This weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to take a batik course in Mae Sot. That’s right, our odd little collection of a border town offered this treasure!
A local nonprofit, Youth Connect, works with Burmese youth that have graduated from migrant high schools. The youth can apply to be a part of an apprenticeship program where they learn life skills and specific studies. Their program covers a variety of areas, including a guesthouse that trains housekeeping, restaurant service, front desk help, and the like; a repair shop that works on motorbikes and bicycles; and the Puzzlebox Art Studio, where they have taught pottery, painting, sewing, batik, and more. The art studio was responsible for designing and decorating the guesthouse over the past couple years, and now they are in the process of becoming self-sustainable through art sales, classes, and an open coffee shop on Saturday mornings.
This weekend I took the first part of a batik course, which is a traditional form of dying material that is quite common among Burmese communities. For my course, there were four of us taking it–myself, another Partners staff member, an eight-year-old and her grandmother visiting from the States. We had one Burmese woman teaching us with the help of a couple students in the apprenticeship program. And for just $33 to a good cause, we worked from 9am to 5pm on Sunday! I’ll go back to finish next week for 3 to 4 hours.
I was able to make two pieces. I initially signed up to make a scarf: it seemed small enough to tackle, and I figured any areas I messed up on I could crinkle up around my neck. However, I discovered when we got there that if you sign up to do a scarf, you get to do a napkin, too, which was one of the other options.
Not sure really how that all went down, but I was given the long scarf shape and this square one, which is about 30″ x 30″. This seems pretty big for a napkin, let alone the fact that we’re in Mae Sot and cloth napkins seem a little fancy for us. I just decided to go with my trusty drawing of a tree that I sketch out somewhere on a regular basis. Here it is drawn on with colored pencils, which will come out when we boil it next week. It was stretched onto the frame after I drew it.
This is my scarf with a leaf pattern drawn onto it.
We then had to follow the drawing with wax, using these pipe-looking tools that you see around here. I don’t know the technicalities, but I learned this:
Sometimes the wax comes out smoothly, and when it does you better move fast.
Sometimes it doesn’t really come out at all, and I’m not really sure why or what I did differently.
Drips won’t look pretty in the end, but they are inevitable for some of us.
The wax is really hot if you drop it on your fingers or toes. Really hot.
My tree, post-wax.
My tree with one coat of dye.
They are really into fading, and I can’t say I’m a big fan. But since I really didn’t want to use the fading technique on my scarf and it seemed to be heavily encouraged, I thought I’d try it here. I still can’t say it’s really my style, but we’ll see how it comes out in the end.
Throughout the process it’s hard to imagine what it will really look like in the end. After its very dry, we’ll cover it in silicon and then boil it until all the colored pencil and wax has left the fabric. Quite a bit of a color comes out, too. Thus, what you see now will be a little different, and while you’re painting, it’s difficult to envision it without the wax or with washed out colors.
Here I moved on to waxing my scarf design.
My scarf, post-wax. As you can see, I didn’t do as well with the wax on this one. There are tons more drops and uneven lines. But as you’ll see later, this actually wasn’t my biggest problem.
In an effort to not make this all about myself, I’ll show you a taste of what my fellow staff member was working on. She was working on a larger piece of fabric she’ll be turning into a dress.
She was a more ambitious newbie. And perhaps more successful!
My scarf with one coat of dye. I had three shades of green, with red and a melon color sprinkled throughout. Here you can see the beginnings of my errors: while some areas had very thick wax lines and drops everywhere, other areas I did the wax line too thin. Since the wax holds the dye in place, some of my dyes ran. Quite a lot of them, really.
While planning on quite a bit of color to come out, I tried to do two or three coats on everything in an attempt to avoid pastels. I don’t really care for pastels.
This is my final product of the napkin, about three coats in.
This is my final product of the scarf, complete with a gray-blue background and quite a bit of spreading color spots.
And that’s a wrap. It was a long day outside in the heat while bent over a table or stretched fabric. But, it was such a fun project! I learned so much, and I love taking advantage of unique opportunities we have here.