Meeting my master batik printer

A 400 mile road trip later and I am overjoyed to have witnessed the batik printing of my first batch of scarves! They are still only samples at this stage but it was an amazing opportunity to meet the master craftsman who will be responsible for printing my collection. To see his studio, watch him work and be able to explain (with the help of a translator of course, I haven’t learnt tamil as yet!) some of my layout requirements to him.

His set up is far from high tech, the wax used for the batik is melted in a metal tray over a gas burner, held up on bricks. The lighting is very poor in his workshop, and I noticed that when he prints he is actually working in his own shadow (!) but he seems to manage anyway. When they have current he hooks up a light which improves conditions. A table of damp sand is used as a base for the fabric, and is smoothed over with a wooden rod before laying the fabric.

One of my scarf prints took a bit of explaining, with geometric ends, and a giant feather in a slightly slanted half drop repeat across the body of the fabric. This took a few samples to get him to understand what I wanted, but I love the fact that each sample is now one of a kind, so didn’t mind really. None off them actually look wrong, just different, and for production I want to aim for consistency, even if this is not what I end up with.

Getting to understand the needs and limitations of the artisan is a crucial element to getting the best out of the relationship and ensure you don’t end up frustrated. This trip has helped me determine what I can and can’t ask of him (like do not suggest that he moves his set up to reap the benefits of natural light), and what can be done by me to make his work easier.

Block printing is a process which is done entirely by eye and hand. The printer identifies a visual guide to show where the next block should be placed, irregularity of repeat is what makes it unique and genuine, however it is the mark of a true master when the irregularities are only slight. Things like layout, the number of points to be matched for each repeat, and also the rigidness of the fabric (whether the fabric moves during printing), are all elements which will affect production. For my designs I have a complicated repeat, lots of points to match, plus silk fabric so the difficulty level is pretty high!

For the aforementioned feather print scarf I have agreed to make a template which will be used to mark dots on the fabric as a guide for the repeat; this will speed up production time and ensure the the angle of the block is consistent.

It was very encouraging to see the next generation of batik printers present; the masters son was there as apprentice ready to lend a hand, all the time observing and learning.

Thanks to The Colours of Nature for inviting me to join them on this inspiring road trip – where I also got to witness denim production at a small powerloom factory, and the mind blowing process of industrial scale washing! One machine can wash 30,000 metres of fabric IN ONE DAY!!!!! I will share some pics at a later date, the machines are like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

Advertisements

Testing out some of my new batik blocks!

Batik Indigo Dyeing

I’ve been spending time at The Colours of Nature in Auroville, South India to learn about the process of batik block printing. It was such a pleasure to be able to get down and do some printing, I miss having a good old play, haven’t done it for a long while. It wasn’t, however, just for fun; this experimentation has proved invaluable insight into how best to format designs when making batik blocks.

The print blocks I am using are made out of a series of nails banged into a block of solid wood to create a flat dot pattern surface, different size nail heads are used for different pattern qualities. Nails are used as they retain heat, this ensures that the wax remains at the maximum temperature and does not cool too soon. By retaining the heat, the wax easily absorbs into the fabric, which is key to successful batik work.

The fabric is spread over a bed of damp sand to ensure that the wax stays in the cloth, and the block is pressed hard onto the fabric. The tricky bit is lining up a repeat block, there are no markers it’s all done by eye. Once the wax is dry the fabric is soaked in water before being submerged in the indigo vat. When the fabric is removed from the vat it is a wonderful yellowy green colour, which reacts with the air and oxidises as the fabric turns blue. This process is repeated several times until the required depth of colour is achieved.

I’m so excited about creating my own designs, the blocks are ordered I just need to wait for them to be made! Watch this space!

A peek at a batik artist at work

A peek at a batik artist at work in Chennai, India. Last week I went to visit S.Sekar to follow up on some scarves I’ve commissioned. I met him at a recent Co-optex Textile fair and loved the colours and flair in his work, so was keen to collaborate on some designs. His work uses many different symbols of traditional india, such as women carrying pots, birds, lotus flower, elephants and fish. It was very exciting to see work in progress, I can’t wait to see the finished pieces.