Picture a blue and white quilt made with traditional star blocks. What kind of fabric is your imaginary quilt made from? Solids? ’30s prints? Civil War reproductions? Or maybe…batiks? That’s the route Cheryl Brown took, and her gorgeous "Winter Stars" quilt demonstrates how pairing traditional blocks with contemporary batik designs can bring new life to familiar quilt motifs.
So, let’s indulge in all things batik, shall we? From gentle neutrals to intense jewel tones, subtly blended hues to high-contrast colors, batiks have it all. In addition to showcasing stunning quilt patterns for batiks, we’ll discuss what you need to know about batiks for quilting. We’ll find out from Cheryl Brown just what makes a batik a batik. Then Laurie J. Shifrin will share how the weave of batiks differs from other types of quilting cottons, how to distinguish between the right and wrong sides of batiks (and if it matters), and how much batik fabric you should buy if you don’t have a particular pattern in mind.
What Is Batik?
Batik is a basic hand-dyeing method elevated to an art form. Wax is used as a resist to create patterns on fabric. When dye is applied to the fabric, the areas coated with wax do not accept the color. The resulting fabric is characterized by a mottled or marbleized look, and can contain anywhere from one dye color to dozens. The fabric used to make batiks is usually much more tightly woven than traditional quilting fabric because it has to withstand the many dyeing steps it undergoes. The word batik comes from the Javanese tik, meaning “to dot.”
A Quilter’s Guide to Batiks
From Batik Beauties by Laurie J. Schifrin
Right Side or Wrong Side?
In the batik-making process, the wax that creates the design sinks into the fabric. As a result, both sides of the fabric show a clear image after dyeing, and it is often hard to tell a difference between the right and wrong side of the fabric. When both sides are virtually identical, I choose the side on which the design is clearer with less fuzzy edges as the right side. When the colors vary from side to side, I choose the side that better suits my project as the right side. Occasionally, a batik will show a definite right and wrong side. Batik look-alikes often have a definite right and wrong side; be sure to pay attention when cutting these.
In the fabric on the left, the tiny black dots indicate where the wax did not saturate the fabric; this is the wrong side. The clearer design on the right is the right side.
Right side (left) and wrong side (right). Colors are stronger on the left, but both sides can be used for different looks.
Right side and wrong side of batik look-alike fabric.
Right side and wrong side of batik look-alike fabric.
The thread count of fabrics commonly used for quilting ranges from the tight weave of pima or lawn to medium-weave poplin to loose-weave sheeting. Some people hesitate to use batiks because they feel the weave is too tight and offers too little give. The fact that batiks are wetted and dried in the printing process does in fact mean that shrinkage has already occurred—and the weave slightly tightened—before you buy the cloth. As a result, you will experience slightly less give than with other quilting cottons when easing pieces together. But if you cut pieces precisely and sew them with an accurate ¼" seam allowance, they will fit together with no problem. The tight weave is actually a plus for applique work because the edges won’t fray when handled. Another benefit is that pieces cut on the bias hardly stretch at all. Because of the extensive printing process, most batiks have a smooth texture or hand, which in combination with the dense thread count ensures clarity of design.
The dye colors traditionally used for batiks—such as deep indigo blues and rich browns—were made from plants. Plant dyes are still used to color batiks made in Java. However, modern inks and chemical dyes have greatly increased the color range of batiks and improved the color stability. Synthetic dyes bleed less, are more colorfast, and retain their brilliance after washing. Concerns over colorfastness shouldn’t be any more intense with batiks than with any other fabric. Getting the wax off the cloth involves rinsing in boiling hot water, which also washes out most of the excess dye. Still, even the most reputable companies will occasionally produce a batik that bleeds in the wash. Intense blues, reds, and purples are the worst offenders. Prewashing is recommended.
One of the questions commonly asked by quilters is “How much fabric do I buy if I’m not buying for any specific project?” Here are some guidelines to use when purchasing batiks:
• Buy light-colored, solid-looking batiks. They are less common, necessary for contrast, and can often serve as backgrounds. I recommend buying as many of these as your budget permits; 2 to 4 yards of several pieces is a nice amount to have on hand.
• Stock up on dark solid-looking batiks too. Solid-looking batiks are primarily one color and have a texture that is subtle enough to be mistaken as a solid from a distance. If you’re adding to your stash, buy ½- to 1-yard pieces.
• Buy any bold print or multicolored large-scale print that appeals to you as a potential border. Buy 3 to 3½ yards to ensure you’ll have enough for a quilt of any size.
• Buy ¼- to ½-yard cuts of batiks that you like, need to have, or envision using in little bits as accents (like bright oranges).
Cheryl and Laurie, thanks for sharing your batik expertise! Everybody feel ready to dig into their batik stashes? Or to start creating one? If you’ve already got batiks and aren’t sure how to put those lovely fabrics together, don’t miss Jenny’s in-depth look at Quilt Batik!, complete with Cheryl Brown’s video tips on how to choose batiks for quilting.
If you’re looking for quiltmaking inspiration, check out the gorgeous batik quilts in the slideshow at the end of this post. All of the featured quilts are from books that are 40% off, this week only!
What’s your greatest joy—or greatest challenge—when it comes to working with batiks? Let us know in the comments!