Batik Prints: Dyeing How-Tos
Once a pastime of Indonesian court ladies, traditional batik can be a laborious craft: A single yard of the most sumptuous Javanese pattern might take up to a year to produce, as the fabric is successively rewaxed and dyed. But with our quick method, using kitchen tools and other household items as wax stamps, you'll be able to make a collection of bright bandannas in just a few hours or decorate a set of summer table linens in a day or two.
Photography: Lisa Hubbard
Source: Martha Stewart Living, August 2001
Batik means "wax writing." Handkerchiefs, cloth napkins, and roughcut cotton squares are patterned with waxed imprints of household objects; the shapes remain white where the wax resists dye. Cotton and linen are good candidates; synthetics might not accept the dye. Of the samples shown, only the gingham pieces needed to be dyed more than once.
Kitchen drawers and sewing boxes are good sources of simple shapes on which to build patterns. For squares, use a wood block from a child's building set or a craft store; make polka dots with a wooden dowel.
Wash fabric to remove sizing. Use beeswax for sharp lines; paraffin leaves a crackle effect. Place a small amount of wax into top of double boiler, and boil water to melt; then simmer, keeping wax hot enough to penetrate the fabric. (Don't let it smoke.) There should be enough melted wax to coat bottom edge of the stamp, about 1/4 inch. Warm stamp in hot wax for 30 seconds; use pliers or a clothespin to lift out shallow objects. Drag stamp across rim of pot to remove excess wax. Stamp fabric in desired pattern, catching drips on kraft paper or an index card.
In a large bowl, mix a dye bath of 1/2 cup liquid dye per gallon of hot water; the hot water required for powdered dyes will melt the wax. For colorfastness, add 1/2 cup salt or vinegar to the dye bath. Submerge fabric for a few seconds to 20 minutes, depending on the shade desired; stir periodically with dowel. Blot with paper towels and hang or lay flat to dry; fabric will lighten considerably.
When fabric is dry to the touch, remove wax by ironing fabric on hottest setting (no steam) between layers of paper towels, plain newsprint, or kraft paper. Change paper often, until all wax is lifted. Recalcitrant wax can be dry-cleaned away or treated with wax-removing solvents.
For more, check out our how-to on gingham bitik.