Here is the post many of you have been waiting for. I am almost done with the batik project with my Painting I class. This is a mixed grade level semester course. My current population of students is very talented and will take to any process I introduce to them so my choice to select batik for this class was an easy one. Last year I worked with my Sculpture Class on a Balinese Street Puppet Project. We happened to have special guests visit my art studio who are familiar with the art form and were impressed with our work. One of the visitors asked if I had ever taught batik to students. I replied “yes” and explained that I had not had the tools at this school but I do know the process and technique. About two weeks later a package arrived at the school for me from Indonesia, it was filled with dye, tjanting tools, wax, silk, and a book about great batik motifs. I was so thrilled. I knew I needed to explore this next but the year came to a close quickly and I didn’t have time to teach it. This year I put it into my budget to purchase wax melting units, more dye, muslin, and a few more tjuanting tools. Once I got to know my students and the groups personality, I made the selection of which group could handle the process.
It started with a large piece of paper with a border approx. 2.5 inches with a larger central motif space. I shared a YouTube video on the process and gave a framework for the design motif. Once the students created a design and drew the motif clearly on white sulphite, I cut the muslin to fit the designs. I prewashed the muslin at home to prepare the material for the addition of wax for the start of the project. I borrowed a heating unit from the science department to heat our soy-based wax. Maintaining heat without smoking the wax we started to practice using the tjanting wax tool. The drawing was taped down to a large piece of cardboard to keep the fabric rigid to avoid cracking the wax lines. The design was outlined with a black sharpie to be able to see through the muslin while applying the wax.
Traditionally the fabric is pinned or stretched onto wood frames so the material is elevated and suspended off a surface. I did not have framework for the large pieces of muslin we planned on using for our project so this was my solution. When applying the wax we had a piece of paper towel in our hand to help move the tool from line to line. Most of our lines connected one to another so it was easy to control. Drips and drops do happen and the artists had to learn to adapt to the inherent imperfections. I encouraged the students to start with the straight lines that helped form the borders to get a feel for the tjaunting tool.
After the artist completed the wax layer, we removed the tape from the ends of the muslin and removed the drawing from underneath. The muslin is now free to be flipped over to check for wax saturation. If the wax did not penetrate all the way through we reapplied the wax to the backside of the design. Once all wax has been set we mixed our dye colors. We are using Procion dyes in capped bottles. Small batches are mixed and small dishes are available to mix colors together and to thin with water for lighter values. We brushed on the dye to the muslin. The method of watercolor techniques we learned on an earlier lesson was a helpful reference to mix and apply the dye. If students applied dye to a wet area close by the dye would bleed into each other in unpredictable ways. I encourage the students to mix original values and to play with the saturation of the dye for detailed designs.
Students completed the dyeing process and heated up a clothes iron. We placed newsprint under the muslin and on top of the muslin. Rubbed the hot iron over the paper to heat the wax to see it saturate the newsprint. This was done a few times on the front, changing the newsprint once saturated. The muslin was flipped over and heated again until all the wax is removed.
Students have the option to rewax areas for an all over dye process with crackle or to just touch up areas where drips interrupted the artist’s vision. Most students are opting for the touch up with the original wax lines remaining white outlines. The batik design has extra material on the sides to allow for a finishing. The finishing includes trimming excess muslin and either stitching or gluing the folded over edges. We are adding a wooden dowel for hanging and trim is selected from our donated box of materials. I was gifted a several boxes of upholstery trimmings so this works out beautifully for this project.
Our final pieces are now on display in the Upper School foyer, hanging in the windows to allow viewing from both sides and allowing the light to punctuate the luminescent colors of the dye. The pieces are beautiful. I will do this project again…I have no fear to do this process again even if I don’t have all the stretchers or other fancy set up materials. Artists always find away to be successful.
Tools and Materials for Batik