Art Skills for Teachers - Batik

Batik is a traditional technique from South east Asia, which involves melting hot wax onto cloth. The cloth is then dyed and the wax removed leaving a pattern. Often these patterns are made by pouring wax into moulds, but the hand method of drawing with a wax tool, called a tjanting tool is common in Schools in the UK. I think it is very valuable to learn and understand the cultural origins of a technique such as this, which is profoundly beautiful.

 

Batik Lesson

Here I have drawn a simple mask design onto some newsprint paper. I would always advise practising onto paper first to learn the technique and newsprint is a good cheap paper to do this on. However, you can use photocopy paper also. I would advise you buy simple white Polycotton sheet for working on material.

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You should have your wax kettle heating up. Try to buy a decent kettle, not a cheap one, as they always break down. The wax comes in easy to heat bags of pellets these days which you can order from most suppliers.

You should place the kettle in a room with lots of ventilation as they give off a powerful smell. I advise setting up a Batik work bench or strong table, with secure electric points and take care not to leave trailing leads.

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The image below shows is a simple, cheap Tjanting tool used for batik. They come in different shapes and some are designed like witches hats. The flow rate is variable depending on the size of the tip. I use narrow ones for more accuracy and slower flow rate.

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You should carry the Tjanting tool over to the work resting on a paper towel so that it does not spill onto the surface. This also helps to protect your hands! The wax will not result in severe burns, it is not that hot, but I always practice caution. If the wax gets onto skin it causes a mild scorching feel but then dries and cools quickly.

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Even with a practised steady hand, you will find it difficult to follow your guidelines completely accurately. Don't worry about this, it actually improves the design to have some wobbles. Even some small spills are not a problem. You will need to practice this however, it takes a little time to get the hang of it.

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It is really important to make sure that the wax is hot all the time when doing this. Sometimes you get so focussed on drawing with the wax that you allow the Tjanting tool to get cold. This is not good. The wax needs to be hot enough to soak through the material/paper onto the other side.

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Now we need to dye the paper/fabric. For school use I use powdered inks, called Brusho Inks (available from most suppliers) I mix them up in plastic containers on a need to use basis as they don't keep too well. I advise a separate brush for each colour to avoid colour contamination.

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I try to encourage the students to mix colours and shades on the surface of the paper so that the colours are more interesting. When the dye stage is complete you need to remove the wax. When working on paper this is not important but when working on material you need to remove it. Simply insert the design between sheets of newsprint or newspa per and iron the design with a hot iron. The wax then soaks into the paper and is absorbed away from the design.

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To finish your work to this standard you need to sew some wadding to the back of the fabric. Wadding is very cheap and easy to obtain. A simple running stitch is sewn around the outside edge of the design and along the wax batik line traced with the Tjanting tool. You should then complete the piece with applique techniques. This is where stitching, small beads and sequins etc are added to create beautiful effects.

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