A Not-So-Traditional Batch of Batiks (OS Archive - 2010)


We'd waxed, we'd dyed, and now for the Dance ~

We had started the bonfire out in the meadow fire-pit hours before, stoking and tending with sap-soaked fir branches, encouraging a thoroughly hot coal bed so that our next step could be pulled off.

We hoped.

Brave Sister and I were making our first batch of batiks and we didn't know what the hell we were doing. Normally a bonfire would not be a necessary step in this art form's process, but we were living rustically on a rural farm in Washington state and the more modern method of boiling water on a stove was not readily available to us. We had four dozen shirts to boil, and our campstove that we cooked meals on was nowhere near large enough to handle the found-and-scrubbed giant horse trough we planned to boil our shirts in. 

The traditional method of batiking involves drawing designs on fabric with melted wax using a tjanting. This Indonesian tool gives some control to the amount of wax flowing onto the fabric, a learned art we'd discovered that first week. We'd even discussed the marketability of Rorschach Blotches a la Batik, we were so bad at this design method, but we'd perservered and now we'd hand-waxed our indigenous-based designs on all forty-eight shirts. 

Then we veered from tradition...that sounds funny just writing this, as there was absolutely nothing traditional about us to begin with. Long flowy skirts, long flowy hair, we were living in complete simplicity without electricity for the most part (except for the Barn) on this farm/deserted hippie commune from the seventies. I lived in the Yurt while Brave Sister had the score of the farm, the Hobbitat. It had a loft and a woodstove! in it's 10' x 12' interior, it's outhouse had a roof and a view. I had to dig my own outhouse (with a lot of help) over at the Yurt, build my own rustic kitchen, install my own woodstove (with help), and deal with half the floor not having a wooden platform, but consisting of dusty mother Earth. 

The rest of America was high on Reagan-omics and watching Dallas at about this time....while quietly, another wave of hippies was coming into maturity in the Pacific Northwest. My crowd didn't like drugs so much, we were more like "Mother Earth News" fans, 'Live Simply so Others Can Simply Live' fans, entrepreneur-types, Free Spirits, Granola Heads, Crunchies (what was that about?).....you've heard the nick-names.

Brave Sister's and my just-chosen method of income was this venture into batik-making. We had a show we'd planned to travel to the next day and this last step of boiling off the final waxing would reveal whether we'd been a success at our first attempt or whether we'd failed.

That is the beauty and frustration of batik, it requires a willingness to go along fluidly, to hide your waxing mistakes with design invention, to cover errant dye direction with more design invention, to accept the mystery until the final moment. Until this point in Life, none of this Go With the Flow stuff had been my strength. Batik helped me learn.

When we were veering from tradition while batiking, we were foregoing the multiple dye baths of different colors, all creating layers of light and beauty, as the color combinations overlapped and created depth. We chose the much quicker (supposedly) method of hand-applying dye colors to a central design whose borders had been outlined in wax, then over-waxing the whole central design and tub-dying the shirt in a nice deep color that seeped through the wax cracks and made the signature crackle of a final batik design.

First batch in progress 

First batch in progress 

We went to the Barn and loaded up all of our waiting shirts and carried them down the steps and out into the night. The stars were exploding in multiple depths across the night sky as they only do far away from cities, the trail through the meadow was lit by the bonfire's flames at the far side, the excitement was palpable between us.

At the last minute, I grabbed my trusty detergent, the one that gets the grease out. Rustic living requires a strong detergent, and I was hoping this one would oblige by helping to get the wax out as well. 

At first we were hesitant to just toss our hard work into the roiling tub, but as each shirt slowly sank, simultaneously, dissolved wax blobs surfaced, deep colors turned the trusty detergent bubbles into candy colors, and our trough became a cauldron of swirling smoke and smell. We used large wooden staffs of deadwood to stir our creation, pulling a shirt up now and then out of the clouded mix to see the design emerging as the wax and water slid away.

We began to dance, giddy with our efforts, with our incredibly beautiful surroundings. Our exhaustion disappeared to be replaced with smiles and growing confidence. We were beyond elated as well with the potential of future sales, barters, and gifts. Shirts went flying through the air as we added more and more, laughter rang throughout the meadow.

At dawn we were done.

The first batch of batiks was not bad for such novice effort -- we sold almost all of them at that show we drove without sleep to get to -- we had enough to live on and buy supplies for the next batik culmination at the full moon. 

Brave Sister and I  eventually parted ways, but the batiks continued for me for years.

Never again though was the experience quite so thrilling, quite so primal, as it was at our first dance. 

batifdskl 014

an early dragon design, still looking good 22 years later 

batifdskl 011

a later favorite tapestry too cropped and too sideways to give justice to...


Top photo of bonfire: Copyright by Stephen Moody, 2008 

RATE: 23

AUGUST 6, 2010 5:12PM

A blast from the past that will always be relevant. Awesome batiks! I love the colors! Well....now you can dance when you've conquered another internet function! Uploads, downloads, ....all those 'freeloads!' What a fun post!
Beaautiful batik and wonderful memories of your earthy hippie time.
Thanks Susan! It was fun to re-visit....and full technical credit goes to my assistant, Youngest Son : )

Glad you came by Lea, I've certainly moved on from that lifestyle at this point, but I really grew and became a strong woman then...growing up in Atlanta was about the polar opposite -- I needed this : )
I have a friend that has some vintage ones from Indonesia.
Sadly she has to sell a few of them to survive.
Great post and rated with hugs
This art process id fasinating..I have never seen anything like it. What lovely outcomes, thanks for this. Must come back and read again to take it all in. TX
What a lovely, informative trip down memory lane. I have always admired batik, but never knew how it was done. Thanks for the lesson.
This is great!! My wife's a batik artist. You batikers have it absolutely going on!!! R.
Linda: oohhhh! I love the enthusiasm, thanks! A nice Friday treat --
cindy: It's an incredible art form, but not for the faint of heart -- what a mess -- the way we'd learned anyway... 
Thanks for coming by!
A hippy living on a commune. My kind of people. I've seen a lot of these shirts at concerts and handcraft places but didn't know how much work went into them. You are a true artist!
kateasley: Thanks!

