One of our textile activities in Ubud was participating in a batik and natural dye workshop where we created our very own piece of batik artwork. First we were given a brief introduction to the natural dye plants traditionally used throughout the Indonesian archipelago - the mordants, the various oils used to coat cotton thread, and the plants used to provide blue, black, red and yellow. We were also shown the tools used in batik - the tjanting tool that allows you to 'draw' on the fabric with melted wax, the beeswax and paraffin wax, and the decorative stamps available.
Then it was time to try for ourselves. First we applied the wax using either one of the supplied stencils or coming up with our own design. It's harder than it looks and we all became quite adept at embracing our mistakes and incorporating them into our designs. Some more successfully than others (cough).
When we were happy with the first stage the cloths were dipped in an indigo bath of Strobilanthes leaves (assam indigo) that had been soaked for 24 hours. There was much aerating and splashing and dipping, much to the confusion of those of us experienced in indigo dyeing and who know the importance of reducing the indigo vat to remove as much oxygen as possible and keep it as oxygen-free throughout the process as is humanly possible. When we asked about this, master dyers Tutut and Frog explained this was a direct dye method, and that the second dip later on would be in a reduced indigo vat much more similar to what we are used to (except that the reduction agent used here was palm sugar, as is appropriate in Bali!).
While our little artworks dried in the breeze Tutut took us on a tour of the dye garden. The Threads of Life business and its sister organisation, the Bebali Foundation, undertake research here in collaboration with dyers from all over the Indonesian archipelago and botanists from Kew Gardens, London. The aim is to reclaim and preserve the knowledge of natural dyes, mordants and processes that is in danger of being lost as communities turn to synthetic dyes for a faster turnaround and cheaper materials. By paying the dyers and weavers an appropriate amount for products made with traditional, natural materials, and supplying them where necessary with the dye materials while they establish their own sustainable supply, the communities not only make a living wage but maintain the traditions and precious knowledge.
After touring the dye garden (laid out in colour order and marked with their latin names), it was time for the second layer of wax to be applied to our pieces. Professional batik workers do multiple wax layers and colour dips to produce complex patterned and coloured cloth but we only had time for two layers, giving us a total of three colours (white, pale blue, darker blue).
A dip in the second indigo bath (Indigofera tinctoria this time) and another stint on the clothesline followed while we enjoyed a magnificent lunch brought in from the village nearby, wrapped in banana leaves to keep it hot. Takeaway fast food, Indonesian style. Even the wee selection of optional spices came in its own tiny banana leaf vessel!
Finally, our cloths were rinsed in boiling water and soda ash to remove all the wax and our masterpieces were revealed. Much oohing and aahing ensued.
It was a fabulous day - we returned to the resort that afternoon bubbling with excitement and pride, full of plans of what we would each do with our batik panels. You can see some of the finished pieces above. I didn't have a wide-angled lens to fit all twelve! If you travel to Bali I can highly recommend booking in for one of these classes.
I'll pop in again soon with photos of the lecture on Indonesian textiles and traditions that we attended. That was another brilliant experience.
This dye and batik class, together with the textiles lecture, will be repeated in the 2016 retreat together with some new excursions and experiences, so if these photos are tempting you, consider coming along next October. Email email@example.com for further details.