………Take a piece of white fabric made from natural fibres.
Draw a pattern on the cloth.
Heat some wax and apply it to the parts of the pattern that you wish to remain white. Then dip the fabric in the first dye-bath and leave it to dry.
Apply new wax to the parts of the pattern that you don’t want to absorb the next colour, and then dip the cloth in the new dye-bath.
Repeat the procedure until you are satisfied with the result and have all the colours you need.
As a general rule, it is advisable to start with a light colour and finish with a dark one.
Boiling the fabric in water with soap flakes will remove any remnants of wax.
Finally, rinsing the batik in white spirit will help to restore its lustre and softness…
That’s the way it used to be done, when batik was big, back in Swinging Sixties.
A friend of mine, an incurable aficionado of all things batik, held afternoon and evening courses on the subject for years and years. Her piles of books about batik grew higher and higher, and pilgrimages were made to Holland to admire the exquisite collections of Javanese batik in the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam.
Then, one day, a sizeable length of fabric – used, but still as beautiful as ever – arrived from Jakarta. Not surprisingly, my friend had been corresponding with a man who lived in the spiritual homeland of batik and who knew more than most about this creative artistic medium. The batik cloth he sent was exquisitely crafted and decorated with a traditional Garuda motif of bird’s wings and tail feathers in white, indigo and soga brown. An accompanying letter explained that it was a batik sarong: it had previously belonged to a classical dancer in Yogyakarta, now long retired.
That was all decades in the past, of course, but not so very long ago the fabric was gifted to another friend of mine. This same friend also happened to have a pair of Neo-Rococo chairs that now suddenly emerged from the shadows – an inheritance from what had originally been a large dining suite in which her two chairs had proudly taken their place as number 19 and 20 respectively. Old photographs were duly searched out and, although the snapshots were none too clear in terms of detail, we revelled for a while in sharing fond memories of bygone days.
My friend recalled the time when she and her siblings were young and without any furniture of their own. If they ever needed a chair or two, they could always rely on one or other of her mother’s aunts to come to the rescue. Tucked away in their capacious loft were all manner of furnishings superfluous to requirements. That’s how the chairs came to be spread so far and wide. Fortunately, at least four of them have been successfully traced to some distant second cousin, who continues to use them to this very day.
Mahogany veneer, beautiful antique with a carved floral scroll on the lower back rail. The front legs display an unmistakable neo-Rococo flourish, while the backrest bears lingering traces of Empire style. All in all, exactly the kind of expression that stylish furniture sought to achieve in the 1850s or thereabouts.
And, in a jiffy, the Javanese dancer’s sarong was transformed into seat covers for two Neo-Rococo chairs.
Europe meets Asia, you might say – albeit in somewhat unorthodox fashion!
By Gun Bjerkander Handberg author of Please Be Seated – More Historic Chairs & The Tales They Tell publish