Dyeing - An Art

By Charles Hopkins Published 12/8/2013 | Crafts

Personalized batik designs on T-shirts, sweatshirts or even Christmas stockings are so easy even a child can make them, with a little adult help.

The one-step method for traditional wax-resist dyeing is to use with widely available, cheap tools and materials: Powdered or liquid dye, paraffin, a pencil, a fine paintbrush and a pot and a long-handled spoon for the dye-bath.

The designs can be drawn freehand, or you can project a photo onto fabric taped to a wall and use the pencil to trace the design.

The simplest designs use one color on white or light colored fabrics. Scarlet is a good choice for a Santa sweatshirt or T-shirt or a peppermint-striped stocking.

First, melt the wax - in a food can (remove the label) set in a pan of hot but not boiling water or on a warming tray set at its lowest temperature. Never melt wax over direct heat; it is highly flammable.

While the wax is melting, draw or trace the design.

Then use the paintbrush dipped in melted wax to outline the design and fill in any spaces you want to protect from the dye.

Mix the dye-bath according to package directions.

Place the fabric or article in the warm (not hot) dye-bath and stir continuously for 20-30 minutes, or until the color is slightly darker than you wish. The color will lighten slightly as it dries.

Hang the fabric or article to dry, and then dry-clean it to remove all traces of the wax.

The method works best on cotton or cotton blends. It can be used on fabric that is to be made into such things as pillows, aprons, clothing or wall hangings or on readymade articles.

Another popular form of dyeing is called marbleizing. This is an ancient craft in which dyes are floated on a substance (these days it’s carrageenan, a thickener created from seaweed). Once the dyes have been distributed onto the surface of the carrageenan, they are swirled or stretched or coaxed into patterns by running a stick, a feather, a comb or any other pointed object through the colors. Pressing paper or fabric onto the dyes, or rolling three-dimensional objects with permeable textures across the dyes transfers the colors in one-of-a-kind patterns that look like the random designs found on slabs of marble.

This art was practiced in Japan more than 700 years ago and probably originated in China. Bookbinders and printers used the same techniques to decorate their work in medieval and colonial days. They used a mixture of hot wax, linseed oil and turpentine to float their dyes. Often, early printers marbleized a book’s opening pages and even the outside of the pages so they would look as beautiful when they were closed as when they were open.

The art died out sometime in the late 19th century, but in the 1960s interest in marbleizing reappeared. Marbleizing is as inexpensive as it is non-intimidating. This is a craft anyone can do and enjoy.