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As part of Rebecca, our 10th grader’s, high school history studies, she has been making historical fashions. This year she focused on the ancient world and with it the fashions of the time. We decided to take on the famous Phoenician purple dye and she made a Persian garment with the result. Make a Batik will give you an overview of the dying process as well as resources for making your own and learning about ancient dress.
Defining a Batik
Do you know what makes a batik a batik? They have whimsical designs in a variety of colors. Not every fabric that looks like a batik is authentic.
- An authentic batik is usually more expensive because of the way it’s made.
- The dying process involves melting wax and making a design on the fabric with the wax.
- The wax is used as a resist and a dye is applied.
- Once the dye is set, the wax is removed.
- You can tell a real batik because the design is the same on both sides of the fabric.
- A fake, printed batik will have a right and a wrong side.
The Wax Resist
The hallmark of a batik is the patterning that the wax creates. Here are a few tips for using hot wax as a resist on fabric.
- Use a looser weave fabric – (but not super loose) This will allow the wax to penetrate to the opposite side from where you apply it. You want the pattern to appear on both sides.
- Choose an old fry pan– for heating the wax. Make it your “heat wax” pan for all time.
- Use household items as applicators– for unique designs you can use vegetables
- Apply the wax with an even pressure– Try not to leave globs of wax especially within one design/stamp.
- Paint on the wax with a brush– You can also draw with the wax though stamping will make things more uniform.
- Let the wax cool– When the wax is set, you can start the dyeing.
The Dyeing Process
This was a fantastic process! We learned a few things along the way and actually ended up dyeing the same piece of fabric twice. We had the fabric with the resist on hand (having done that step many months before with a green pepper and the end of a paint brush) and attempted the dye. We chose a purple dye to mimic the ancient Phoenician dyes. Here’s what you need to know.
- Food dyes are sensitive to pH– This is why cabbage juice (and it turns out blueberry dye) make great acid/base indicators. If you are going to use a food dye, skip the fixative step because it will change the color of your dye!
- Food dyes will color out when you rinse them– without the proper fixative, the dye will rinse out. In fact, when our blueberry dye turned green and we rinsed it, it washed out completely leaving the fabric looking tea stained.
- Using fabric dye requires some safety precautions– You don’t want to aspirate the dye powder into your lungs. And of course you want to protect your clothing.
- Mix the water and the soda ash– You add the fixative before you add the dye.
- Mix the dye with solution– We used the proper amounts and mixed it in a dishpan where we could easily add the fabric.
- Place the fabric in the dye solution– You only need a yard or so at a time and soak it all the way through.
- The longer you leave it, the darker the result– We were going for the ancient purple dye. We used the black cherry Fiber Reactive Procion Dye.
- Remove the dyed fabric into a pot of boiling water– The boiling water will melt the wax and lift it off the fabric. You’ll begin to see the fun crackling in the patterns where the wax cracked and the dye was able to soak in.
- Lift the fabric out of the boiling water– And into a cool water bath.
- The wax is supposed to be left behind -When you remove the fabric from the water with just a few to flake off as it dries. We ran into trouble with this step and had to reboil because so much wax was left behind.
- Don’t pour the waxy water baths down the drain– Hot wax cooling in your pipes sounds like a problem down the road.
- Repeat the rinse if necessary– for us it was! We did it several times.
- Let your fabric dry– And remove any excess wax. We did eventually get it clear of the garment.
- Make sure you use an old pot– to boil the waxy fabric in. It will remain dedicated. We purchased a stock pot from a reuse center. Perfect for the job!
This was a messy process, but it’s one we would do again. Make sure you have the space prepared for working with dyes. We did this in the winter and it was a cold job to rinse the equipment when we were finished. I recommend warmer weather for the clean up process!
Resources for Making Batik Fabrics
If you want to learn more about how to make and use the dye bath and how to deal with the wax, I highly recommend this Crafty class on Fabric Patterning with Wax Resist. The materials list is provided along with video instruction on each step of the process. If you are doing this for the first time, the instructor will give you plenty of confidence. This makes a great group process (especially for the summer time!). Try it with some friends!
Make a Phoenician Purple Dye– Part of a series on Ancient Art from Harrington Harmonies where she teaches how to make the dye from blueberries and a project to do with it in subsequent posts.
Dharma Dyes– We used these dyes and the soda ash from them as well. We ordered a variety of colors in the small size.
Designing an Ancient Persian Gown
Rebecca does a fair amount of research on what people wore in a particular culture at a particular time before she begins her design work. A typical project plan might look like this:
- Choose a time period for the work– This will determine where to being with your research. Usually, Rebecca is already working through a historical timeline of some sort when she lands on the culture she’d like to focus on.
- Research the clothing of the time– She has some books on costuming and fashion through the ages, but she also makes ample use of the Google search.
- Learn about how different classes of people dressed– The more you go back in time, the more you will see a difference in how nobles would dress compared to the common person. Sometimes, she tackles both.
- Ancient Costumes– Is the website she used for the Persian (or Median) dress. There were several ancient civilizations to choose from such as the Babylonians and the Assyrians, but ultimately she chose the most interesting garment.
When the gown was complete, she had a purple garment that might have been worn by an ancient wealthy person. The Phoenicians were famous for their purple dye which was acquired from snails. It was expensive to make and only those who could afford it, could wear it.
Other Design Projects
Designing a Simple Batik Skirt– Guidelines for drafting and making a skirt from batik (or any other fabric).
Make Your Own Egyptian Dress– A light tutorial on how to make an 18 inch doll sized Egyptian gown along with the beaded collar to match.
Steampunk Fashion Design & Drafting– A unit on Jules Verne and the making of a steampunk gown.
Middle Ages History & Fashion– Two different historical designs of middle ages dress.