Quilting with batiks

Winter StarsPicture 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?

From Quilt Batik! by Cheryl Brown

Jewel-tone batiks from Quilt 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.

Batik Beauties: batik right and wrong sides

Right side (left) and wrong side (right). Colors are stronger on the left, but both sides can be used for different looks.

Batik Beauties: right and wrong sides purple batik look-alike

Right side and wrong side of batik look-alike fabric.

Batik Beauties: right and wrong sides brown batik look-alike

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.

Buying Batiks
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.

Batik Beauties: light background batiks

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.

Batik Beauties: solid-looking batiks

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).

Batik Beauties: bright batiks

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!

Power to the People

"Power to the People" from Quilt Batik!

Purple Daze from Quilt Batik!

"Purple Daze" from Quilt Batik!

Its Hip to Be Square

"It's Hip to Be Square" from Quilt Batik!

Garden Tropics from SuperStrata Quilts

"Garden Tropics" from SuperStrata Quilts

Standing Guard

"Standing Guard" from SuperStrata Quilts

Mirrored Mountains

"Mirrored Mountains" from SuperStrata Quilts

Quilters Weave

"Quilter's Weave" from Color Shuffle

The Square Within

"The Square Within" from Color Shuffle

Out of Line

"Out of Line" from Color Shuffle

Eye of the Needle

"Eye of the Needle" from Batik Beauties

Byzantine Stars

"Byzantine Stars" from Batik Beauties

Modern Mayhem

"Modern Mayhem" from Batik Beauties

27 Comments (leave a comment)

  • My chief concern right now is quilting the stuff. Found the many colors needed for my friend’s quilt – never had so much trouble with quilting b4. I use a machine, and am currently getting to know my BSR on my Bernina. Sooo much thread breakage, often enuf to stall completion. It is getting on my nerves. lol I need to finish this quilt b4 August.

    —Carol on April 22, 2013
  • Greatest joy with batiks? The colours! I adore the richness of colour in batik. Greatest challenge? Hand quilting the denser fabric.

    Nita on April 22, 2013
  • I love batiks. But my greatest challenge is quilting a quilt made with batiks on my home sewing machine. I have problems with thread breakage and skipped stitches. So I’m wondering if there is a special kind of needle I should be using. Thanks.

    Hi Joyce,

    I always use a Topstitch or Microtex needles in size 14 for machine quilting. Both types have sharp points and a larger eye, which creates less friction.

    This is my humble opinion, but hopefully others will chime in with advice!


    PS I just checked the Schmetz Needles website and they recommend Microtex needles for sewing on batiks:

    Microtex Sharp
    A very slim needle with a thin shaft that helps make very straight stitches. It was developed for the modern micro- fibers and polyesters and high thread count, high quality fabrics used today. The point is very sharp — thus the name — but because of this it is a bit more fragile and needs to be changed more regularly.

    This is a great needle for piecing high thread count fabrics like Batiks, silks, and microfibers. It is also used for beautiful topstitching or edge stitching. It comes in sizes 60, 70, 80, and 90.

    —Joyce Mitchell on April 22, 2013
  • The colors and designs are very beautiful. I purchased a quantity along with a quantity of fabrics that look like batik. I made a beautiful pillow. The batik fabric is somewhat heavier. That was not a problem in the making of the pillow. I hand quilt what I make. Batik fabric is much more difficult to hand quilt through. So my left over stash of true batiks will be used for making pocketbooks that if needed will be quilted by machine.

    —Marion on April 22, 2013
  • Hello! I am a new quilter, and just love your newsletter. After this newsletter on batiks, I’ve decided that I am just BATTY FOR BATIKS!! Over the last year or two, I purchased materials for two quilts and have not yet cut them out.. But now, I am dead certain that the batiks will be the feature of both quilts to highlight my inspiration fabric. Thanks so much for the lesson!!!! Gotta go! Time to shop for my batiks!!! Maria

    —Maria on April 22, 2013
  • I made a small wallhanging using a yellow/gold batik and marked my quilting lines with a blue wash/out pencil……..when I applied cold water to remove markings, the batik faded onto my off/white backing……..Had to take out all the hand-quilting and start all over again………..Do you always wash your batiks before starting project?

