( Originally Published 1932 )
Batik is a Japanese word meaning "wax painting." It is one of the few remaining arts that machine production has failed to duplicate. For this reason, the exquisite batiks found in our shops today are usually beyond the reach of the average pocketbook.
But it is the time involved and not the expense that places them beyond our reach. If the time element could be eliminated, batiks could be purchased at popular prices. Any girl at home can master the process if she is willing to give close application and study to the work. But both are required, and if time is a consideration, the writer recommends the simpler processes of stenciling, crayon, or block printing. Beautiful wall hangings, scarfs, pillow covers, table runners, smocks, draperies, and many other articles can be decorated by the process, and the girl of today who has a real appreciation of color, should find batiking fascinating.
The origin of this art is so ancient that historians claim there never was a time in the history of Java when the art was not practiced. In the ruins of Javanese temples, estimated to be 1,200 years old, stone figures have been found wearing "sarongs," the native dress. They are decorated with many of the designs one sees today, showing that they have been handed down through the centuries.
Dutch traders brought batik to Europe about the year 1750, but the art received little favor and the venture proved a failure. However, as time went on, interest revived, and it became the medium of expression of Dutch artists, who did not class it as a craft, but an art worthy of a place beside mural painting.
In America, it is a comparatively recent venture. Here, too, it met with complete indifference, but its real worth was soon recognized, and artists such as Bertrand Hartmann and Ethelyn Stewart to mention but two—developed it to a high standard, using the unlimited range of colors made possible by modern dyes.
Batiking is a method of applying dyes to cloth in the form of designs, and is accomplished by the use of wax. It is based on the principle that the wax, wherever it is applied, will prevent the dye penetrating the cloth. For example, let us dip a piece of cloth in a blue dye bath. The cloth will become blue. But if hot wax is applied to half of the cloth, and then dipped, only half of it will be blue, while the waxed half will remain white, as it will prevent the dye from soaking into that part of the cloth.
Let us say that we wish to divide a piece of cloth into three equal parts, making a white section, a blue section, and a red section. We paint two-thirds of our cloth with wax and dip it into a blue dye bath. We then remove the wax, and find our cloth one-third blue and two-thirds white. The blue section and one of the white sections are now covered with wax, and the piece again dipped, but this time into a bath of red dye. When the wax is removed, one-third is white, one-third red, and the other third blue. This is the process of batiking.
Practically all silks and cottons lend themselves to the process, although the beginner would do well to experiment with medium weight pongee or thin, unbleached muslin. Crêpe de Chine, georgette, and chiffon are also effective, but taffeta and non-washable silks usually make poor materials to work with, due to their artificial stiffening.
But let us carry the entire process through to completion, studying each step as we go, and consider the various tools and apparatus needed to complete each part of the work. The cloth is given a thorough washing before any work is started. This will shrink it and remove any artificial stiffening. Allow it to dry, and then give it a good ironing. We are now ready to draw our design.
It is usually best to make the design on paper be-fore attempting to apply it to the cloth. A color pat-tern should also be made to act as a guide in the dyeing process. Place the cloth on a flat table with the design over it, and make a tracing of the design on the material. There are a number of ways to do this work. It may be traced with carbon paper and pencil. Some experts use a wheel perforator, which pricks the outline of the design on the paper pattern.
This is then placed over the cloth and charcoal or chalk rubbed into the holes. But for the novice, the usual methods of pencil tracing are best. After the design has been transferred to the material, it is stretched on a frame. If an old picture frame can be found, it will serve splendidly. The chapter on "Hooked Rugs" will tell you how this may be done. However, such a frame can he easily made out of four strips of wood long enough to hold the piece. These may be clamped with small wood clamps, bought at any five-and-ten-cent store, or they may be nailed or bound with cord.
If the piece is extraordinarily large, it may be waxed on a table covered with thin, smooth paper. The frame method is preferred and should be used whenever possible, as the fabric should be kept clear of any contact while being waxed. If this is not done, there is a possibility of the wax sticking to the under side and cracking when lifted. If this occurs, the color will run into the cracks and ruin the design when the piece is dyed.
Our next consideration is the preparation of the dyes we wish to use. If a color pattern has been made, showing each color to be used, this should be studied for the necessary colors. Very good effects may be obtained by using only one color, and the more simple we make our first experiments, the more satisfactory results we will gain.
Any good commercial dyes may be used if handled according to the instructions given by the makers. Specially prepared batik dyes, which carry with them full instructions, may be bought at any art supply store.
To prepare the dye for use, a pan large enough to hold your cloth should be obtained. This can be an agate or enamel pan, although the former will be best. Heat a quart of water in the pan to boiling point, and then add a package of the dye. If batik dyes are used, a half teaspoon will be sufficient, as this product is more concentrated than the usual household dyes. It should be allowed to boil for about ten minutes. After cooling, it may be poured into a fruit jar or any glass container. To test the color, pour a little into your dye pan, and dip a scrap of your material into it. When the dye has dried, it will be several shades lighter than when it is wet. By holding the wet material to a light you can arrive at some idea of what the color will be when the material is dry. If the color is too dark, it can be lightened by adding water.
