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Using Javanese Cantings

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Using Javanese Cantings

Cantings - a bit of background

Cantings are the tools which are used to apply wax in batik. They are little pens with a bamboo or wooden handle and a copper bowl and are the most accurate way of applying wax. Cantings were invented in Java and the word is actually Javanese, although you may sometimes still see it spelled in the old Dutch form - tjanting.


As the finest batik in the world is without a doubt produced in Java, then it makes sense to use the tool which has been developed over the centuries to do the right job.

A Javanese canting is made of a wooden handle and a thin copper bowl and spout. The spout is important as it is by looking at the size of the hole in the spout that you can gauge the flow of wax you will have coming out

Choosing the right size

There are basically five spout sizes, although since they are hand made, they are not always completely uniform. They range from extremely fine through fine, medium, medium-wide and wide. If you wrap a little cloth round the end of the spout, the widest cantings work excellently as a substitute for a brush.

We also have double, triple and multiple spout cantings. The doubles work well and can make lovely swirls. They are also useful for drawing the outline to a line which you may then fill in with wax. The multiple spouts are much more difficult to use as they need the wax at a perfect temperature, however they are very interesting as examples. They are usually used to make little dotty patterns and we have lots of batik samples where this kind of canting has been used to create textured backgrounds.

Basically, the finer the spout, the hotter you need your wax as it will flow out more slowly. Some people find the wide spouts hard to control as the wax flows so quickly - however this can be a great source of freedom and is great for doing some wonderful large pieces such as banners. The fine spouts are ideal for detailed work, which a brush simply can't give you. I recommend a medium wide spout for children.

Using the canting


Look at the angle of the spout. This is the angle you should hold it at. In other words it is not designed to be used with your work flat on the table but with it held up at an angle of about 45°. In Java, the women have a large piece of cloth draped over a stand or just put a hand behind the cloth to make a writing board for the canting. If you are working with your work pinned to a frame, prop it up against the table. If you can train yourself to work like this, you will have far fewer drips because your canting is now much more controlled and it only needs a very slight movement of the wrist to stop or start the flow.

You need to heat up the wax to a hot temperature. If you are serious about batik I thoroughly recommend you get a proper thermostatically controlled waxpot which will stay for as long as you want at the required temperature. If you just want to try batik out firstr, you can use a small pan heated on a hotplate, camping stove or cooker. Don't expect to be able to use the pan for anything else afterwards!

A word about Wax