A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Batik Process

I got my tie dye and batik supplies on Tuesday, my large hole glass beads on Wednesday and my how to knotting books (hemp, Chinese knots and Celtic knots) on Thursday. I decided to try to do a batik first. I modified an earlier design that included the yin/yang symbol, washed and dried the twelve white cotton bandanas I got, chose one, folded it in half on the diagonal and drew the design on in very soft pencil. I then heated wax in a small craft heating pot till it melted and brushed it on the parts of the design I wanted to remain white. This being my first attempt I was awkward at it and continued to make a lot of mistakes as I proceeded through the process (which I haven’t finished yet). I learned (too late) that the wax was not hot enough. It’s supposed to be so hot that when painted on the fabric it sinks in and looks translucent instead of opaque. When the wax is that hot it penetrates through to the other side of the fabric effectively blocking any future dyeing except for cracks in the wax done purposely or by accident.

I tentatively decided to dye the fabric in turquoise and from there hand paint on yellow to make green in certain spots. Yesterday I did my first dye bath soaking and agitating the partially waxed fabric/design. I decided to jump in and not wait to counter my tendency to procrastinate, but I was nervous. While I waxed the design on my drawing table in the living room, I prepared the dye and the fixer (soda ash solution) in the kitchen. I wore a mask and goggles, but forgot to lay down a drop cloth on the floor and on the table. Luckily, I didn’t spill much of the dye and when I did I wiped it up right away. I had watched one of the three DVDs on how to tie dye which helped to prepare me. It reminded me of working in my darkroom, of the caution I used when mixing chemicals.

My darkroom is where I should be working. I have a professional darkroom sink that I bought about twenty years ago after saving up the money. Unfortunately, after I graduated from art school while I was still feeling sick, I neglected the darkroom and mice got in there and began ruining things and then my sump pump stopped working and I couldn’t use the sink. Anyway, it’s a mess in there though my negatives seem to me mostly okay. So last night after doing the first dye bath first working in the kitchen and then carrying the dye tray (with a gallon and a half of liquid in it) to the bathroom, I decided that I have to clean up the darkroom and get a new sump pump installed so that I can work downstairs without having any fear about endangering the cats (I had locked them in a back room for the hour that I worked) or accidently spilling dye in my main living spaces.

I poured the dye down the bathtub drain and rinsed the batik bandana in cold water till most of the dye was gone. The color was nice but a bit dark. I made a makeshift clothes line over the tub and hung the batik up and left the bathroom fan on. As it dried over the next six hours, it got lighter and prettier but I could see that some of the dye had gotten into my waxed areas though not totally. Today I made up a small amount of yellow dye and painted it on in certain spots but because the wax that was enclosing the spaces was imperfectly applied the dye spread, but only a little bit. It dried fairly quickly. The next step is to wax the areas that I want to stay blue and green. Once I do that (hopefully better than I did it the first time) I can submerge the batik in a solution of red dye which will make the rest of the fabric turn purple because of the combination of the blue and the red.

The final step will be to either boil or iron the wax out of the fabric. It is only at that stage that the true colors and pattern will be revealed which will be exciting despite all the mistakes I made. You can see that those somewhat expensive batik t-shirts really have a lot of work go into them and are worth the money. I think once I master the technique that I will find the work very satisfying. Next step is to do a tie dye on a small boys’ t-shirt. Making a basic tie dye is much easier than doing batik. You wash the t-shirt and then arrange it in a certain pattern and then you make up several colors and squeeze them onto the fixer treated shirt in repeating lines. Then you set it aside for a while, maybe overnight, to let the dyes set. Finally, you wash out the dye in the washing machine and then dry it. It’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. There is no waxing and no dye bath immersion and no waiting several days to finish, at least not for the basic tie dyes.

I hope I’ll be able to show you photographs of the process soon. I’m going to see if I can get an inexpensive digital camera tomorrow because my camera is not working as of a few days ago.

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