    Hi Carol,

    Everyone has their opinions on this-it’s a "hot" topic among quilters! Some people have been burned (like you) and will never use fabric that hasn’t been pre-washed first. Others don’t like to press yardage and so they’re willing to take the risk. Personally-I’m lazy and hate prewashing! I try to always test first, though, especially if the fabric is a highly saturated color (reds are the worst offenders). To test, I take a swatch, wet it and then let it dry on a piece of muslin. If it bleeds, then I will wash it before using.


    —Carol on April 22, 2013
  • I’m not a hand quilter but have often heard hand quilters speak of the difficulty in stitching through the tightly woven cotton batiks from Indonesia. The batiks from Ghana, West Africa, are hand crafted on quilt-weight damask-weave cottons, giving them added dimension along with the gorgeous batik designs. The fabrics are a pleasure for hand-sewing and machine stitching alike (no special needles required : ), so I mention it simply as an alternative for batik lovers who hand quilt. Visit http://www.CulturedEpressions.com

    Lisa Shepard Stewart on April 22, 2013
  • I love the rich colors. I have only machine quilted, but I use a 90/14 Schmetz microtex needle and have been able to finish my projects.

    —Nancy Bennett on April 22, 2013
  • I love batiks! Most of my stash is batik. The only problem I have had is when making a purse. It is hard to put the right sides together when both sides look the same. It was easily fixed. I now make a chalk mark on one side when I need to keep track of the right side.

    —Diane on April 22, 2013
  • My biggest mistake was choosing a batik to use as the stems of an applique block that I was hand stitching!! I wish someone had told me that the weave on batik was closer than other fabrics, it would have saved me a lot of pricked fingers 😀

    I love the way the fabric stays so crisp when you use it in a machine pieced block. I’m about to start a quilt for a friend using a beautiful range of blues greens and purples. I can’t wait.

    —Kayt on April 22, 2013
  • i LOVE LOVE LOVE batiks….I once overheard someone say that you must lengthen your stitch a couple of notches when piecing batiks so that when it is machine quilted it will not rumple. I wrote it down cause I thought it was important. I guess it would help to lengthen your stitch when machine quilting too,,,will have to remember that about the microtex needles.

    —Irene Lambright on April 22, 2013
  • My greatest challenge with batiks? I can’t have them all! Love them. Have a project in the works right now. Yes, I have hand quilted two large Hawaiian pillows in batik and never again. The tight weave of the fabric makes it a miserable experience even with an all poly batting (but they were beautiful when I finished). Microtex needles are wonderful for this kind of work, i.e. large eye and sharp point. Sometimes I wash, sometimes I don’t. Depends what I’m going to do with them.

    —Claudia on April 22, 2013
  • I have not quilted with Batiks and was not sure exactly what they were up until now thanks for the tutorial.But one question I receintly saw advertised a BALI collection that looks similar, What is the difference?

    Elizabeth, Bali is the brand name that Hoffman Fabrics uses for their batiks. ~Cornelia

    —ELIZABETH CROSS on April 22, 2013
  • I LOVE batik and only recently received some that bled in the wash. I always wash mt fabric before using, so it’s not much of a problem. My love is for the deep, rich color saturation and for the tighter weave.

    Carol Ann Johnston on April 23, 2013
  • For years, I wouldn’t touch a batik if you paid me for they all felt like bisque in ceramics. After a while, I realized their full potential in using the right or wrong side and began using them in quilts. One of my quilts, Jacob’s Ladder, I used a light and dark blue batik and it was beautiful and the quilt’s recipient loved it.

    I now have a 56 quart box filled with different colored batiks and what I like most about them is the "changing of the colors" for each side.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on April 25, 2013
  • The problem I have with batiks is that I always want MORE! I wish there weren’t so many choices, NOT! Thanks for this book 🙂

    —Kate Hutley on April 25, 2013
  • My friend, Ruth, who makes Jaclyn de Jonge and Judy Neimeyer quilts, along with her own creations, is by far, the largest hoarder of batiks I know, and will put quilt stores to shame with her collection. When you walk into her sewing room, there are many honeycomb or regular shelves lined with stack batiks in color order that range from fat quarters to yardage for anything she needs to create her works of art. She has inspired me to use batiks instead of the humdrum cotton everyday fabrics in many of my projects. What I love the most, is seeing, Ruth’s latest quilt or wallhanging. She’s an inspiration to us all!

