Paula Burch's All About Hand Dyeing

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May Peace Prevail On Earth:
single-wax batik with low water immersion dyed background

March 2003

I love the effect of dyeing waxed fabric. The borders between the design and ther background are so crisp, and yet the fabric is totally soft after the wax is removed. All three of the pictures below link to larger copies of themselves. The first and second show the design on the front, while the third shows the design on the back of the shirt.

of a batik peace symbol t-shirt same shirt - zoomed in thinner peace sign -back of same shirt

How I did it


I drew a peace sign on a plain prewashed white rayon shirt, which had NOT been pre-soaked in soda ash solution, using a pencil, ruler, compass, protractor and two sizes of dinner plates. This was more difficult than with the pre-soaked shirts, as the soda ash helps to stiffen the fabric and make it easier to write upon.


I melted a mixture of beeswax and paraffin in an electric skillet set to 270 degrees Fahrenheit (132 degrees C) and used a tjanting (handle wrapped in tape to form a stop so it would not slide into the skillet when rested in the skillet) to apply the wax. I held a rag in my non-dominant hand to catch drips so they would not fall between the skillet and the target, and I covered large areas of the fabric with dinner plates where I did not want any drips to fall. (Beeswax and paraffin are safe for human consumption, so it's okay to get them on tableware - though it would be handier, I must say, to use something disposable such as cardboard.)

I filled in the area of the large peace sign on the front of the shirt with a complex curlicue design, then painted on wax with a paintbrush on top of it. Even though the result is solid wax, the original lines show up in the final design.

I wrote the words "may peace prevail on earth", in my usual handwriting, with the tjanting. (I count being able to use my usual handwriting under all sorts of circumstances, as when writing on an Etch-a-Sketch® or writing with my feet, as one of my special though not very useful skills, along with being able to spot four-leaf clovers without consciously looking for them.)

The back was separated from the front with a baking sheet so no wax could penetrate; I repeated the process on the back.


I dyed the shirt by crumpling it and placing it in a bowl in which I had already placed a cup of water containing a mixture of Procion type red MX-8b (fuchsia), rubine MX-B (bright pink), turquoise MX-G, blue MX-G (cerulean blue), blue #9, and red MX-5B. (I had a number of stock solutions already prepared.) Then I poured over it all a mixture of turquoise MX-G, blue MX-G (cerulean blue), blue #9, and red MX-5B, along with another cup of water. Finally I added one cup (250 ml) of water in which 4 teaspoons (20 ml) of soda ash had been dissolved. I allowed the container to rest in a sink full of water that was comfortably hot to my hand, and thus not hot enough to melt wax.

removing wax

I've never had such an easy time boiling out wax before. I do believe that using real soap, instead of detergent, must help. After running the shirt through the washing machine on cold, with Synthrapol, to remove dye and soda ash, I added several squirts of Dr. Bronner's brand liquid castile soap, purchased in a whole foods store, to a large 3-gallon pot of water. The wax was out of the fabric long before the water could come to a boil. The shirt was then machine washed several times, using the gentle cycle, to remove all excess dye.

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Page created: March 30, 2003
Last updated: March 30, 2003
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