How to Batik

Detail of batik flower designBatik is an ancient method of creating patterns on cloth or paper. It is a resist technique which uses melted wax or other barriers such as flour or starch. The resist prevents paint and dye from penetrating the fabric. Hot or liquid wax can applied by using a tjanting (or canting), sticks, wooden stamps or brushes or by dripping it onto the surface.

There is evidence of batik work found all over the Middle East, India and Central Asia. It is however, most prevalent in Java, Indonesia.

Before dyeing, it is important to check whether the fabric is ‘Prepared for Dyeing’ (PFD) or requires scouring to remove any grease, oil or starch. Run a few droplets of cold water onto the fabric. If they soak in quickly, no scour is necessary. To remove starches, size and oils, add 5mls of Synthrapol (a non-ionic detergent) along with 2-3 litres of water for each 100gms of material. Stir gently over a 15 min period, and then rinse thoroughly in warm water. It is possible to use household detergent, but the alkaline residue may affect the final colour or wash fastness.

Tools and materials for Batik can be found in our Dyeing section

Preparing the Canvas

  1. Cut a piece of cloth to the size of the frame
  2. Place the first pin in the centre of the farthest edge and then in each corner. Pull the fabric taut across the frame and place pins on the opposite side.
  3. Repeat this on the remaining sides.
  4. Draw a design with a chalk pencil or a Vanishing Fabric Marker pen.

Applying the Wax

  1. Heat the wax in the wax pot to a steady 80°C, placing the tjanting in the wax pot to allow it to warm up. Take care if you are melting the wax on a stove top, if it starts to smoke turned down the heat immediately. Electric wax pots offer a safer option as they are thermostatically controlled.
  2. Fill the tjanting with wax and place the spout against the fabric. Follow the outline of the design, working quickly as the wax will begin to solidify as it cools. Only apply wax to the areas you wish to remain undyed.
  3. The wax should leave a transparent line on the fabric. It is worth checking the reverse of the fabric to ensure that it has fully penetrated.
  4. Allow the wax to dry and cool on the fabric before applying the first colour.

Applying Colour

  • The fabric can be painted with or submerged in cold water dye, for cotton using Procion MX or dye solutions such as Deka L at 80°C on many other fabrics.
  • Iron fix silk paints can also be used as they are very fluid and can be applied using a brush or spray bottle. Using paints means that they will not become permanent until heat set which can only occur once all the layers of wax and colour have been applied.
  • When using more than one colour, start with the lightest colour first and use a darker shade of colour for subsequent applications.
  • Allow each application of colour to dry before adding further wax.
  • Build up the design by applying wax to the coloured areas before adding a darker/different colour.

Removing the Wax

There are three ways of removing the wax:

  • Use Wax-Out!, a waterbased formulation which completely removes waxes and oils.
  • If using iron fix paints it is necessary to remove the wax by ironing the batik between sheets of absorbent paper. It is surprising how much paper is needed to remove the wax, so check the paper regularly to see if it needs replacing. Ensure this is done in a well ventilated room to help disperse fumes. Removing the wax with an iron will create a halo effect around painted areas.
  • The wax can be removed by simmering the finished item in hot water with liquid soap such as Synthrapol. As the wax melts it floats to the surface of the water. As long as the dyeing instructions have been followed correctly, this method should not remove the dye colour.

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