Batik: ba·tim [buh-teek, bat-ik]
1. a technique of hand-dyeing fabrics by using wax as a dye repellent to cover parts of a design, dyeing the uncovered fabric with a color or colors, and dissolving the wax in boiling water.
When Amanda was little I got really into doing batik for a while. Somewhere packed away I still my favorite things I made back then, which were a T-shirt for me with a giraffe on it and a matching outfit for Amanda with leggings and a long ruffle-bottom T-shirt with a similar giraffe.
When we were in Mexico we stopped into the studio of one batik artist that was doing the most extraordinary batik pieces with many different colors. Doing multi-color batik is much more complicated than a single color process, but it inspired me to dig my batik stuff out of the basement and give it another try. It’s also something I realized I could do an ‘art class’ for my kids on, as they’ve been bugging me about doing another one lately.
When I searched online there were lots of inspiring things, but with Mexico still on my mind I found the work of Robin Zimmerman inspiring and wanted to see how close I could come to replicating this frog she had made, having never tried multi-colored batik before.
I started with a pre-washed, 100% cotton T-shirt and drew the design in pencil.
It was really nice to still have all of my batik supplies, including fabric dyes and wax, from the old days to use. A good source for batik supplies when Amanda was little, and I see now on an internet search that is still is, is Dharma Trading Co.
I cut out some cardboard to fit inside the shirt and pinned the t-shirt to the cardboard. Then, with a batik tool called a tjanting I filled in the ‘sky’ of the drawing that I wanted to remain white. I’ll admit to a little cheating here in that I drew in the black frame around the picture and outlined the frog with a black fabric marker. Hey, I’ve never tried this before and I just couldn’t figure out any other way to do it.
Then I outlined the frog with wax. This will allow me to fill in areas with dye without it running into other areas – or at least that’s the hope if I do it right.
Then I colored in the frog; Some yellow on his throat and down his legs..
Blue fabric dye for the water.
And then I filled in the rest of the frog with a green.
The first step in coloring is complete. In the morning the fabric was dry and the colors had lightened up just a bit. He’s not perfect and there were some areas where the wax wasn’t a connected line so the dye bled through, but all in all I was pleased so far.
I waxed over the blue water so that color would remain blue.
Then I went in and waxed over the frog in a random pattern, leaving un-waxed areas.
I cracked the wax up by bending it. I did this as I wanted some of the darker colored inks I was about to apply, particularly in the water area, to bleed through a bit.
I painted in an olive green dye in the areas I’d left free of wax on the frog. This will (hopefully) give him the darker green spots that frogs have.
And then I painted a dark blue over the water color in the areas I’d cracked the wax in hopes that some of it bleeds through to give the water a little more dimension and color.
When the dye was completely dry and waxed over the entire area with a brush.
I wanted to dye the rest of the shirt a citron color green. I prepared the large batch of dye in my kitchen sink. To all of the dyes I used I added sodium carbonate, or soda ash fixer, which makes the dye permanent and keeps it from bleeding in the wash.
Into the dye bath it goes. Fingers crossed.
I let it sit in the dye for about 20 minutes. Let the dye drain out, and then wrung it out and hung it to dry outside.
There are several methods to remove wax. I used the clean newsprint and iron method this time and found it quite effective. I’d saved some paper from Home Goods that they use to wrap up your purchases. This was free and it worked great. As a backup I also had a roll of wrapping paper for moving that I’d bought at Home Depot in the area where they sold moving boxes and other assorted packing materials. You put several layers of paper under the waxed areas, and then on top you use 2 or 3 layers of paper, and change often. You’ll never get all of the wax out this way, but I was pretty impressed with how well this worked this time. Something’s improved over the last 18 years – the paper, the iron, or my patience. The best way to remove that last final bit of wax is to dry clean the item. You can try the boiling method, but I never found this foolproof in the past.
The final shirt. I still need to dry clean it to get that last bit of wax out.
Overall I’m really happy with how it came out. He’s not perfect. There are areas where dyes bled through, and you really can’t even see any parts where the darker blue dye bled through the cracks into the lighter blue. I’ll just say that it gives him character.
I did a few more of them this past week and I’ll share them with you as well, although perhaps not in such detail. I did want to give you the detailed steps in case anybody else wants to give it a try.