American batik tablecloth, brushed wax resist with indigo


Meredith has a sharp eye for great repurposeable cloth. She finds it in thrift stores. I can’t tell you which ones. This is one of two very large rectangular table cloths she brought to me, with the William Sonoma labels still attached. Someone must have bought them to stage something and then donated them. I immediately saw what I could do with one of them. My friends from high school in Fostoria Ohio were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They still have the old farmhouse door I painted 50 years ago for their marriage in 1967 hanging in the livingroom of the 100 year old family farmhouse Tom grew up in. They had commissioned a new dining table made for their large kitchen where most meals are taken together family style. It’s big because they have a large number of children and grandchildren. I gridded the cloth into 32 segments. With a wooden frame the same size under the cloth, I  brushed on free form shapes with melted wax resist to fill each segment. It turned out that the size of the cloth and the amount of wax needed to seal the design created challenges for later steps in the process.



The cloth was already heavy with one thick coat of wax on one side. But it was not enough wax to completely seal the cloth from absorbing the indigo dye. My guide, Bu Dalmini from Kebon Indah Batik Collective in Desa Kebon, Bayat, Klaten, Central Java told me that the thickness of the cloth required a second waxing on the opposite side. I had already dyed it once and the damage was done. The indigo seeped through the wax from the unwaxed side, so I would not be able to achieve the stark white contrast I’d intended between the white free form shapes and the dark blue background. I took the cloth back to Java to complete, waxed it again on the other side, and continued the dyeing process to achieve a deep but vibrant blue.


Another problem a large cloth with such full applications of wax is it’s weight especially when wet.  Lifting it in an out of the large cauldron boiling water would be a much more strenuous task than the usual size of kain panjang, 2.4 m by 105cm.


Lifting the heavy cloth in and out of the dye bath was a substantial job. The background required 6 immersions, drying out completely between immersions.

The last step lorod, or removing the wax requires successive dips in a large cauldron of boiling water with the addition of cassava flour. This was done over a wood fire by two women who are the experts in the village at this task. They had never removed the wax from a cloth this big. They work in synch in an amazing way, balancing the heavy cloth on bamboo sticks, lifting it in and out of the boiling water as the wax drips off the cloth. It’s hot and heavy work in the tropical heat and the heavy cotton required many repeats of dipping in the boiling pot alternating with cold washes. But there work was crucial to the finished cloth. Bu Surati and Bu Simpun shared their knowledge gained over years of removing wax. It was especially interesting to learn that certain colors on the cloth inhibit the release of the wax more than others.

After the wax removal, the whites of the free form areas were not pure white but showed indigo splotches where the indigo dye penetrated the original single application of wax on one side only. Consequently I finished off the cloth with one more immersion of a diluted indigo bath to color the white areas a lighter shade of indigo and even out and disguise the splotchiness.

The finished product:


The roots of a family tree begin with the love between two hearts.








0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *