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BATIKS ~~ Ancient Wax Resist and Dye Process

Updated on April 14, 2013
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Theresa Ast earned a PhD (Emory) in European History and has taught history for 20 years. "Confronting the Holocaust" available at AMAZON..


Wanda Ast : Polish-American Artist Who Created Abstract Batiks

The batiks displayed on the right were created by my paternal grandmother Wanda Ast. She completed these works in her sixties and seventies in an art studio in her home. She immersed the fabrics, one color at a time in a bathtub full of dye.

Although the traditional method seems to be to wash the parafin-wax out of the cloth after it has dried after the dye process, she chose to melt the parafin-wax mixture out of her fabrics by pressing them between multiple layers of absorbent paper.

She also experimented with many different types of fabric - linen, cotton, burlap. She used some fabrics that were smooth and some fabrics which had a great deal of texture.

She made quite large batiks, meant to be hung on the wall; they usually measured anywhere from three feet by three to five feet by five. (She genrously shared her batiks with her family and I also inherited many of them when she died.)

In her eighties, no longer able to spend hours on her knees bent over a bath tub full of dye, she began to make small batiks suitable either for framing or for making personalized cards.

Once again she experimented with a variety of styles, colors, and textures of paper to serve as the backdrop for her batik cards. And she seldom used repetitive patterns or motifs in her work, preferring develop her abstracts by apply the parafin-wax mixture free hand with a paint brush.

General Information About Batiks

The word batik usually refers to cloth that was produced using manual techniques of wax and dye application. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns have historically been produced and worn by the local populations in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, China, Sri Lanka, and in certain regions of Africa.

In the western hemisphere batik print-making is often used to produce works of art of great beauty and complexity. However, much of the batik fabric sold in the west and used in clothing is now mechanically mass-produced.

These designs involve a great deal of repetition and although beautiful, they do not meet the definition of art. Batik is a method of dying cloth by applying warm beeswax, mixed with paraffin, resins and fat, to fabric to repel dye.

When the cloth is put into a pail or tub of dye, the waxed parts aren't dyed and are left colorless or natural. The wax is then removed by gently washing the fabric in warm water.

The cloth is then re-waxed in different areas building a pattern or image and dipped into a different dye, to produce additional areas and layers of color.

The process continues until the artist has achieved the colors and complexity of design desired. Dye may seep into tiny cracks in a waxed portion of batik creating tiny spidery looking designs which are quite ethereal and beautiful.


The finest, and still the most sought after, batik is hand-drawn batik, using a canting to apply the wax. A canting is a pen with a bamboo handle. It is a Javanese invention, probably in the 17th or 18th centuries.

The melted wax is poured into the pot at the end and carefully released out of the nozzle bit by bit on to the white cotton. It is very slow and requires a calm state of mind and a lot of concentration. A complicated pattern could easily take six months or even longer.

Europeans loved batik cloth and wanted to purchase large amounts of quickly. Partially to meet this demand the cap was invented. The cap, made of red copper, is still used today, and they are often collected as works of art in their own right.

The pattern is formed from thin metal bands, secured to a frame, to which a handle is attached. The structure was inspired by European wood-block printing stamps.

The original caps were small and were first used around 1845. They are bigger now and tend to be about 20 cm by 20 cm. The cap process was revolutionary and enabled a batik maker to wax many pieces of cloth a day. (Source: Ni Wayan Murni, The Times, Lombok, September - October 2007)

Books on Batik Printmaking


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    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks, Marcy. In our family they never went out of vogue, because my grandmother was always interested in them. :) Hope all is well. Theresa

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      4 years ago from Planet Earth

      Ooooh - I love the way batiks look. Back when they were in vogue years ago, I kept wanting to learn the technique, but I didn't get around to it. Thanks for nudging my memory!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Rebecca. We miss her very much, but it is wonderful to be surrounded by her artwork. Hope all is well. Stay warm.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      They are beautiful! Wanda shows lots of talent, voted up andinteresting!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hello sen - I guess through reading I was aware that batik printmaking was much more common in the East than in the West. When my grandmother first started doing them back in the 1980s, they were quite unusual and nobody had heard of the wax resist process. However, now they are much more common and there are quite a few American artists who work with the batik process.

      How wonderful that your cousin is an artist who also does batiks. just like you have hers framed, I have some of my grandmother's pieces hanging on my walls, both at home and in my office at work. thank you for such a lovely comments; it is nice to know a little bit more about you and your background. I hope you have a great weekend.

    • sen.sush23 profile image


      6 years ago from Kolkata, India

      phdast7, these are pictures of nice samples of batik. They do display your grandmother's artistic aspirations, going beyond the learned limits of the art. Batik is a popular,. and quite common art form in India, and upholstery and dress materials in Batik are particularly popular. Basically in India it is mostly a rural industry - on silk in Bishnupure of West Bengal or on pure cotton in Jaipur, Rajasthan. My cousin, who also happened to be an artist, had taught me Batik, when I was but a child. We too have several of her works framed and preserved for future generations, though she is no more with us. I really did not know that Batik was also well-known in the Western World. Voted up and shared.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hi coolies - I am so glad you like them. I think they are great, but then she was my grandmother. :) You should definitely try making your own someday. It is rather messy and labor intensive work, but the results are so often beautiful and striking. :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • cookies4breakfast profile image


      6 years ago from coastal North Carolina

      These batiks are absolutely gorgeous, and I love the story. I'm addicted to fabric in general, but I'm really in love with batik. Have hope of making my own some day! Voted up!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hello molometer- I love your unbridled enthusiasm, we all love your enthusiasm. :) I think much craft work is sorely unappreciated, which is sad for the craftsmen, but even sadder for the rest of us, who could never afford an "Impressionist painting," but we could afford some beautifully crafted pottery or furniture or woven rugs or quilts, or wood carvings or batiks!!

      I am so glad you liked her batiks and she was doing this kind of work in the seventies and eighties. I love that you had shirts that are reminiscent of her style. She did do some very fine work and with your encouragement I may post some more. (I also have a Hub, maybe more in the future, on her oil paintings.) Your comments are much appreciated.

    • molometer profile image


      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello Phdast7,

      Now that is what I am talking about, hand made, beautiful objects of desire.

      Craft workers ares still out there and thank you for recoding these techniques.

      I like all of the above. The 4th one from the top reminds me of t-shirts I used to have in the 70's. The 3rd from the top is my absolute favorite and I would love to have that on my wall.

      The shapes are so spot on, Picasso's influence is apparent but your nan has made it her very own.

      Excellent hub, voted up, interesting, useful and above all beautiful.

      Thanks for sharing your grandmothers lovely work.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you. Her work means a great deal to our family and it is a privilege and pleasure to share it with others.

    • Xenonlit profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful photos and very informative writing about the Batik process. You do a great job of telling us about very special people and situations.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Actually, you are right. How could I not be a twentieth century historian. I study and teach and get to do research about the very decades that my father's family lived through. It is a privilege to do so.

      I haven't written about them yet...but my Polish grandfather was a sculptor and my father joined the Air Force shortly after they immigrated to America, to repay in some small way the debt he felt he owed the country that had saved his family's lives. He was career military and raised me to love history and geography. So I guess I was destined to teach history. :)

      I deeply appreciate all your comments and compliments.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Wonderful hub! I really appreciate your grandmother's batik art and the lovely materials. I love any kind of art using material, but batiking is my favorite. We did a little bit of this type of art in my high school art classes, so I appreciate the time and work that goes into producing these beautiful creations of your grandmother.

      It is wonderful that you have such an artistically talented grandmother and with such a history and background. No wonder you are a 20th century historian! You have seen it up close and personal! Voted up! Interesting, relevant and beautiful.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Why thank you. I appreciate your comments and your encouragement. :)

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      6 years ago from Texas

      Beautiful art & interesting information! Voted up & awesome! :)

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you for commenting. It is an amazing process. I hope in the future to post more of my grandmother's artwork. During her lifetime she had a number of public art shows and exhibitions. Now that she is no longer with us, I can share her work through Hub Pages. Take Care.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      How beautiful! Thank you for sharing this information. It's not only fascinating, but being able to preserve knowledge and awareness of these traditional processes is priceless.


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