Library. I wanted to share these beautiful stories that each batik holds with other artisans, fashion enthusiasts and consumers.

 The Batik Library Clothing Collection

E: The Batik Library is so much more than a shop, you are also a resource for education, offering history about batik as well as workshops. Can you share more about the importance of learning traditional crafts?

B: Yes! Batik is actually quite popular these days, especially if you've been vacationing to Indonesia. But not many that know that when you buy batik there's many kinds that can be found on the market. The most common one, unfortunately, are printed—as opposed to the traditional method which is hand drawn or stamped—and dyed synthetically. Batik actually refers to the method in wax-resist dyeing techniques, not just the motif or pattern. As I dig deeper into understanding the craft, this form of factory-made batik is actually one of the biggest water polluting factors in villages in Indonesia.

By offering workshops, I get to engage with the community better and educate people who love this craft about how batik is made as well as showing the intricate practices of artisans having to layer complex colors onto fabrics.

 The Batik Library Batik print process

E: Can you share one of your favorite Indonesian legends or folklore stories? Do you have a favorite motif or story to express in batik? Are there other ways that you like to tell stories with fashion?

B: Definitely, my favorite motif is the Parang, which we used in our first collection! Recognizable through its s-shaped design, batik Parang was once only to be worn by those who had royal bloodline in the Yogyakarta region during the Majapahit empire. Directly translated from “pereng” which means "cliff" or “slope,” the wavy designs illustrate waves breaking against the rock face, symbolizing the perseverance and strength of good character in the face of hardship. 

On top of these traditional stories, I think I would like to storytell an ungendered experience. I've played with zippers just to experiment with who it's for. By not placing buttons on the left or right side, I feel like I don't have to have arguments over what we have rooted in society. I feel like I can be more spacious with the clothing I make. 

 Parang Batik Print from The Batik Library

E: Everything you carry is made with naturally dyed pieces. What materials do you use for natural dyes? Are there any challenges that arise from using natural dyes instead of synthetic dyes?

B: The materials are all local in the village where the artisans live. We use leaves, tree bark and fruit skins like indigo, jolawe, ketapang, tegeran and tingi.

The challenge is getting the same color for different dye batches. Making them in larger quantities, for example, would make it harder for the quality control—so I end up with one-of-a-kind pieces! The intensity of the naturally dyed fabrics is also in the dipping process. 

 Batik Natural Dye Process

E: I love the heading on your site: “Stories from the past, fashion for the future”. What do you think the future has in store for fashion? What do you want to see in fashion’s future?

B: We would like to see a better kind of circularity in the fashion industry, a place where the skilled seamstresses can sustain a fair living wage and proper workplace no matter where they live. The future of fashion is a better consumer relationship with the pieces they own.

 Batik Natural Dye Process

E: How do you connect with the artisans who design and make your batik pieces?

B: We first connected through Instagram! But I also kept in contact with my college classmates. Through them, I met a community of sustainable fashion designers in Indonesia including like-minded people that have an interest in using natural dyes and creating in better work conditions for artisans.

 Batik Natural Dye Process

E: You’ve done some limited edition scarves for Lunar New Year and April - are there other limited editions or collaborative pieces you’d like to do in the future?

B: I would definitely like to follow up with the next Chinese zodiac—which will be dragon! I also had a lot of fun creating Cannabis Leaf Bandanas where 100% of the profits were donated to Cannabis Amnesty. I would like to do other collaborative piece to support a cause, perhaps!
Batik Bandanas The Batik Library



Leave a Comment