Soy Wax Batik Instructions

Prior to taking a Surface Design class from Melanie Testa back in 2007, my only exposure to batik was in a craft class I took in Junior College back in 1966, using paraffin and bees wax.  I did not like the results, and the process was very messy, not to mention the wax was almost impossible to remove after dyeing the fabric!  The end result was a very muddy, stiff mess.  I pretty much wrote batik off as a possible medium until Melanie, a very talented artist and quilter, introduced her students to soy wax batik.  That was a major breakthrough for me, and I have been happily using soy wax for batik projects ever since!
Carol Eaton asked me if I could do a write-up describing how I use soy wax, so here goes!
First, if you are brand new to using fabric dyes, there is a wealth of information out there on basic dyeing instructions.  My original source of information came from Dharma Trading company, where I buy my dyes and other dyeing supplies.  They gave me the ABC’s for free… it’s on their website, in their catalog… right there for the world to see, so that is where I would start if you have never dyed before.
For anyone who has experience with fabric dyeing, and just wants to know the basics about using soy wax to batik, I will tell you the process I use. 
I use a project board that has been covered with wax paper and taped to the back of the board.  The wax paper keeps the fabric from sticking to the project board where the wax seeps through.  The fabric or garment is stretched over the board and either clamped snugly, or pinned using t-pins.  It doesn’t need to be super tight, just enough to make a smooth surface. You might want to have a layer of fabric between the board and wax paper to soften the surface, but it is not required.
As for the wax, I have a deep fryer with a thermostat (got it cheap at a big box store).  I keep my wax in the pot, and it re-solidifies after I stop heating it.  The soy wax comes in 1-pound bags, is flaked, and melts quickly  I start off with my thermostat set at 200 degrees, then once the wax is pretty much in a liquid state, I reduce the thermostat to warm. 
Tools:  I use a variety of found or made objects to apply the wax to my project, from old potato mashers to cardboard shapes, or tjanting tools.  I have also used artists’ brushes to paint on wax if I am trying to create a particular shape. 
Dyed or undyed fabric?  Depending on the project, I sometimes apply the wax directly to an undyed fabric, but there are times I want what shows up after subsequent dye baths to have color already…  that’s the beauty of batik – variety, the spice of life!

Two techniques will be demonstrated here:  wax painting with a brush and stamping.  To prepare the fabric,  I pre-soak in soda ash solution and allow to dry before applying the wax.  For the painted technique, have a simple pattern ready to trace or draw onto the fabric with a regular pencil.

Applying wax with a brush
Materials needed: pre-washed (PFD) cotton, foam board, clamps and/or T-pins plastic to cover board, wax paper and duct tape, batik pattern, drawing pencil (soft lead works best), paint brush dedicated for use in batik.
Stretch pre-washed fabric over a piece of foam board and secure with spring clamps or T-pins. Leave one end open to position pattern under the fabric.

Position pattern under the fabric, and finish securing the fabric to the foam board with

Trace the pattern onto the fabric.  Tip:  simple patterns work best.

Remove fabric from foam board.  Cover one side of the foam board with  wax paper, and secure on the back with duct tape. Secure fabric again over covered foam board with clamps or pins.  Fabric should be stretched slightly, but not so that it puckers.

Set up your wax pot and begin heating the wax.  I place newspaper underneath to protect my work surface.  Soy wax melts at between 130-150 degrees, so start at the warmer temperature, then lower once the wax begins to melt. 

See how the hard disc of wax is shrinking as the wax melts?  Once the wax begins to liquefy, you can begin using it.  Note:  when purchased, the wax comes in flaked form.  It becomes semi-hard and solid when it cools after melting.

When you are ready to begin painting the wax, let the brush rest briefly in the melted wax to soften and melt off any wax that remains from previous sessions.  Remove the brush and tap the handle on the edge of the pot to remove any excess wax from the brush
Begin painting the wax onto the design.  You will find that the wax flows off relatively easily, and will not require a lot of pressure.  Tip:  if you are working on a small area, unload a little of the wax from the brush onto a larger area first, then go back to applying the wax in the smaller area.  This will help to prevent the wax from flowing beyond the drawn lines of the design.

