Batik is an ancient technique of creating beautiful fabrics using dyes and wax resist. Wax can be stamped, painted or drawn on with a tjanting. The dyes can be layered to create wonderfully complex designs and vibrant colours. It’s one of my favourite techniques and nine times out of ten I love the result. There is, however, one thing that puts me off making a batik: removing the wax.
There’s a silky, crunchy, oiliness to a freshly made batik. The wax sets int he fabric and cracks in your hands – it feels great. But if you want to use your batik for anything you’re going to have to get that wax out. If your batik was made as a piece of art in its own right then you’ll be able to iron the wax out and leave it there. If you need your fabric to have a soft handle again you’ll need to get all the wax out and that’s where it gets a bit more complicated.
To iron the wax out, place your batik on a wad of newspaper. Place another sheet of newspaper on top and iron until the top newspaper is completely greasy. Change the paper and continue until no wax is coming out. Don’t use your clothing iron for this or you’ll risk getting wax on your best dress and then all hell will break loose. After you’ve completed this process, the cloth will feel slightly stiff and satisfying. You may have oil stains around waxed areas and the cloth will be darker in appearance than the dyes truly are underneath the wax. You can stop now or read on to remove all the wax.
To remove all of the wax you need to boil it. The wax needs to melt free from the cloth. I use my Mum’s old jam pan (no longer used for anything edible) with a sprinkle of soda ash (a dye fixative). Bring the water to the boil and then plunge your batik into the water. Push it all under the surface and wait for 30 seconds or so. Use tongs to lift the batik out and into a bucket of cold water. The wax should have come out of the fabric and into the water. Left over wax on the surface of the cloth should solidify in the cold water and can be rubbed off.
Please note that some dye will come out of the cloth in this process. You need to have fixed your dyes properly to retain bright colours. There’s a sneaky batik deception that catches everybody out: your colours will seem darker and brighter when they are under the wax, in the same way that wet cloth appears darker and brighter. It’s like a giant grease stain. Your colours will be paler when the wax is out and the cloth is dry so please consider this when you’re dyeing.
You may need to repeat the dunking process a couple of times to get all of the wax out. If you’re de-waxing multiple batiks you may want to change your water as it can become saturated with wax.
Give the cloth another rub to make sure you have removed all of the surface wax and then it’s ready to go into the washing machine at 30 degrees with a tiny splash of metapex or synthrapol to remove an excess dye. Please don’t put any batiks in the washing machine until you are confident that you have removed all of the wax or you risk your washing machine’s health and your pocket money will go to the repair man.
See, I told you it wasn’t a fun process, but it does allow you to use your batiks for endless fabric projects. Mine have become lampshades:
This one and a few others are in my etsy shop and the rest will be added next week when my exhibition is over!