It is impossible in one chapter such as this to give the reader instructions on the mixing of colors. It might be well, however, to point out the fact that there are three primary colors—yellow, blue, and red —and that through the proper mixing of these colors any other color in the spectrum can be obtained.
Colors need not be mixed before dyeing, as other colors may be had by dyeing one color over the other.
For instance, if the material is dipped in a red dye bath, and then in a yellow bath, it would turn out orange.
The wax is now prepared. A small agate pan about four inches deep is needed for this, as well as somemeans for heating the wax. A gas or alcohol adjust-able lamp is good for this purpose. If one of these cannot be obtained, an improvised beater can be made with an electric iron. Note how this is done in Figure 33. The iron is turned upside down, supported by books pressed against its handle, and the pan set on it. The wax must be carefully watched, as overheating causes it literally to "go up in smoke."
Many batikers mix their own wax, but the beginner would do well to purchase one of the preparations now on the market, which any art store can supply. A half and half mixture of paraffin and beeswax, with about a half teaspoonful of rosin, makes a good mixture for certain work, but as every expert has his own particular way of preparing wax, it is best for the beginner to use the manufactured product, which comes prepared.
The wax can be applied either with a brush or a Javanese instrument known as the "Tjanting." This consists of a small cup-shaped instrument with a handle, and from the bottom of the cup, a small spout curves downward. The hot wax is drawn through this spout by capillary attraction, in the manner of a fountain pen, when its point is brought in contact with the material. But the hand-ling of the "tjanting" requires considerable skill, and for this reason the writer recommends using the brush for applying wax. While the minute lines obtained by the "tjanting" may not be possible with the brush, very satisfactory results are nevertheless obtained with little practice.
Small brushes are used for outlining the design, while larger ones are best for filling in the large areas. A No. 4 sable brush is used for the former, and Nos. 6 or 12 for the latter work.
With the material on its frame, the dye mixed, and the wax prepared in the wax pot, we are ready to apply it to the fabric. With the small brush, the design is first outlined with the wax. Make sure that your wax is kept warm, as it must flow smoothly and evenly from the brush. If the wax is too cool, a clear line can-not be made.
Dip your brush into the wax pot, and allow it to stand while deciding your first stroke. Place your pot as close to the line to be made as possible, so that the distance it must travel from the pot to the fabric will be at a minimum.
The brush must be taken from the pot and carried to the fabric without any hesitation whatever, or the wax on it will tend to coagulate. At the start of each stroke the brush should be handled lightly to avoid making a blot, and its pressure increased as the wax empties from it.
It is important that the wax penetrates the cloth, and if the material is of a heavy texture, it may be necessary to retouch it on the reverse side. Fill in all areas you do not wish to dye in the first dipping. As the hot wax is liable to drop from your brush when being taken from the pot to the fabric, a folded news-paper should be used. Handle this in one hand, carrying it under the brush, while bringing the brush from the pot. In this way, any excess wax will strike the newspaper instead of the fabric, and no harm will be done. If a drop should strike the cloth on a part you intend to dye, it may be removed if care is taken. Place a soft towel under the spot, and dab it with gasoline or benzine until it disappears. Do not rub it too hard, or an unsightly smudge on the cloth may result.
Filling in areas properly with smooth even lines is one of the most important secrets of batiking, and the beginner should practice this step on waste fabric until skill is obtained. When all areas that are to remain undyed are filled in, the fabric is ready for its first dipping. The lightest shade in the color scheme should be chosen for the first dyeing, and all other portions of the cloth carefully "blocked out" with wax.
Both the wax on the material and the dye bath should be as nearly an even temperature as possible.
Keep the dye lukewarm, and if the wax has become cold, dampen the fabric in lukewarm water before submerging it. The cloth is now placed in the dye bath and kept there about fifteen or twenty minutes. It should be kept moving while submerged. When dyed, remove it from the dye bath and rinse thoroughly in cold water, without wringing.
The wax is now removed. This is done by placing it between sheets of newspaper and pressing with a hot iron until all the wax is gone. If for any reason this fails to remove the wax, dipping the fabric in gasoline will do so.
If two or more colors are used, the first dyed portions of the cloth are now waxed, together with any other areas appearing in other colors than that of this second dye bath, and the process is repeated.
This completes the process. Batiks should not be washed. When they become soiled, dipping them in a gasoline bath will renew their original brightness. A careful study of the accompanying illustrations should aid the beginner. In one will be seen the process of outlining the design with the wax, while the second shows the filling in of the larger areas between the outlines.
A simple form of batiking, popular in this country, but looked upon with scorn by the Javanese, is known as "crackle." This is done by waxing the entire piece of cloth, either by dipping or painting. It is then cooled, and crumpled gently in the hands until the wax has broken into small cracks. This is then dipped in a dye bath, removed, and the wax pressed out. The result is a tinted gossamer effect, which is quite pleasing, and as this is the most simple of the batik processes, it is naturally popular.
As has been said before, the art of batiking is not one which can be fully mastered in a short time, nor is it one recommended to the impatient, as it requires time and care to do it successfully. But for the girl who appreciates the finest in color tones, who loves to make and decorate her own things, and is willing to give the necessary pains and trouble to accomplish her end, batik work will well reward her every effort.