Lezlie: It is such a beautiful art form, I cannot do it justice...those traditional pieces -- African and Indonesian -- are incredibly well done.

Jonathon: I knew I liked you two ! : )
Hey scanner, much appreciated, the process is long....that's why they charge so much!
New title....these things can be fluid, right?
"...to accept the mystery until the final moment." 
And then money was made. 
What an immense and wonderful concept!
Love Batik... love these 'slice of my life' kind of posts.. thank you.
What a great story - with beautiful artwork. "Rustic-living requires a strong detergent" - great line. Wondering where in Wa State you were?
One of my best friends is a batik artist and I worked for her when my kids were babies (now they are having babies), ironing out the wax on her creations. We never did the fire or the dance. That sounds delightful. We would have been up for it... we weren't traditional either. Maybe there is still time...
Printed, loved and will be shared with my mother for she loves all things batik! This is an extremely special piece and I thank you so much for sharing it. I'm savoring it.
mhold: It's not as pretty as it sounds : ) for me, anyway...
ask: so glad you came by..and thanks!
trilogy: outside of Olympia...me and a bunch of Evergreen students -- I'd been a design student back East.
Hi mimetalker...we'd tried the ironing, but we had way too much wax on there and not enough newspaper...I did get better at environmentally-conscious methods, but not until I'd moved to a house with amenities : ) I like to think if we're alive, there's time!
i love your dragon, it has certainly retained its original beauty.
dianaani: that one's one of my favorites, it's my first present to future Husband...the design evolved as an attempt to shorten steps!
I commented on this about three hours ago. Or did I push the right button, or did the cyber gremlins get it? Anyway, good post. I learned something, since us country boys know nothing of batiks. So I read this and then did some research. My first thought is that it is a lot of hard work that takes talent, and somehow you turned it into a lot of fun and the talent came through! Good enough for me.

Amanda! That is one of the most lovely things I've ever heard, I'm beyond pleased : ) I love you Southern girls xoxoxo
Appreciate your coming by, Monte...it's a cool process, isn't it?
...sorry your first comment got eaten, it wasn't me : )
I love the art of batik! Tried this once in my twenties and it's not as easy as it looks! Had a fine collection of batik framed prints and wish I had them still. Sadly, the sunlight faded their colors as all things exposed to life and time.
Wow! I never heard of batik. Thanks for the education. R-
Colorful fabric story for batik designs...
Just Cathy: That darned sunlight, it killed several of my batik pillows....that dragon photo was taken yesterday of the actual shirt I made that first year! I can't believe how well it held up...
What fun to read of something I've never attempted. Wonderful reading.
Dave: Never heard of batik,eh? Glad to oblige : ) although I recommend looking up the traditional batiks, they're very different and truly amazing.
GHung: Yes, very unusual for this art form, I love colour...I'm glad you came by!
mypsyche: Glad you liked it, I recommend trying it if you're adventurous and don't mind a mess : )
LC: Hey, I bartered with a long hair for a handmade serape....

I actually am not the Deadhead here, but my husband was/is...
We've all gotten more buttoned up I guess, although my husband kept the long hair (Thank Goodness! I love that long hair on a guy) 
: )
I loved it! We camped in a primitive campground once by a stream in Arizona next to a bread truck that was home base for a bunch of flower children in the early '70s. One night one of the guys took his flute, crossed the river, went back in the woods and played. This provided a perfect chance to weave a tale for our four year old daughter about the King of the Fairies. Lots of great memories from that time. The batik, by the way, is beautiful. I would have bought one.
Hi Rodney -- Love your story, you sound like a great Dad!
Mark: Batik has a lovely long history, I do recommend searching examples that are more traditional....it is a lot of work!
The irony is that my self-image has nothing alternative or 'hippie' about it, especially all these years later, but I've been told that's a crock by my nearest and dearest... : )
"to accept the mystery until the final moment"--how perfect a thought for so many things!
i love batiks and still have some napkins from the 'sixties, though i didn't make them myself, a friend did. that's a great story you tell of the process and the look of them, the dyes and the smell, and especially that you *danced* while you were doing it. fabulous.
Cindy: Nice to have you here! Although you're looking a little pale...
Cindy: That thought does work in many ways, doesn't it? 
femme: While I don't miss the outhouse (what was I thinking?), I do miss the spontaneity of that time, like the dance! Glad you came by...
Caroline: thanks! it was fun to re-visit...
Beautiful batiks and fond memories make for a very enjoyable post.
I always envied Ben and Jerry. Now I can envy the life you once had instead. This was wonderful.
Thanks Fay!
Sarah: A far cry from Oliebollen, eh? : )
It's all long ago and far away...and it's a tough life to chop wood for that morning's heat, outhouse on a frosty morning, hand-hauling two five gallon jugs of water for the day's usage...it's more fun to read about! Although I must admit I felt very alive then.
Thanks for coming by!
astonishing. i'm not even the crunchy type of bohemian, and i think the dragon is awesome. beautiful work.
Isn't that an awful label, 'crunchie'? The dragon was inspired, it's lasted well too...I'm glad you came by.
My ancestry is partly Bohemian...
oops...and thanks cheapbohemian!

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