Although batik has been around for almost 2,000 years, it is Java, Indonesia where it has become a well developed art in its own right. Batik is a labor intensive art that involves applying wax to fabric and immersing the fabric into dye. If more than 2 colors are desired, the wax is removed and the fabric is waxed again before immersing in a third color. A more direct approach to painting fabric can lead to innovative works. By using paint instead of dye, and instant potatoes instead of wax, multiple colors can be applied without multiple steps. Here’s how to do it.
Materials & Supplies Needed to Paint on Fabric
- Lightweight fabric – usually white, but there’s no reason other colors can’t be used
- Acrylic craft paint
- Fabric medium for acrylic paint – this is optional, but thins the paint, reducing stiffness when dried. Some brands need to be heat set, others don’t.
- Box of instant mashed potatoes
- Paint brushes
- Frame to stretch the fabric – the easiest frames to use are those you can easily find from quilt and craft shops.
- A squeeze bottle for the potato resist, an empty mustard bottle works well, if the tip is too small, the resist won’t flow.
Steps to Paint on Fabric
- Stretch the fabric on the frame so that it is taut and smooth.
- Draw the lines for the resist on the top of the fabric freehand, or tape a design to the back of the fabric and trace onto the top of the fabric and remove the design. The side with the pencil lines will be the back.
- Mix instant potatoes with hot water to the consistency of white glue and place into a squeeze bottle.
- Squeeze a line of resist along the pencil lines of the design and let dry thoroughly.
- Take the fabric off the frame, turn it over, and put it back on the frame with the side with the dried resist down.
- Squeeze more resist along the design and let dry thoroughly. Hold the frame up to the light, as shown in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view) to check that all lines have absorbed the resist.
- Paint the design, using either water or medium directly on the fabric.
- Once the paint is dried, heat set the paint, if required, and soak the fabric in warm water, rinsing a few times until all of the resist has been washed away.
It’s possible to use many techniques, including watercolor techniques, for the actual painting. The only restriction is not to use a lot of water which will loosen the resist. Best of all, it’s possible to paint fabric without a large investment in a different kind of paint or resists. Potato starch is much easier both to apply and to remove than wax.