Batik is a practice of block-printing that uses wax as a resist to create intricate vein-like designs. Though this technique originated in Indonesia, it was also practiced in Africa and India. In India, the method of using resists to print designs on cotton fabric can be traced back over 2000 years!
What makes Batik printing unique is it’s application of wax to fabric, which can be applied with a variety of tools. The process is complex and requires a high level of skill to be able to manipulate the wax properly and create intricate Batik designs. Usually the wax is a mixture of 30% beeswax and 70% paraffin and plays an important function in this artform. It is key not to overheat the wax, or it can catch fire.
The art of batik is a three-stage process of waxing, dyeing and dewaxing (removing the wax).
First, the cloth is washed, soaked, and beaten with a large mallet. Patterns are drawn onto the fabric with a pencil and later redrawn with hot wax. While the wax is usually a mixture of paraffin and beeswax, sometimes plant resins can be added, which function as a dye-resist.
Wax is also applied to areas of the fabric that are to remain un-dyed.
Dyes are usually derived from natural sources like the bark of trees, leaves, flowers, and mineral. After the dye has been prepared, the cloth is dipped into the dye. A key characteristic of batik designs is the fine cracks that appear in the wax, which allow small amounts of the dye to seep in.
Once the cloth has been dyed and dried, it is either boiled or scraped to remove the wax, and then washed with soap. The areas that have been treated with the wax resist keep their original color. When the wax is removed, the pattern forms through the contrast between the dyed and undyed areas.