Continue brushing on the wax until the design is covered.  Tip:  if your wax tends to bleed beyond the borders of your design, lower the temperature of your thermostat.  Also, remember that very little pressure is required to move the wax.
 Applying wax with ‘found objects’
Wax can be ‘stamped’ on using various objects such as kitchen tools, cardboard tubes, handmade tools, etc.  Example below was created using a potato masher, flexible whisk and cardboard tube.

Tools used for stamped wax exercise

The metal tools are warmed briefly in the melted wax before using.

Fabric is stretched over foam board covered with wax paper as in example above.
Whisk was dipped into melted wax; tap handle on side of wax pot to remove excess wax, then press onto fabric to create the wax image.

The same process is used with the potato masher.  Each time you want to imprint the wax, you should dip the tool into the wax and repeat the process.  The wax cools fairly quickly, so be ready to dip, tap, press in a fairly smooth sequence.  Tip:  be prepared for the possibility of wax drips!  

The cardboard tube does not need to be soaked before using as the metal tools are.  Simply dip an end into the wax, tap off the excess and stamp onto the fabric. 

This is the first layer of wax on this piece.  The plan is to paint on dyes, batch, launder, then do some more waxing.

 Scrunch dyeing batik
Lightly dampen the fabric in soda ash solution, squeeze out excess and lay on a clean flat surface.

Gently scrunch the fabric, then place into a container for dyeing.

In this example, I poured over small amounts of lemon and golden yellow, light and dark orange.  Let sit for about an hour, rinse and wash

Here is the piece after being rinsed and washed.
Applying Dyes with a brush
This example was waxed on a piece of fabric pre-soaked in soda ash, then dried before waxing.  Stretch waxed fabric over a project board that is slightly padded and covered in plastic.  Pin in place with t-pins so that fabric is fairly taut, but not bowed

Have on hand brushes, paper to cover your work area, a small container for the dyes, and water to rinse brushes after each color that is applied.  Tip: since you are applying dyes to fabric pre-treated with soda-ash solution, you cannot store leftover dyes, so pour out the minimum you might need… you can always pour more into the tray as you go.

In this example, I will be applying yellow, orange and light fuchsia in a random manner.  Once the dye has batched for awhile, I can either wash, soak in soda ash, apply wax to different areas and apply more dyes, or I can continue waxing and dyeing, leaving each layer of wax in place to preserve the colors covered by the wax. 

Here, I have added a little light fuchsia.  Then I batched for several hours, followed by some more wax stamping.  

Next, I applied some light Turquoise dye, then I covered and batched again for several hours..

Finally, I rinsed, washed with hot water and Synthrapol, and rinsed again.  I hung to dry for about an hour.  Ready to mount! 

This is a follow-up regarding the final rinse/launder to remove the wax and set the dyes.  I have heard some people comment that they have difficulty getting the wax out, and compared to paraffin and bees-wax, I find soy wax to be a lot easier.  Short answer... hot water.  I do the standard pre-rinse with cold water to remove the soda ash, then wash with synthrapol and hot water, followed by multiple rinses with warm water.  If I can still feel or see wax, back into more hot water.  I plan on shrinkage, so I'm not concerned if I have any, but this is my magic formula, whether I'm working on fabric or cotton clothing.  I use the washer if I have several pieces, or a bucket with hot water if not.  And it is okay with the septic system, both according to the manufacturer as well as my own experience.  Hope these instructions help you to explore the wonderful world of soy wax batik!  Enjoy!


Jeanne Aird said...

Thanks for the excellent tutorial. i will be teaching a class to my guild in soy wax batik in August and you had some great tips I will definitely use.

Beth said...

Great tutorial Judy. Lots of great ideas for adding color!