Saturday, May 28, 2011

Batik - A bit of theory and practice

Batik is a resist method of patterning cloth. The principle of all resist techniques is that a "resist" substance, such as wax or starch paste, is applied to the surface of the cloth to prevent the dye from penetrating to those areas when the fabric is placed in the dyebath. Therefore, when the waxed cloth is removed from the dyebath the areas that have been coated with wax retain their original colour, while the unwaxed areas take on a new hue.
Applying the wax with tjanting
Some theories suggest that batik originated in China between 474BC and 221BC and that the art then spread eastward to Japan. Today, batik is practised  in many parts of the world, including India, Africa, South-East Asia and Europe. However, one island, Java, is at the heart of batik design. Javanese batiks have come to be regarded as among the most beautiful and sought-after pieces in the world.
Probably the most widely recognized batik garment is the sarong, which typically consist of the skirt woven in the shape of tube, worn by both men and women. Most popular colours include red, blue, black and cream, and gold for celebrations.

Traditional recipes for batik wax are closely guarded secret. Originally, Javanese batik workers employed beewax. During the 19th century, ozokerite, a waxy paraffin substance, was imported from Europe and this has been used extensively for batik ever since. Today, a typical wax mixture contains a combination of beewax and paraffin, together with resins for adhesiveness and animal fats to aid the flow of the wax in the applicator.

Traditional batik making
The traditional tool for applying wax in Java is a tjanting or canting - a copper pot with a number of spouts through which the hot wax is poured onto fabric. The most prized batiks are worked on both the front and the back. Once the wax application is complete, the waxed fabric is left to set, before immersing it in a cold-water dyebath. Sometimes the batik worker will deliberately crush or "crackle" the wax before dyeing the cloth to create a marbled effect. After dyeing and drying, part of the wax is scraped away from the cloth before applying subsequent layers of wax and dyeing in contrasting colours. When the waxing and dyeing processes are complete, the layers of wax are removed by immersing the fabric in a cauldron of boiling water in order to melt the wax. Finally, the fabric is polished and glazed by hand using a shell.

Traditionally, batik was done on cotton and this is still considered to be the most suitable fabric since it is smooth, resilient and absorbent. For the best result, select a smooth fabric with a high thread-count, such as cotton lawn. Make sure that you wash the fabric in a hot, soapy water and rinse it well before you commence dyeing to remove any grease or impurities that may impair dye absorption.

Batik technique requires a relatively few special tools. We already mentioned tjanting, which also can be replaced with the paintbrush. Also brush can be used for covering larger areas with wax. Also, one common method of applying the wax (and more quicker and cheaper) is to use wax block or a tjap or cap. A tjap consist of a single motif or design made from copper strips soldered into a pan of hot wax and then stamped onto the surface of the cloth rather like a print block.

Applying the design with tjap
To maintain a flow of the wax through the tjanting, it is important that you keep the wax at constant temperature of 80C or 170F. An electric tjangtings have built-in thermostat so the temperature is controlled, but these instruments are too heavy and bulky to use.
Another useful piece of equipment is electric melting pot, also thermostatically controlled. Todays, popular substitute for the wax is gutta, a resisting liquid, packed in small tubes.It's more practical, no need to be heated (so less dangerous) and so becames more and more popular.The original colours of Javanese batiks are indigo blue and soga brown. In contemporary batiks, colour palette is far more wider.

Contemporary abstract design batik

Preparing the fabric and the frame

1.First wash the selected material to remove any remaining size (do not boil silk).

2.When dry cut the material to your preferred size leaving 5 – 10 cm for overlapping on the frame.

3.Make preliminary sketches for your design. These can be drawn or traced using a soft blunt pencil.
This can be done before or after framing. Pencil marks will be removed in the boiling out process.

4.Stretch the material as taut as possible over the edges of the frame. The fabric can be secured
using dress making pins, drawing pins or masking tape depending on the thickness of the material.
It is important that the fabric is stretched as taut as possible; this will allow the wax to be applied evenly.
Begin to pin the material from the middle on opposite sides of the frame pushing outwards,
stretching as you go.

Creating Your Design

Trace your design onto the material using a soft blunt pencil. This can be done by placing the design
under the frame and holding it up to the light or placing it over a light box. Alternatively draw the
design directly onto the fabric.


1.Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer of the wax pot. Heat the wax until it has a watery
consistency. You can check that the wax is at the right temperature by testing it on a small area.
If the wax is transparent it has penetrated the surface, if it is opaque it hasn’t.

2. First wax the areas that are to remain white using brushes or tjantings. Use newspaper to prevent
any drips from the pot occurring on other areas. If using tjantings it is important that they stay in the wax
pot until needed. Fill the reservoir with enough wax to run from the spout. Do not over-fill. If you are
covering a large area use the appropriate size brush ensuring that the wax is pushed into the fibres of
the fabric.

3.When the area is covered with wax ensure that the surface has been penetrated by turning over the
frame and checking the back of the batik. It is possible to re wax the surface underneath the batik to
provide extra security in the dying process.

4.Mistakes with wax are not easy to remove; however, it is not impossible. To remove a bad area
scrape off the wax on both sides of the batik using a knife. Soak a teaspoon in boiling water and then
use it to gently rub over the surface of the damaged area. Repeat this process until it is removed.
The fabric must be free of wax before the dye will penetrate the surface.


1.Mix the dye with the fixative. Use the information supplied by the manufacturer to help with this.

2.Pour the dye into the dye bath.

3.Remove the batik from the frame.

4.Immerse the batik into the dye bath. Ensure that the fabric is flat as the wax may crack.

5.When the dye has penetrated the fabric remove the batik from the bath. Repeat process if the colour
    is not as strong as desired. Do not fold the fabric as dye will collect in the cracks. It is also possible to

    paint on the dyes using brushes. Use newspaper to prevent spillages on other areas and
    blotting paper to remove excess dye.

6.Hang the batik up to dry using plastic pegs. It is possible to use a hair dryer to assist the drying
   process, however, be aware that the wax may melt. Leave the batik to dry overnight.

Boiling Out

1.Remove as much wax as possible from the batik using a knife or a scraper.
2.Using a metal bucket or saucepan and wooden tongs immerse the batik into boiling water for three
   minutes. This helps to remove the wax and set the dye. Ensure that the fabric is fully covered using
   the wooden tongs to push it down.

3.Using a second bucket of cold water immerse the batik for a further minute to solidify the wax.

   Repeat this process if the batik is heavily waxed.

4.Boil the batik in water with detergent to remove all remaining traces of wax.


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