The making of textiles with surface designs produced by using layers of melted wax and cold dyes to produce wax-resist effects.
|Historic area of significance
|Indonesia, India, Africa, China, Malaysia
|Area currently practised
|UK and globally
|Origin in the UK
Batik goes back centuries, and while textiles often don’t stand test of time, examples have been found in Egyptian tombs. It is thought that batik spread from China/India to Indonesia. It was also practised in Africa (Nigeria and Ghana) but history there is obscure.
Batik is a fairly modern craft in the UK. It became popular in the 1960s as young people began to travel to Indonesia and the East. Batik became used by artists in Holland around the time of the art nouveau era, so there may have been a few UK artists using it then.
Dutch Wax Print – Batik is related to wax resist printing, the creation of distinctive batik-style textiles that are mostly targeted at the African market. These fabrics were manufactured in the UK and Holland but the UK manufacturing has now moved to Ghana where the vast majority of fabric is made. The design process by ABC print is still carried out in the UK. http://www.abcwax.co.uk/history.htm
Batik is wax resist, textile medium (sometimes on paper). It involves heating wax (beeswax and paraffin wax usually) and painting the molten wax onto fabric, then using cold dyes (often Procion fibre reactive dyes) to add colour. Layers of wax and dye are built up, then the wax is removed, leaving the coloured design behind.
Tools used to apply wax are canting (wax pen), brushes, sponges, metal stamps (caps), kitchen tools, feathers etc. Dyes can be sprayed on, painted on, or traditionally the whole cloth is immersed in dye bath, working through successive waxings and dyeings. Finally the wax is removed by boiling out or ironing out on absorbent paper.
Batik is used jointly with other textile media so may be used by stitchers etc as a base for embellishment.
There are a number of variations in style and technique. These are often inspired by traditional batik from Indonesia, Africa, India, Malaysia and China.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Batik in the UK is experiencing a number of challenging issues:
- The reduction in adult education classes and library services.
- The numbers of practitioners is declining, and particularly the higher-level skills are becoming scarce.
- Other demands on people’s time and disposable income.
- Reduction in art/craft tuition in schools, and secondary education especially. Perceived health and safety issues, financial pressures and a narrowing curriculum have meant that they rarely invite crafts practitioners into schools to work with children.
- Many textile students will try it but it is just one of many techniques that they are introduced to.
- Equipment – heating the wax safely for batik use is not particularly easy. Wax pots with thermostats are quite expensive (around £80). Also batik is quite messy, putting people off from trying at home or school etc.
- The Batik Guild – a voluntary organisation with around 160 members, one third of which are overseas members
- West Dean College – runs courses in Batik
Craftspeople currently known
The Batik Guild has gallery pages which give a good idea of individual makers who are actively making in the UK.
The Batik Guild has around 130 members, some of whom are practising outside of the UK.
It’s mostly people over 55 who are practising batik and the skills are not being passed on. Colleges, schools etc and younger people may try batik for a time but it will be one of many skills they dabble in. It is rare that they would choose to take batik further and study it seriously.