“Everyone’s Rainbow”, 2012-13 R. Cooper
Vintage Bedsheet made into Batik Fabric made into a Whole Cloth Art Quilt
Of all the art forms I have sampled thus far in my life–and there are many– the ancient art of wax resist dyeing known as batik is my very favorite. There is the aroma of the molten wax, the magical way the dye flows around the hardened wax, and the mysterious science of blending waxes for specific results plus the timing and controlling of the final dye bath. I love every phase of the process! Each finished piece is an exploration in color layering. As a production artisan, I work on several batik projects at one time. The process is slow, with long periods of waiting for dyes to batch. Having several pieces in progress simultaneously is much more profitable and time efficient than completing one item at a time from start to finish. For the purpose of our discussion today, however, the steps described are for a single item project.
Wax hot enough to effectively penetrate fabric is hot enough to burn and blister the human flesh. Over heated wax can emit toxic fumes, even burst into flames!! Only heat wax in a thermostatically controlled vessel. Do not heat wax for batik in the microwave oven, toaster oven, or conventional oven, or on a stove top. Any vessel or tool used in the batik process should never be used for food preparation again. Work in a well ventilated area. Have a tight-fitting lid for any vessel used to heat wax. Have a fire extinguisher handy. Use the same safety precautions for handling the procion fiber reactive dyes that are described in the May 29, 2013 blog regarding Dye Application and Batching.
- Natural bristle brushes
- Clothes pins–wooden spring clasp style
- Metal objects for stamping with wax, such as cookie cutters, hardware, forks, kitchen tools, carpentry tools
- Tjanting (optional—a traditional Indonesian batik tool that is a tiny metal funnel, with a long wooden handle, for scooping up hot wax and creating uniform lines).
- Wooden frame. I use retired picture frames and embroidery hoops for small pieces, and have built large frames for yardage.
- Wax thermometer
- Dish pan, or bucket
- Electric iron, and ironing board
- Large stock pot
- Wax melting vessel with thermostat
Dharma Trading Company offers several appliances for melting the waxes. In my studio, we use a 1 quart crock pot for soy wax. For the high temperature waxes, we use a retired electric wok. An electric skillet is ideal, because several smaller metal pans can be used simultaneously. An old muffin tin is useful with an electric skillet. Which ever appliance is used, it must have a temperature gauge.
- Paper towels
- Old newspapers
- Fabric, suitable for use with fiber reactive dyes
- Fiber reactive dyes
- Sodium carbonate
- Laundry soap
A Comparison of Waxes
Bee’s Wax: All natural. Comes from bees. Relatively expensive$10-$15 US per pound . Melts at a high temperature 145 degrees F. flammable. Creates a smooth wax line, with little or no crackle. Usually blended with paraffin to give crackle. Must be removed by solvent or boiling.
Paraffin: Synthetic. Comes from petroleum. Dirt cheap $1 US per pound. Melts at a high temperature 145 degrees F. flammable. Creates a heavy wax line, with lots and lots of heavy crackle. Must be removed by solvent or boiling.
Microcrystalline Wax/Synthetic Bee’s Wax: Synthetic. Comes from petroleum. Moderately expensive $6-8 US per pound. Melts at a high temperature 175 degrees F. flammable. Creates a smooth wax line, with little or no crackle. Can be combined with paraffin. Must be removed by solvent or boiling.
Soy Wax: natural. Comes from soy beans. Inexpensive $3-5 US per pound. Melts at lower temperature 120 degrees F. Creates a smooth wax line , with undependable crackle. Washes out in hot water and detergent.
Re cycled Wax of unknown origin, aka old candles and crayons: Probably paraffin. Free. Melts at high temperature 140 degrees F. Creates various effective resists. Must be removed with a solvent or boiling.
Years ago, in the infancy of my career in the art of batik, a revolution in the candle making industry occurred, and the use of synthetic microcrystalline wax created an alternative to bee’s wax, or paraffin. Then about 15 or so years ago, soy wax became available for vegetarian candle making. The soy wax behaves very differently from the other more traditional batik waxes. It is a weaker resist. Unlike those waxes, soy wax is easy to get rid of in the final stage of the process. In my opinion all the waxes have merit and I stock 3 or four combinations of waxes for different projects. Most traditional batik artist use various blends to achieve specific results, due to the diversity of fabrics used for batik. For the beginner, for ease of use, and price, I would highly recommend using straight soy wax. It is commonly sold in the candle making supplies in a flake form. The lower melting temperature of soy wax reduces risk of serious burns, and fumes, or open flame.
