Batik Fabrics & Different Resist Techniques
In our previous post about resist dyeing, we focused on the 4 most common techniques for creating shibori patterns on fabric. We talked about binding, stitching, folding, and pole wrapping as ways to add pattern to fabric. In this article, we’re going to dig deeper into the world of resist dyeing and discuss different types of fabrics created by applying material to the surface of the fabric to create the resist. Whether wax or paste, the resulting fabric falls under the umbrella term of batik.
But first, what does batik mean?
In The Dyer’s Art, Jack Lenor Larsen describes batik as showing “certain similarities to stencil work. The principal difference between them is that stencils are too rigid to fasten onto fabrics for immersion dyeing, while batiks, by definition, involve the application of fluid or semi-fluid substances which solidify on the cloth itself so as to render it impervious to the dyebath. Hot wax, resin, and paraffin, as well as starch, rice paste, bean paste, and even half-fluid mud are used as resist materials.”
Whether using wax or paste, an artist applies the material onto a flat piece of fabric by either drawing, stamping, or stenciling. This design is the resist. Next, the fabric is dyed. The dye penetrates the exposed fiber, but not the resist area. Finally, the fabric is washed. The resist material is removed to reveal the design. Multiple layers of resist can be applied to create intricate designs with multiple colors.
Wax as a resist is more commonly seen throughout Asia (although not exclusively), and is particularly well known on the island of Java in Indonesia. This technique uses hot wax to create the design on the fabric. Different artists and cultures use different techniques for applying the wax. Some draw with a tool similar to a pen, called a tjanting, which drips the hot wax onto the fabric. Other techniques involve using a stamp or stencil.
Before applying the wax though, the fabric needs to be thoroughly washed to remove any impurities leftover from manufacturing. Next, a mordant is applied and the fabric is sized to prevent the hot wax from damaging the fibers. Once the wax has been applied to the fabric, it hardens. From there, the fabric heads to the dye bath where the dye penetrates all the exposed fabric, but not the area covered by wax. The waxing and dyeing can be repeated to add additional colors or design elements. Once complete, all wax is boiled off and often reused.
Fabrics created with this technique are recognizable by the thin veining lines sometimes seen in the white areas. These veins are from tiny cracks in the wax where small amounts of dye have seeped through. Some artists purposely exaggerate this veining by intentionally making cracks. Yet, other artists try to minimize them, considering them a flaw.
Rather than use wax to create the resist, another technique is to use some type of paste resist. Paste as a resist is used widely in various countries throughout Africa in stunning textiles. Bogolanfini, often referred to as mud cloth, is an excellent example produced by artists in Mali. These fabrics use an iron-rich clay collected from riverbeds and fermented to create the resist.
Before applying the “mud”, white cotton cloth is dyed with leaves from a local tree, giving the cloth a yellow color. The paste is painted onto the fabric, in the reverse of the design. The dye from the tree and the mud form a chemical reaction, dyeing the fabric a rich brown. When the cloth is washed, the yellow washes away revealing the pure white of the fabric. Since the design was created from negative space, the design is white while the ground (where the paste was applied) is a rich brown.
A similar technique is used in Zimbabwe using a paste made of cornmeal and water called sadza. However, unlike mud cloth, which creates the design from negative space, the sadza batiks are created by drawing shapes and outlines of shapes with the paste, often in rectangular layouts.
Whichever technique is used, the fabrics created are unique and show the maker’s hand. They have a deep sense of place and hold significant cultural value in many of the communities that make them. Many print designers look to batik fabrics for inspiration, and create designs with the look of batik but without the labor-intensive process.
Have you tried your hand at batik?
We reached out to Providence-based artist Lili Gilbert to ask about her experiments with batik after many years of working in shibori techniques. Her first attempts at batik yielded surprising results. She said it was definitely a challenge using the tjanting tool and learning to control the wax to get a consistent line weight. As with any traditional technique, it always looks easy until you try it! If you have photos of your own batik attempts, tag us on Instagram so we can see!
The Dyer’s Art, Ikat, Batik, Plangi; by Jack Lenor Larsen
Threads Around the World; by Deb Brandon
World Textiles, A Sourcebook; by Diane Waller, Shelagh Weir, Sheila Paine, Gina Corrigan, Ann Hecht, Chloe Sayer, Chris Spring, Julie Hudson, John Gillow