How to Set Dyes in Batik Fabric

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Well-known in India, South East Asia and Africa, batik is a technique of applying dye to fabric with the use of wax. "Batik" is the Indonesian word meaning "to dot"-- which is essentially the technique used for applying the wax to the fabric. A well-executed batik should have deep, rich color and be resistant to abrasion, according to the book "Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java" by Inger McCabe Elliott and Brian Brake. Furthermore, setting the dye properly can help maintain the integrity of the print, as it keeps the colors from bleeding into one another, streaking or running.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 tbsp. fiber reactive dye
  • 4 1/2 cups soda ash
  • 4 cups non-iodized table salt
  • Tjanting tool
  • Wax
  • Wax melting pot
  • Dyes
  • 3 buckets (5 gallons)
  • Latex gloves
  • Mild detergent
  • Iron
  • Mix the dye solution as specified by the manufacturer. Though dyeing solutions can vary by brand, they usually are a mixture of dye, water, soda ash and table salt. One recipe detailed in Noel Dyrenforth's book "The Technique of Batik," combines 1 tbsp. of the fiber reacting powdered dye (powdered fabric dye) with 2 tbsp. of warm water in a cup. Stir until it is a paste and add it to 4 gallons of warm water in a bucket. Then add 4 cups of soda ash and 4 cups of salt and mix until all the ingredients are dissolved.

  • Fill in the design with the Tjanting tool. This special pen is dipped into the wax melting pot, and then pours the hot wax through a small pen-shaped spout. The part of the fabric that is covered with wax will not be dyed as the color does not penetrate the wax. Once the entire design has been completed, it is ready for the dyeing process.

  • Place the piece of fabric into the bucket of dye and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then remove it with gloved hands and wring gently to remove excess dye. When the piece of fabric is opened up, there might be cracks in the wax, places where the dye has seeped into the design. This can help give the batik character, according to the book "Batik and Tie Dye Techniques" by Nancy Belfer. Hang the fabric away from direct sunlight to dry.

  • Dip the dried fabric in 4 gallons of boiling hot water and allow to sit for another 20 minutes, as this will help dissolve the wax and remove any excess pigment from the fabric, which helps the color to set. Then wring any excess water from the fabric and hang to air-dry. If another color is going to be applied, this dried fabric is now primed for the next waxing, dyeing and drying processes. When you've finished dyeing the fabric, continue to Step 5.

  • Set the fabric dye permanently by putting the batik fabric into 4 gallons of boiling hot water mixed with 1/2 cup of soda ash. Also known as sodium carbonate or washing soda, this chemical can help permanently affix all the dye colors.

  • Wash the garment in cold water with a mild detergent. Air-dry the garment and iron it to help preserve its colors.

Tips & Warnings

  • If there are going to be multiple colors to the design, start with the lightest color first and apply the darkest last.
  • Keep in mind that if the fabric will be dyed in more than one color, the first color could affect the tone of the second pigment. For example if the first color is yellow and red is added in the second dye job, the red might have an orange hue when the dye job is finished.

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References

  • "Focus on Batiks: Traditional Quilts in Fun Fabrics"; Jan Bode Smiley; 2004
  • "Color Your World: With Princess Mirah Batiks"; Princess Mirah's Crafts; 2008
  • "Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java"; Inger McCabe Elliott, Brian Brake; 2004
  • "Batik and Tie Dye Techniques"; Nancy Belfer; 1992
  • "The Technique of Batik"; Noel Dyrenforth; 1988
  • Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images
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