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The Batik Process


THE first step in the batik process is to prepare the material. This is nothing more elaborate than a thorough washing, which will result in freeing the goods from any artificial loading and will shrink the piece and the size will not be an unpleasant surprise when the work is finished and one will not find that the triangle especially cut for a lamp-shade will not fit by an inch or so. If one is using “dyed in the piece goods” (that is, material already dyed one col-our when bought), it is a good plan to boil it for ten minutes, in order to remove any loose colour, and to make sure that no un-expected colour will run and mix itself with the dye in which the fabric is being dipped. The drying and ironing of the material makes it ready for the application of the design.


Some people when making a simple design draw directly on the material with wax, but it is usually the best plan to make the design on paper first, together with a coloured sketch to be used as a guide when the dyeing part of the process is reached. In using transparent material, the design can of course be placed underneath it and the pattern traced directly through, but this is not practical with heavier fabrics.


When waxing very thin material such as chiffon, it can be doubled or in some cases even folded in quarters, laid perfectly flat and the wax applied. This short cut was used in the batik illustrated facing page 50. It was designed and executed by Hazel Burnham Slaughter, and it is a representative piece of the beautiful work done by her on sheer materials. It is made with only two colours—the original colour of the chiffon, a very light tan, and a soft mellow red; the design is an arrangement of free ornament, floral and animal life. It is a free-hand all-over design, and repeats itself four times, having been folded as described above.

This folding process only has satisfactory results when very thin material is used as the wax will not penetrate through two or more thicknesses if the fabric has any weight at all.

The most satisfactory means of transferring the design, is to prick the outline with a pin, or wheel perforator, place the perforated paper on the fabric and rub charcoal through the holes. If one cannot obtain any charcoal—though one must be far indeed from the mad-ding crowd to be out of reach of even charcoal tablets, lead-pencil dust can be used, though it is not at all to be recommended owing to the dirty smears that it makes when rubbed.

Be very careful to have the material quite straight and place the design on it squarely, or the final effect may be very twisted and distorted. If the pricking has left a jagged edge to the holes in the paper, rub the perforations lightly with sandpaper in order that the charcoal may go through cleanly and easily.


When the finished work is to be in more than one colour, it is advisable to strengthen the charcoal outline with pencil or Conte Crayon No. 2, otherwise it is washed off in the first dipping. This redrawing is not necessary if one wishes to have an undyed outline edging the different colours, as in that case the outline of the whole design will be drawn in, in wax, and this will permanently indicate the pattern.


The American method of working differs from the Javanese in the fact that the native hangs her material vertically in front of her when she is waxing her design, whilst the American is decidedly more comfortable with his material flat on a table. Usually it is stretched on a frame or canvas-stretcher to prevent it from coming in actual contact with the surface of the table whilst the wax is being applied. If it is not kept clear, it will be found that when an attempt is made to lift the textile, on the completion of the waxing process, it will ‘be sticking in places and the wax torn in consequence; the effect of this damage will be that in dyeing the colour will penetrate from the back, and the material exposed by the breaks will turn out to be some shade quite unplanned for in the original scheme. For very big pieces, however, it is rather impractical to use a frame and as an alternative to stretching, the fabric can be waxed on a table which is covered with thin smooth paper; with careful lifting, little or no harm need be done to the wax, but in any case it is well to make a thorough examination of the reverse side in order to be sure that there are no exposed surfaces that should be retouched.

Some artists work with a sheet of glass under their material, instead of paper, but this, whilst having the advantage of not sticking as much has the great objection of rapidly cooling the wax with which one is working and cool wax does not penetrate the material properly.


A clean edge to the design is obtained with more certainty if the flat masses are outlined with a fine brush or preferably with a tjanting, before being filled in with the larger brushes. Where the work is done with a tjanting, it is difficult to have the fabric stretched on a frame as this tool is used with the palm of the hand resting on a steady surface.


The illustration facing page 54 shows the way to hold the tjanting when the work is laid flat on the table. The wrist and the lower part of the hand rest on the table, the tjanting is held between the thumb and the two first fingers, while the remaining fingers act as an additional support. All small movements can be made with the wrist remaining stationary; for big curves the hand and arm are slowly moved in the required direction, keeping the tjanting at an even level. Though in the beginning this may seem difficult, it will be found that after a little practice, it will be quite easy to make even and regular lines.

Having covered up with wax all the parts of the design which are to remain white or the original colour of the fabric (if an already dyed piece is used for the foundation) it is now ready for the first dye bath.

Select the lightest shade in the colour sketch for the initial dyeing. To be sure of getting the desired shade it is well to test a sample of the fabric.. To do this, wet the piece and immerse it in the dye for a few moments; when it is dry it will be several shades lighter than when it is wet. One can get an approximate idea of the colour that a wet piece will be when it is dried, by looking at it against the light.

The simplest batiks, of course, are those in which only one colour is used and consequently only one dipping is required. Details of dyeing and the matter of colour schemes will be treated at length elsewhere in this book. After dip-ping, the material should be rinsed thoroughly in luke-warm water. Avoid the use of cold water, especially when another dyeing is to follow, as the cold will cause the wax to become brittle and crack, and unintentional crackling is a sign of poor craftsmanship. If the batik is to be in only one colour it is now ready for the removal of the wax, which is a simple business, consisting of rinsing the fabric very thoroughly in gasoline or Carbona.

More elaborate colour schemes are produced by a repetition of the process, simply covering up with fresh wax the parts one wishes to retain in the shade of the last-dyed colour. This re-waxing, dipping and rinsing is continued until all the colours that the scheme demands are obtained, and then the wax is removed as described.


A word here on the use and misuse of gasoline may be in order. Gasolining should be done very thoroughly; one of the faults common to all amateurs is insufficient rinsing and the fabric still stiff with wax is placed on the market as a finished product. Often the lovely softness of a drapery will be lost and a papery quality substituted just because there have not been a sufficient number of gasoline baths used.


When possible, gasoline should be used out of doors, although if proper precautions are taken, there is no reason why people should be nervous about using it in the house. In the first place do not use it in a room in which there is a fire burning and do not imagine the room is safe for a lighted match immediately the vessel containing the gasoline has been removed. Gasoline fumes are heavier than air and if undisturbed will hang low in the room for some time; it is therefore a good plan to have the window open slightly, at the bottom as well as at the top, in order to create a current of air. The hot air rising and the fresh air coming in at the bottom of the window, will soon disperse the fumes.

Have the gasoline in an earthenware vessel.

Enamelware easily gets chipped and the ex-posed iron when touched by the hand may give a slight electric shock, as electricity is some-times generated through rubbing the fabric. It is well, in any case, to avoid hard rubbing and to use as little friction as possible, taking particular care on bright clear days when the air itself seems charged with electricity.


Gasoline can be used over and over again. The last baths for one batik, containing only a small amount of dissolved wax, can be used for the first bath next time, and with an apparatus similar to that illustrated, it is quite easy to run off the dissolved wax (which sinks, being heavier than the gasoline), and save only the clear fluid.

The last stage of the process is the ironing, which needs no more description than the suggestion that the work is placed between papers; this hint may prevent the streaking which some-times ruins a batik that has successfully survived the various stages of a decorated textile’s creation.

( Originally Published Early 1900’s )


About Berita Batik

Sanggar Batik Nusantara: Jl. Batik Tulis No 9 - 10 Gama Asri Pekalongan

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