African- and Asian-inspired fashions exploded out of stores this summer after designers flooded runways with boho love. The weather has cooled, but the boho look is still hot. Here's an inexpensive way to bring that warm, earthy flavor into the home -- with batik place mats. Show off your original designs in your own dining room, or craft fashionable gifts for others as the holidays approach.
Batik, a centuries-old art form, gained popularity in Indonesia, where artists created some of the finest and most beautiful prints. Its name originated from the Javanese word "amba," which means to write, and the Malay word "titik," which means to dot. The tradition of using wax and dye to create elaborate batik designs remains part of Indonesian culture today.
Batik is created by brushing, drawing or stamping designs with hot wax onto selected areas of a cloth and then dyeing the fabric. The wax prevents the cloth from absorbing the dye, leaving the wax-covered material in the cloth's original color. The print can be elaborate or simple, depending on your skill level and style.
Our skill level was minimal at best, proving this is a project anyone can tackle. We wanted an eclectic look, so we used stencils to design different patterns for each of our four place mats. A vibrant purple dye suited for fall was picked to offset our off-white mats. And if place mats aren't your thing, think batik for an apron, napkins or even a tablecloth.
Karen Hart and Michelle Thomas
Gather your materials, most of which can be purchased at any craft store. To start, you will need beeswax, paraffin wax, white- or natural-colored place mats, a disposable paint brush, latex gloves and a dye that can be used in lukewarm water, which won't melt the wax. (Check your dye for instructions, which may require additional materials such as an ash fixer and salt.) We found all these supplies -- including a premixed beeswax-paraffin wax blend called Batik Wax that worked great -- online at www.dharmatrading.com. You'll also need a tool to create your design, from stencils to cookie cutters, plus a double boiler and a cookie sheet.
Wash and dry the place mats to remove any loose fibers. Next, melt two parts beeswax and one part paraffin wax in a double boiler. Keep the melted wax very hot, but not smoking. Put one place mat on a cookie sheet to prevent the wax from seeping through the cloth onto your table.
Tape the stencil onto the place mat. Dip your paint brush into the wax. Using a dabbing motion, apply wax to the stencil's open portions until the wax thoroughly saturates the fabric. The wax will be clear in color, not white or yellow, if you've done it right. Don't worry about mistakes such as cracked wax or spots where the wax hasn't fully soaked the fabric -- imperfections will give your place mats a more authentic and unique look.
When the wax is dried and no longer soft to the touch, carefully peel off the stencil. Repeat on the rest of the place mats.
This is where you'll want to wear gloves. Prepare the dye as directed and soak the place mats in the dye bath until you achieve the desired color. (We used Dharma Fiber Reactive Procion Dye, which calls for a bath of about 20 to 30 minutes.) Rinse repeatedly with cool water and allow the place mats to air dry before attempting to remove the wax.
Put the place mats in a large pot of boiling water and stir until the wax melts and gathers at the top of the pot. Skim as much of the wax off the water's surface as possible before removing the place mats.
Wash and dry your new place mats and remove any remaining wax by placing the mats between sheets of absorbent paper (brown grocery bags work well) and ironing to transfer the wax from your mats onto the paper.
Invite friends to dinner -- warn them not to spill their soup.