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.
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
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.
an early dragon design, still looking good 22 years later
a later favorite tapestry too cropped and too sideways to give justice to...
Top photo of bonfire: Copyright by Stephen Moody, 2008
AUGUST 6, 2010 5:12PM