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on April 27, 2013
  • would love to try the blocks to get rid of some stash. I have never attempted one thinking they would be too busy, but some you show look very nice!!

    —Cheryl Ann Cole on April 30, 2013
  • The first quilt I made was with Batiks, which will always be my favorite fabric!! I love the colors and the fact that they are reversable. My oldest daughter was the grateful recipient of that quilt. Now I’ve hoarded enough batiks to make several more large quilts. The biggest challenge is deciding which pattern to use. I also use Microtex needles and King Tut thread. My thread never breaks, as a result. Hope this helps. Oh, and Lynnita, I just love Judy Neimeyer quilts!

    —Trish Wall on May 22, 2013
  • The only thing I find hard about working with batiks is that they are more tightly woven than regular quilting cotton which makes them harder to hand quilt.

    Nita on October 10, 2013
  • my biggest complaint about batiks is listening to others saying you can’t work with them by hand! I do almost all of my work by hand and I love them. They are great for applique because of the crispness of the fabric and they do not unravel easily. I do almost all hand quilting and love them – use a thimble or if you do not like a thimble use a leather or metal stick on thimble – I can not praise batik fabrics enough!!

    Karen on July 8, 2014
  • I need some assistance! I love batiks! I used a batik for the border of one of my quilts that I am hand quilting. I cannot get chalk to stay on it when I try transferring the pattern to the fabric. I have also tried just using stick chalk and can’t get that to work either. Has anyone had a similar experience that can help me? Thanks!

    Hi Carol, I’ve heard that a Hera Marker can help provide chalk-free, ink-free marks on batik fabrics when hand quilting. You can Google "hera marker" for lots of options. Thanks for your question! –Jenny

    —Carol on October 5, 2015
  • Wonderful article, even 3 years later!

    I LOVE Batiks.. I am working on one now (on my blog @ https://AmyScrapSpot.blogspot.com) and I’m starting to wonder about what I want to back it with..
    Another Batik or something solid that matches?
    Would non-batik fabric go ok with it or would the difference look odd, and how about mixing them on a quilt top (batik with non batik)?

    Any Suggestions would much much appreciated!?

    Hi Amy,
    Use whatever you want on the back-it really does not have to be a batik. Personally, I mix batiks and non-batiks all the time with great results. It all depends on whether it looks good to YOU! My quilting mentor used to say "If it works for you, then it works!"
    There are no rules here-just enjoy!
    Cornelia/Customer Service

    Amy on September 2, 2016
  • Why do I get tiny holes when I hand applique with batik fabrics?

    —Cheryl on November 11, 2017
  • Having trouble squaring up batik the traditional way( by aligning the selvages and then "wiggling" to eliminate folds). When selvages are aligned, the folded edge does not sit straight – there’s a bow. Any suggestions? I’ve tried this approach multiple times with no luck.

    Hi Barbara, I’d suggest squaring up the fabric in a single layer, instead of folding – it sounds like the tight weave of the batik might be a little skewed. Hope that helps, thanks for your question! –Jenny

    Barbara on December 13, 2017
  • What type of needle do I use when machine quilting batiks? Any special thread? I keep getting clogs on the underside.

    Hi Pam, I asked around the office and here’s what our resident batik lover, director of marketing Karen Johnson, says about machine quilting batiks: "Any time I have problems, I change the needle, rethread the machine (bobbin too), clean out the bobbin case of any built-up lint. I’m often surprised that it fixes the problem." She said she has never used a different type of needle or thread to machine quilt batiks. I hope this helps! –Jenny

    —pam on April 16, 2018
  • I was frustrated trying to hand sew a binding. No needle would penetrate that fabric. I sought advice from others, and the one I chose was to mix some fabric softener with a little water and spray onto the fabric Then iron. That softened the fabric enough so I could get a regular sharps needle though it. I think the next time I work with batiks I will prewash the fabric. I usually never prewash any fabric with the exception of flannel.

    What a great tip, Susan, thank you for sharing it! –Jenny

    —Susan on September 18, 2018

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