Batik Fabric Facts

Batik is an ancient Indonesian art. Fabric is waxed to create areas that resist the penetration of dye, then tinted. The process may be repeated with many applications of wax and dye to create complicated multitonal designs.

Batik fabrics from Indonesia can be purchased online or at specialty stores, but many people make their own less-traditional batiks.

Design

Artists should design their batik, or at least have a rough idea of their plan, before they shop for supplies so they know which fabrics and dyes they need.

Lovely hangings can be made with a single dye bath. A finished project might recall the quaint blue and white of WedgwoodR china or the monochromatic charm of an old brown woodcut.

A designer who plans multiple dye baths should take into account the effect of overdyeing colors. For example, blue and yellow dye can produce areas of yellow, blue and green, but only by taking great care with the wax.

A first design should be simple, because it is hard to draw fine detail in wax.

Materials

Exploratory batiks can be made with paintbrushes, old sheets or dishtowels and easy-to-use RITR dye. However, craft-store equipment produces vivid colors and striking results.

Choose a pure, natural fiber (although some synthetic blends may work to a degree). Linen takes dyes poorly. Washable silk needs special dyes, but makes brilliant colors. Cotton muslin works well and is inexpensive.

A tjanting tool is available at many craft stores and online. It holds liquid wax so users can paint designs onto fabric. Electric tjanting tools keep the wax at the desired temperature. Paint brushes work too. Cold-water dyes and complete kits are available from many sources.

Paraffin and beeswax work together to create cling and crackle. Paraffin does not cling properly and crackles too much. Beeswax tones down crackle and improves cling. Use a fifty-fifty mixture or buy premixed wax.

Steps

Wash, dry and iron the fabric.

Draw the design lightly in pencil or prepare to work freehand.

Bind the fabric in a quilting hoop for waxing, or work with loose fabric on wax paper. Either way, work over layers of newspaper.

Heat the wax in a double boiler with great care, never allowing water to touch it and never allowing it to heat over 220 degrees. Paraffin is a hydrocarbon and is extremely flammable. Electric wax pots are available.

Outline the design with the tjanting, covering areas meant to remain undyed. The wax should look clear and not be too runny. If it runs excessively, it is too hot. If it is whitish, it is too cool. Allow wax to harden, then crumple lightly to promote crackling.

To use more than one color, begin with the palest shade. Mix dye according to product directions and follow them precisely.

Rinse and hand wash the fabric in cool water. Repeat the entire process for multilayer designs.

Boil the fabric in a large pot of water to remove the wax. Watch carefully, so it does not boil over. When the wax rises to the top, turn off the heat, allow the wax to harden and remove it. Alternatively, iron the item with many layers of newspaper above and below it. Dry cleaners can remove residual wax.

Batik projects are at once earthy and sophisticated, using simple techniques to produce complicated-looking effects.

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