How to make Batik
What is batik
First thing you might ask is, just what is batik? If you don’t know, batik is a method (originally used in Java) of producing colored designs on textiles by dyeing them, having first applied wax to the parts to be left undyed.
Batik is a “wax resist” process for making designs on fabric. Hot wax is applied to portions of the fabric and penetrates the cloth. After the wax dries, dye is applied to the fabric, by painting it on or by immersing the fabric into a vat of dye. The wax prevents the dye from spreading to those areas of the fabric that have been waxed.
Designs may involve one color or many colors depending upon the number of times the hot wax is applied and the cloth is dipped into different colored dye baths. The photos below will help give you an idea of the many looks of batik.
You can read more about batik here at the Wikipedia page for batik. If you would like to see more batik images, then have a look at the Batik Guild and the artists on their site (after you’re done reading here, of course). Or have a look and then return to this page to read more on how to make batik!
The basics on how to make batik
For the batik above on the left, it started out with a piece of unbleached white muslin. The areas that are wanted to keep white, are covered with wax. Then the entire piece of cloth is immersed in yellow dye. This resulted in a piece of cloth that was completely yellow, except for the portions that were covered with wax. (The wax prevented the dye from coloring those areas where it was applied.)
After the yellow dye bath — and after the fabric had completely dried — more wax was added, this time to any areas that are wanted to remain yellow. So at this point, wax was on the areas that were to remain white AND the areas that were to remain yellow. Then the fabric was immersed in the next color.
This process of adding wax and dyeing, using darker colors with each dye bath is continued to achieve the desired look, effect, or design.
Visit this page by Buffy Robinson for a better illustration of the process to create the beautiful batik designs and artwork: What is Batik? by Buffy Robinson
Best fabrics for Creating Batik
The best fabrics to use for batiking are natural fiber fabrics. Cotton, linen, and silk are excellent choices. The higher the thread count in the fabric, the more intricate design you will be able to make.
Do not use synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fibers do not absorb the wax as well as natural fabrics do. They also do not dye properly, especially with cold dyes.
Cotton is a great choice for beginners and experts
Cotton is an excellent fabric for batik, and one of the easiest to work with. Cotton also usually is less expensive than silk or linen.
For the batiks we have made, we used unbleached muslin. You can buy quality unbleached muslin online at Amazon.
Using old white cotton bed sheets cut into squares (18 x 18 inches or so) also would be an excellent way to learn and practice.
Silk works well for batik
Silk is another excellent fabric for batik — the finer the weave, the better. One advantage of silk over other fabrics is that a finer wax line can be drawn on silk.
The main drawback is that silk usually is more expensive than other natural fabrics.
Batiking on coarse fabrics
You also can use coarser spun fabrics such as canvas for batik, but a fine wax line is hard to obtain on them. Such fabrics really are only suitable for large clear patterns, not for intricate detailed designs.
More details on the process to make batik
Applying the batik wax
There are different methods of applying the wax to the fabric. The traditional tool is the tjanting (also spelled “canting” although pronounced “chanting”).
To use the tjanting, fill the bowl or hole with hot wax. Tip the tjanting forward to start the wax seeping through the funnel or needle. Control the wax flow by tipping your hand forward and back.
Other ways to apply the wax onto the fabric include painting the wax on with a brush or applying the hot wax to a pre-carved block and stamping the fabric.
Depending upon your design, you may want to wax large areas of the fabric or perhaps just create some fine lines. The point to remember is that you must cover everything that you do not want to be colored in the upcoming dye bath.
For best results, batik dye should be cold dye. This is because hot water is likely to cause the hardened wax to melt in the dye bath.
- Learn from my mistakes (and experiences), when I used hot dye for my projects, some of the wax ended up floating in the dye bath instead of staying on the fabric. Fortunately, enough wax stuck to the cloth that my project turned out all right. We definitely recommend using cold dye.
Removing wax from batik
After the final dye bath and when the fabric is completely dry, the wax is removed. This can be done by ironing it off between sheets of newspaper or by boiling it off in water. A small residue of wax will remain in the cloth, giving it a bit of stiffness. This is fine for wall hangings, but if you want the fabric soft, such as for clothing, then all traces of the wax must be removed.
You can do this by soaking the cloth in strong detergent. I also have read that dry cleaning will remove the wax residue, depending upon the fabric and the type of dye used.