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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wax On, Wax Off (May 3, 2011)

Who can resist a reference to 1980s films? If this one passed you by, I’m referencing Ralph Macchio’s karate instructions in Karate Kid. Poor guy. He had to wax a whole fleet of cars, all in the name of learning karate moves. Semi circle with the left hand (wax on), semi circle with the right (wax off.)

But folks, I’m really here to talk to you about batik. Even if you didn’t know what it was called, you’ve seen batik. It’s a technique of creating art using fabric, dye and hot wax. I’m fascinated by it.

If you want to learn to batik, go to:

On their site I learned a little about the history of batik:
“It is thought that the word batik has been derived from the word ‘ambatik,’ which translates as‘cloth with little dots’. It is a method of applying designs onto waxing the parts that are to remain without dye…Examples of batik can be traced back over 1,500 years to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found from previous centuries in India, Japan, Turkey and China.”

For six months or more, “teach self to batik” was on my 2011 to do list. A few days ago I finally did it.

Well, if we’re being honest here (and why share your personal thoughts and experiences in a blog if you’re not going to be honest?!), there was one other attempt about a month ago. It was not what I’d call successful. Technically, I did apply hot wax to fabric, followed by a soak of dye. And technically, there is a pattern on the fabric. But the design is barely visible and it was kind of disappointing. Once I found the Newcastle tutorial, I realized that the first website I’d checked out had left out three important tips. Now armed with the essential tips, I was on to Take Two. Much more satisfying!

First I experimented by creating a large-ish paisley shape and I just had fun with it. This was on a sample piece of cotton (1 foot by 1 foot in size), to get the hang of it. Next week I’m going to batik two shirts that have been waiting in my closet for the last month. Wax is cheap and once you know what to do, it’s not hard. It’s fun and as an artist, I love learning techniques, especially ones that make my wardrobe a collection of wearable art. The removal of the wax is a little less exciting (and more tedious) than applying it, but it’s exciting to see the results.

My “wax on, wax off” reference is very timely, actually. I’m learning to batik at the same time that Ralph Macchio is competing on my favorite tv show, Dancing with the Stars. He works hard and I like that dude. (Please hold while I research something. I’m back.) Adding further to the symbolism of the connection between Ralph and batik is this: I know some Italian but didn’t know what “Macchio” meant. (It should be pronounced “MAH-key-oh” but this isn’t the first time in history that names have been butchered or mispronounced.) I knew it derived from “macchiare,” and the online dictionary I consulted says this means “to mark or stain.” Hello! Batik involves staining fabric! Is this a sign? Maybe I should batik a karate headband for Ralph as a good luck charm on the show…

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