The origin of batik is traced to Java, Indonesia. Later, the technique spread to India, Japan, China and the rest of the world. The word“batik”is Javanese and Javanese batik is its most classic form. Here in The Gambia, batik workers have also learnt the techniques and have also modified it using various skills and materials.
Batik is a kind of fabric printing technique, which involves the use of fabric, wax and dye. Patterns are drawn directly onto the fabric with hot melted candle called molten wax. Some batik workers use crayons to draw the outlines of the patterns before applying the molten wax.
When the fabric is dyed, the waxed areas resist the dye thus protecting the fabric’s original color. The un-waxed areas allow the dye to penetrate them. Re-waxing and using various color dyes can create many patterns and variety of colors. Usually, the waxed areas crack thus allowing dye to flow through them causing spider-web structures. When the wax is finally removed, the actual design of the fabric appears.
There are several techniques used in making batik but the most common and easy method is the block technique. Patterns are cut into a block of wood. When the desired effect is achieved, that is, a raised pattern, it is dipped into molten wax and stamped on fabric to create patterns. This method is easier and quicker than using the tjanting.
Tjanting was the main tool used by the Javanese in creating Javanese batik. It is a slender instrument with a reservoir to hold molten wax. The wax flows through a spout connected to the reservoir and leaves a trail of fine lines of molten wax while the batik worker controls it. The tjanting can be made locally and has been used by Gambian artists.
The best types of fabrics for batik are those made of natural fibres. These fibres include wool, linen, jute and burlap. The kinds of fabrics made with these fibres are cotton, muslin, canvas, corduroy and some brocades. Most synthetic fabrics will not absorb dyes well; only viscose and rayon can hold dyes well.
How to make Batik
The first step in the process is to wash the fabric thoroughly. This is done to remove all impurities and starch in the fabric and it also makes the fabric absorb the dye well. This first wash also pre-shrinks the fabric so that any further washing will not alter the size of the finished work. Work can be started on the fabric after it has been washed and ironed.
Some people prefer to stretch the fabric but others don’t. It is advisable to lay a sheet of plastic or oil clot on the table to protect the cloth from sticking onto the table when the wax penetrates it. Before dyeing, the fabric should be soaked in water. It is advised that plastic gloves are worn to protect the hands from coming into contact with chemicals during the dyeing process. Blisters can be caused on sensitive skin due to chemical reaction.
If multiple colors are being used, dyeing should start with the lightest color after the first waxing. For example if green, yellow and violet will be used on the fabric, yellow should be used first and violet last.
Before dyeing the fabric in a second color, it should be re-waxed to cover areas which the dye should not penetrate and also areas that the wax has cracked. The dye-bath should have enough dye solution to cover the fabric. The fabric should remain there for 15 minutes or more depending on the strength of color preferred and the concentration of the dye. When the fabric is being dipped into the dye solution, it should be held loosely while being lowered into the dye-bath.
Slow and firm pressure should be applied to the fabric while squashing it against the bottom of the dye-bath. To remove it, it should be held on one edge and lifted into the dye-bath. If the fabric is hung to dry outdoors it should be placed away from strong sunlight.
The strength of dye on the wet fabric can be misleading. Its actual intensity will be known only when the fabric is dry.
The best way to remove the wax is to iron it with hot iron. The fabric should be placed between layers of absorbent paper or newspapers whilst ironing. As the newspapers absorb the wax heavily, from ones should be used to replace them.
Another way to remove wax from the fabric is by boiling. The advantage of this method is that most of the wax can be collected when the water has cooled. The fabric still has to be ironed to remove any traces of wax.