About Batik

Batiked paper process

Batik History

Batik is an ancient craft which is thought to have originated in the East but there was also early evidence of it in the Far East, Asia, India and Africa. It was used to make designs in fabric using wax and dyes, primarily for clothing. It has been an important industry in Indonesia since the seventeenth century and was exported to the West by the Dutch.

It became popular in the sixties in the West and particularly liked for its distinctive “crackle”. Contemporary batik has moved away from sixties fashion; crackle is kept to a minimum and batik is used as a medium in pictures, design and decorative articles. The artist now has many techniques to chose from. Dyes can be used with natural fabrics such as silk, linen, cotton and lawn, papers of all colours and textures, leather and wood. Dyes are painted, sprayed, etched into wax, discharged (bleached), stippled and stencilled. Wax can be drawn onto the fabric with a tjantin or kinska, painted, etched, stamped, spattered and used for ironing collages together. Batik is a versatile, unpredictable and exciting medium and has become a serious art form.

Batik Technique

Batiks on white cotton

For batiks on white cotton I draw my design onto the cloth with a 4B pencil and pin the cloth onto a frame to stretch it and keep it free from any surface. To all the areas I wish to keep white I apply hot wax with a tjanting tool or a brush. Hot wax is a perfect resist (known as wax resist) which seals the cloth so the dye cannot penetrate. Next, I paint a dye on to the cloth and when it is dry I wax again, securing the parts I want to keep that colour. The fascination for me is watching the dye find its way around the wax and into the fabric. Working from light colours to dark I wax and dye until the whole cloth is covered in wax which obscures the design beneath. When I iron the cloth between sheets of newsprint to remove as much wax as possible, I see the true picture for the first time. Finally I have the batik drycleaned and it is ready for framing.

Black cotton

With black cotton the process is the reverse of white cotton, working from dark colours to light. First I draw a chalk outline on the cotton, pin it to a frame and wax all the areas I want to remain black. Then I paint a diluted bleach over the cloth (a process known as discharging) and the unwaxed areas become a sepia colour. I rinse the bleach out with water, neutralise it with diluted vinegar, rinse again and when the cloth is dry, I draw the chalk outlines again and wax the sepia areas I wish to retain. This process is repeated with each unwaxed area becoming lighter. When the cloth is as light as I wish I then paint on dye, which adds another dimension to the batik. Finally, the wax is ironed off and the piece is drycleaned and ready for framing. The muted mood captured with this process is very well suited to depicting the habitats and many of the birds where I live.

Japanese paper

The process for batiks on paper is the same as that for cotton except I do not pin the paper to a frame but lay it on a piece of plastic. I then proceed with the waxing and dyeing as with cotton. The hot waxed paper is easy to peel off the plastic without tearing. The final stage is the ironing process. I use paper instead of cotton when I feel the subject matter will be enhanced by the textures of the different papers.

Coloured Fibre papers

These are batiked using the same process as the black cotton. With all papers, I put plastic underneath and pull the paper up each time I wax so it does not stick. During the bleaching (discharge) process I take the paper to the sink still laid on the plastic and bleach and rinse very gently. As the paper dries it becomes firm again and is ready for waxing. Finally the wax is ironed off and the batik is ready for framing. These papers give an added interest to the batik as the fibres create an interesting texture of their own.

Batik tissue paper collage

This is an excellent technique for conveying movement in a batik. I take several sheets of tissue paper and batik my background colours and then iron out the wax which spreads thinly throughout the tissue papers making them translucent. Next, I batik some images and after ironing out the wax, cut them out with a scalpel. The background papers I then tear and overlap, ironing them together, creating a translucent collage upon which I arrange the images which can be moved and replaced with ironing until I have achieved the flow and design I require.