Sew, What's New?

Curating sewing and quilting talent, techniques, and tutorials, since 1997.

Batik Fabric Production - The Old Is New Again

By Sew Batik If you are passionate about textiles with exotic color and texture the chances are good you have a special love for batiks. It's easy to be captivated by these stunning color-saturated marvels. While there always seems to be a place in a batik lover's stash for a new "Bali" few of us know much about the fascinating, time-honored processes that are used to make our batik fabrics. In order to discover where the batiks in our local fabric store come from, let's take a virtual trip into an Indonesian batik factory. Batik making is an ancient art for embellishing cloth through the use of wax, (or other media that creates resist), and dyes. While batik fabric is produced in India, China, Thailand and in several African nations, it is most renowned in Indonesia and Malaysia. In these areas there are two basic processes used to produce batik fabric; Batik Tulis (hand drawn batik) and Batik Cap (stamped batik). This article will focus on the production of stamped batik.

Stamping; involves the application of molten wax to cloth with the use of a metal or wooden stamp called a cap, (Pronounced Chap). The cap is a cookie cutter-like devise that is created in the image of the batik motif that it intends to produce. The stamping process begins with the preparation of the cloth.
Cloth Preparation and Application of Base Colors: Raw fabric must first be prepared before it can undergo batik production. The prep involves the removal of impurities and starch. Often this is done by bleaching the fabric before it arrives at the batik factory. If the base cloth is heavily starched it may be washed to improve the penetration of the dye to those parts of the cloth left un-waxed. After fabric prep it's often necessary to apply base colors to the fabric before the wax is applied. The base colors fill the surface area inside of the motif positions that are eventually shaped by the wax resist. In situations when the base color must be applied the fabric is often placed on the factory floor.
The Application of wax: After the base colors have been applied to the prepped fabric, it's time to apply the wax. Usually the fabric is draped over a padded table which provides the necessary give to the pressure of the stamp. Before it is melted, the wax is in the form of blocks. The wax blocks are placed in an open pan called a Wajan that sits on top of a small barbecue-like stove. The wax is applied to the fabric after it is melted to the right consistency. The batik artisan dips the stamp into the pan until its surface is covered with molten wax and applies the stamp to the cloth. The artisan must carefully dovetail the wax impression into the ones that have already been created to avoid unsightly gaps in the repeat of the motif.
Dyeing: After the wax has been applied, the cloth is ready to be over-dyed. The dyes are color matched by staff members and than applied in large cement baths. Areas covered by wax will resist the dyes and will create the shapes of the desired motifs. The dyeing process is repeated several times depending upon the colors and complexity of the design. Occasionally a final application of black or other dark color is made to emphasize the design elements of the pattern.
Removal of the Wax: After the cloth has been rinsed and dried, the wax is removed entirely by dipping in hot water. The wax is often saved and re-used. The cloth is then washed with a mild detergent, rinsed to remove excess dye and hung in the sun to dry. Creases may be removed by an electric press. The fabric is later rolled on tubes and packed for export.
New Frontiers: While Indonesian batik-making has been ongoing for centuries it is undergoing a period of dynamic change owing to the needs and creativities of home sewing enthusiasts around the world. Old batik techniques are given new applications and new base fabrics expand the potential uses of batik. Western fabric companies now offer 108"-wide batik backing, batik flannel, silk batik and many new thematic groups of stamped batiks and hand-dyed batik. All-inall it's an exciting time of renewal for this ancient fabric making process. Photo credit:
Kimberly's batik art projects

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