- Launder the fabric to be batiked, omitting fabric softener, and dryer sheets.
- Iron the fabric using no starch, removing all wrinkles.
- Tack the fabric to a frame, or pull tight in a large embroidery hoop
- Heat wax to melting point.
- Apply wax using the tool(s) of your choice–I recommend brushes for the beginner. Tools must have heat-resistant handles. Clothes pins are handy for dipping metal objects into the hot wax.
- Test the wax on a pad of paper made by folding a paper towel several times. Drip the hot wax on to the towel. The wax should readily soak into the paper towel all the way through to the other side. Test on a scrap of fabric or the edge of the fabric. The wax should soak all the way through the fabric and be visible on the underside.
- Apply the wax to the fabric using brushes, or metal objects dipped in wax and stamped onto the fabric, or a tjanting.
- When applying the hot wax, create the design with the thought in mind that everything covered in wax will remain the original color beneath the wax application. Create enclosed areas of wax, for filling with dye later.
- Allow the wax to harden. This can be hurried along in the fridge or freezer, or cool spot in winter with a fan.
- Prepare a solution of 1 cup sodium carbonate in 1 gallon warm water, or a smaller equivalent ratio, and place in a spray bottle.
- Spray fabric with sodium carbonate solution until damp.
- Wait 20 minutes.
- Prepare procion fiber reactive dyes, with thickener added, if desired.
- Using a small squeeze bottle or a paint bush, apply the dye sparingly, but fully filling each enclosed area. A white plastic ice tray makes a handy dye holder when using several colors of dye. Use the lightest color(s) of the spectrum first. The dye will not be able to penetrate the hardened wax.
- Allow dyed areas to batch until completely dry. Depending on several factors, that could as long as 24 hours. Drying can be hurried along with a fan, or a blow dryer set on cool.
- Apply more melted wax, covering the first dye color as desired.
- Allow the wax to harden.
- Lightly spritz areas to be dyed again with the sodium carbonate solution.
- Dye with the medium colors of the spectrum, bearing in mind that a second dye color will impact the first dye application as the two colors mingle. Do some testing on a paper towel to determine a pleasing dye color advancement.
- Continue alternating wax applications and dye applications until the design is completed, dyeing in a darker color each time.
- Remove the batik from the frame, handling with care. Allow to cool and dry completely for 24 hours.
- The dark vein-like cracks that are filled with dye in the final bath, characteristic of batik are called crackle. If little or no crackle is desired, handle with extreme care to avoid cracking the wax resist. If more crackle is desired, place the batik in a freezer, for 30-60 minutes. Remove from freezer and crack the wax as desired.
- Prepare a dye bath in a dishpan or small bucket.
- Immerse the entire piece of fabric in a single dark dye bath.
- Wait 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Wash out in warm soapy water. Line dry ONLY.
Removal of the Wax
- Cover ironing board with several layers of newspaper.
- Sandwich the batik between several layers of white paper towels, then more newspaper.
- With iron on hottest setting, slowing heat the batik through the layers of paper, melting the wax into the paper.
- If the wax application was very heavy, this process can be repeated, until most of the wax is removed.
- Items batiked using soy wax can be washed in hot soapy water, several times, if needed, to remove the remaining wax.
- Items using any high temperature wax must be dry cleaned with a solvent, or boiled in water to remove the remaining wax. Note: It is fine to leave the last of the wax in an item intended for a wall hanging.
- To boil out residual wax bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.
- Submerge fabric, boiling for several minutes.
- Allow water to cool.
- Peel or skim wax from the top of cooled water.
- Wash and dry batik.
NEVER pour wax or waxy water down the drain! It will clog pipes. Theoretically, the wax recovered after boiling out could be used again, although I have never done so.
‘Treasure’, 2012 R. Cooper
Detail of Batik Whole Cloth Art Quilt Embellished with Charms, Buttons, Beads, Shells, and Other Cool Stuff
“Sun and Moon”, 2011 R. Cooper
Batik Tee Shirt
“Moon-Sun”, 2012, R. Cooper
Extra Large Tote Bag
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