DIY Tutorial: The Magical Art of Handmade Occult Batik
As autumn approaches, it is again time for glowing candles, hot tea, and hand work. For a fun new twist on fabric art, why not whip up some Occult Batik? The tools and process are simple and the results are almost magic.
Traditional Wax and Dye Method
The panels in the image above were all created using the traditional wax and dye method for making batik. You will need white 100% cotton fabric, in this case a high quality sheeting. The higher the thread count of your cotton, the better. You will also need a white or off-white paraffin candle. For best results, do not use a soy-based candle, as soy wax does not penetrate the fabric deeply and it can melt off during the dyeing process. In addition, you will need a thin paintbrush used for detailing. If possible, use an old one that you no longer need. If you need to go buy one, cheaper brushes are just fine. You will be committing this brush to batik work and won’t ever be using it to paint again. Lastly, you will need black fabric dye. RIT liquid worked well enough, but I found that Dylon Velvet Black powder worked best.
For the Altar Scene above, I began by tracing my hand in pencil on a square of washed and pressed cotton fabric. Washing fabric before dyeing it may seem silly, but a lot of commercial fabrics are treated with sizing that can interfere with the dyeing process. After tracing my hand, I outlined other features of my image in pencil. If you are detail-obsessed, this is a good opportunity for you to practice letting go. Your design should be simple enough to execute in hot wax, which has real limitations as a medium. You also want plenty of dye to show through your design.
With my penciled design complete, I spread out the fabric on my work table, the surface of which has been cut with knives, stained with paint and ink, strewn with resin, and stabbed by scissors. In short, it’s a delightful mess. If you don’t have a work table, you will need to cover your work surface with cardboard to protect it. I then lit a wax candle and let it melt a bit. If this is your first time “painting with wax,” you will want to practice on scrap fabric before beginning on your design. Dip the dry brush into the melted wax and apply it to the fabric. If it is too cool, the wax will not transfer. In that case, you will need to hold the wax-laden brush above the candle flame for a millisecond to warm it back up. Do NOT let the brush catch on fire or become excessively sooty. This all sounds complicated until you sit down and do it. You will become a wax mistress in no time!
Here is the zen art of batik. As you work your design, you will drip, dribble, and plop wax where you didn’t intend it. You will make irregular lines. You will struggle to get the level of detail you desire. Good. Acknowledge the desire, and let it go. Before long, you will be painting with wild delight, embracing “mistakes” as joyful additions to your design. It is batik, after all. Once it is dyed, it will look extremely cool and wicked organic.
With your wax complete, you will prepare a dye bath according to the directions on the box. Wear gloves. I’m serious. Submerge your fabric in the dye and let it soak for as long as possible. When the dyeing process is complete, wash the fabric in the sink. For any lingering wax, you can pour near-boiling water over the piece, lift the remaining wax lines, and then wash again. Let air dry and iron between two paper towels. This will protect your ironing board and iron from picking up any wax; it will also help absorb wax residue from the fabric. You may have a hard time getting all of the wrinkles out, but that’s okay, too. Your fabric has been through an act of transubstantiation! It is an alchemical work of art, just like you, dear darkling.
To add depth to my work, I used a black fabric-safe permanent marker to outline parts of my design. I also used a thin fabric ink to darken the areas around the hand of glory and candles. This process is made easy because the white lines remain impervious to thin inks, even after washing. A thin paintbrush makes the work fast, indeed. And it is incredibly relaxing to do. To finish off this piece, I added strips of fabric, log cabin style. I will eventually quilt it, add embellishments, and hang it in my office as a source of empowerment.
I followed the same steps above to create a Dagon-esque nautical image:
And this haunted forest with skull moon:
Once you start, you will find it hard to stop. Imagine what you could do with a white cotton skirt or shirt? Or maybe you could design your own altar cloth or ritual vestments?
Bleach Pen Batik
The wax and dye method of batik is a simple process, but it does require some time. If you are short on time but would like to have some fun with batik designs, you might consider bleach pen batik. You will need 100% cotton black fabric as your base, whether you buy it new by the yard or use an old garment. Wash it, press it, and place it on a safe work surface, either a work table or a piece of cardboard.
With a white colored pencil or chalk, outline a design. Using a gel bleach pen with a fine tip, trace over your design. Be sure to test the bleach pen on an inconspicuous area of the fabric before attacking the center of your piece. You will find that on most black fabrics, the bleach will create an orange design, perfect for Samhain. You will also have to practice making super fine lines with the pen. To help, you might consider taping a very small pastry tip (now only used for crafts!) to the top of the pen. This should help you create the thinnest lines possible. This is important because you don’t want your lines to bleed so much that your design is distorted. Once the bleach has gone as far as you would like, rinse your piece in cold water and let dry. You can always add more detail with the bleach pen later.
In the piece above, I wanted whiter center lines in my design, so used a fabric-safe white pen to create them.
With Occult Batik, you can create one-of-a-kind fabrics for tablescaping, quilting, ritual craft, apparel, and more. What will you make, dear darkling? Let us know! And happy crafting!