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What is Batik Dyeing?

The history of the batik dye process and best practices.


Block Print Batik

Block Print Batik

soschilds at Flickr
Batik Dyeing
Batik dyeing is an art form where fabric is dyed using a wax-resistant technique. The resulting designs can be as abstract or as intricate as the artist dictates. Many of us have experimented in elementary art class with crayons and watercolor paints to create a wax-resist work, and batik is very much the same concept.

To create a batik print, wax is applied to cloth using stamps, brushes, and even special tools specific to batik. After the wax has dried, the fabric is then dyed with cold water dyes, with the aim to create a beautiful and durable print. The designs can be worn, hung up as a decorative item in the home, or even used as a bed or sofa spread.

Astonishingly, the process of batik can date back to 4th century BC. Its origins are notable in Indonesia, specifically Java, where cloth has been dyed using the same technique for centuries. Indonesian batik traditionally uses three colours; white, dark brown and indigo. These represent the Hindu gods Śiva, Vishnu, and Brahmā, respectively. Many regions of Indonesia use patterns rather than simple colouring; in particular, animals, flowers and folklore images on the cloth. However, the main indigo and dark brown theme appears to be popular.

What cloth is best for Batik?
The materials most often used for batik dyeing are muslin, cotton or silk. Any cloth needs to be properly prepared before the dying process. The cloth should be washed, dried and ironed. These might seem like extra steps, but they are necessary to a successful batik print. Washing and drying will remove any impurities and extra moisture that could interrupt the application of the dye. Ironing will ensure that wrinkles will not present a problem in the application of the wax.

Which dyes are best for batik?
Since batik dying relies on preserving the cooled wax on the surface of the cloth, cold water dyes must be used. Hot water dying won’t work, because the resulting process would melt the wax, ruining the design. Batik is usually performed on cellulose fibers for this reason, because protein fibers require a hot water dye process. The exception to the rule is silk, which is a protein fiber, but can be dyed like cellulose fibers.

Fiber reactive dyes are a great option for batik work. This is the same dye used in tie dye techniques, and is readily available at craft and department stores. There are many colors available beyond the traditional batik banners of white, brown and indigo. Batik is often compared to tie dye. Though the process is very different, these patterns are both associated with carefree summer clothing. How to Dye Cotton and Muslin...

What are Popular Batik Designs?
Batik can be a spiderweb of cracked abstracts, or a scene as delicate as an underwater landscape. I have used stamps and funnels to create very specific batik designs, and I’ve also drizzled wax to make a cheerful spiraling pattern. Batik traditionally has various cracks running through the design, where the wax was broken during the design process. Not only is it fine to have these cracks in your design, but it is a recognizable signature of hand batik work. To create more cracks, gently bundle up the fabric after the wax has dried, splintering the wax with cracks and you work.

For specific designs, special batik tools can be used which will stamp and evenly distribute the wax. These techniques are usually reserved for those who have already mastered the application of batik wax and the dying process. In reverse batik, most of the cloth is covered in wax, leaving the unwaxed portions to form the positive image of the design.

What kind of wax should I use for batik?
I like to use soy wax in my batik designs because it is so easy to work with. Read my articles on traditional batik waxes and microwaveable soy wax to learn the benefits of each, and how to make them.

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