Batik for complete beginners
I had a book on how to do batik, Start to Batik by Rosi Robinson. It had lovely pictures and clear instructions, but everything felt a bit complex for a first experiment. Also, I bought a starter batik kit from Rainbow Silks. It came with Procion dyes, as used in the book, wax, fixative and an applicator. It also came with instructions about how to mix the dyes but nothing on how to manage the wax. I assumed the instructions had been left out by mistake, but it turns out the pack was as complete as it was supposed to be.
I did what I usually do; hunted around the internet. You can batik with hardly any kit. You can batik with a wax candle dribbled onto cloth if that is all you have. I set out to make something just so I understood the process.
There are several basic things that need to be done.
§ Your fabric needs to be washed if it is new as the factory dressings can stop the dye working.
§ suspend your cloth so it isn’t touching the table.
§ melt the wax to the appropriate state.
§ Paint the wax on, let it cool, crumple the fabric if you want those distinctive batik marks
§ Dye the fabric and let it dry.
You don’t need any new equipment to successfully make your first batik piece. I used masking tape to stretch my piece of cloth over the box a meringue had come in (it has a big open circle at the front so that you can see the meringue, so I stretched the cloth over the circle). It was handy, and it held the fabric up off the table. It also meant I could look at the back of the cloth to check that the wax had soaked in properly. A baking tin would work. You need to be able to take the fabric off and on several times so do something that is simple. I reused the same bit of masking tape for the whole process. I do have a proper frame for painting silk, but it is quite large, and I wanted to use stuff anyone might be likely to have in their kitchen.
I melted a small amount of wax in a foil food container by setting that in a pan with a little water in the bottom. I would have used a tin can as the higher sides would have made it easier to make sure the water didn’t splash into the wax, and also allowed me to have more water in the bottom of the pan so I wouldn’t have to worry about it drying out, but the recycling had just been collected so I didn’t have any. I thought eating a tin of soup just to make batik seemed a bit excessive.
Don’t wander off while you have the wax melting. If the phone rings turn the stove off before you go to answer it. If it catches fire do not pour water on. Use a chemical fire extinguisher, or use a fire blanket, sand or flour to smother it or baking soda (which produces Carbon dioxide which is why cakes rise).
You want the wax to be melted enough that it soaks into the fabric, but not so hot it smokes or catches fire. You can tell if the wax is hot enough by brushing a bit onto the cloth. If it is too cool it just sits on the surface of the cloth and looks white. If it soaks in it makes the fabric transparent and you can see the wet look of the wax when you look at the reverse side of the cloth. If the wax hasn’t soaked through the dye will creep along the fibres to that bit of cloth rather than stopping at the wax edge. You can apply more hot wax on the under surface if you need to. Don’t just put more wax on top of wax that has cooled on the top surface; you’ll just end up with a ridge of wax that isn’t doing anything.
I used a paintbrush to apply the wax, rather than the tjanting (metal wax dispenser) that came with my kit. I know how to use a paintbrush, and decided to keep to the equipment most people would have available, and leave learning how to use this dispenser for another occasion. I painted very simple patterns, a fish, star etc, without making any attempt to make the pattern look good. I wanted to find out what the batik did, rather than demonstrate any style or skill in the design.
Once the wax was cool I took the cloth off, lightly crumpled it, put it back on the frame and painted it. I used the silk paints I already had. I was bothered by the idea that I had to mix the Procion dyes in the kit and then use them immediately. Procion dyes do contain some hazardous materials and should be mixed using a face mask. They are supposed to be safe to dispose of down the drain, but I am not on mains drainage so don’t like to put anything I am unsure of down the drain. Also I was worried about making up enough dye to dip the fabric. If I did that I would have dye left over and I might be tempted to dye other things and pretty soon everything in the house might be dyed bizarre colours. Sticking to little pots of paint-on dye would allow me to find out about batiking without any of these problems.
Between each layer of wax and paint I removed the fabric from the frame and lightly crumpled it to crack the wax.
I painted a first layer of yellow. Then I had to wait. The book on batik makes it seem as if you can get on and do batik as a continuous process, but a lot of it requires waiting while the dyes dry. I then put some more wax on the cloth, waited for it to cool and painted green on. Then I waited for it to dry. Then I painted another layer of wax and used purple.
You now end up with a piece of fabric covered in paint and wax. I was using fabric paints that set when ironed, and the wax needed to be removed by ironing. I place the batik fabric between layers of newspaper and ironed. I bought a new iron for the purpose – it was about £3.50 from a supermarket value range. This ensured I wouldn’t ruin my usual iron. Iron the cloth through the newspaper and keep changing the newspaper as the wax moves from the cloth onto the paper. I used up two and a half free papers in the process.
My final project did not have a soft handle and drape as the silk paints I used do make the fabric a bit stiff. If I was going to make a skirt or other garment I would need to use a different dye. I could use the Procion dyes I already bought, or I found that you can buy liquid dyes for batik off the internet. To remove any remaining wax, which a friend said was a problem with her one and only batik piece, you can get the fabric dry-cleaned. However, I am not sure modern dry-cleaning is effective and whether dry-cleaning firms will be prepared to do this: the older solvents removed the wax but the new ones wont. Ask you drycleaner beforehand I haven’t explored this issue yet. You can also remove the wax by boiling the item in lots of water with liquid soap – again I haven’t tried this yet.
At the end of this I got a piece of cloth that I really liked! Considering how basic the pattern was, and how crude the three colours were, the end product has charm and interest far greater than I would have got if I had just painted a pattern without using the batik wax. It is not so much the areas of resisted paint that produce the interest, but the way the dye creeps in along the cracks in the wax so you get every possible combination of colours. Now that I have done this I will definitely set out to do a more complex project with confidence.