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Handmade Batik fabric pillows (without the hot wax!)

I am currently finishing up a batik pillow project that I do each quarter with my sixth graders but I have done this with students of all ages.  We begin by researching the art of batik and the cultures in which batik is found.  We discuss the process used to create the fabrics and the many functions that the fabrics have once they are created.

The first step in the process for students in designing their own batik fabric, is to experiment with drawing patterns.  I have my students consider the possibilities of making a pattern personal and meaningful by bringing pieces of the students own culture to the designs.  We discuss the use of symbols to create pattern, geometric and organic shapes and patterns, stencils and henna tatoo patterns to help open up as many approaches as possible.

Next the students experiment with resist by creating their pattern of choice using oil pastel crayons and watercolor paint on watercolor paper.  These two steps allow the students to work out some of the challenges they come across in their pattern development before getting to fabric.

For the fabric itself, I give each student a 20" square of white muslin.  I create a wax substitue by mixing equal parts of aloe based lotion and flouride based toothpaste (I buy the cheapest brands I can find!).  The students paint this mixure onto the fabric in the same way they used the oil pastel crayons from the previous step.  The fabrics need to dry overnight (if the toothpaste and lotion mixture is applied in a very thick manor it may take even longer). 

Once dry (even if a bit sticky still), the students paint over the entire fabric with washable tempera paint.  It may appear that the process did not work because the pattern will not show at this point.  However, once the paint has dried overnight, the students can place the fabric in a sink and wash everything out.  They can do this as though they are pioneers washing clothes in the river.  They should scrub all of the paint, lotion and toothpaste off until all slimy areas are gone and no color is coming out of the fabric.  The pattern is revealed as they wash and it is a great "A-HA" moment for the students.  The fabric should be hung to dry and when it is, it will be soft again and ready to sew.

I think it is important to create something functional using the fabrics, so I have my students sew them into pillows.  I find that the first day of sewing is hard for me because almost every student thinks they need lots of help.  They quickly settle in and become more comfortable with the process.  The kids who love to sew or have had some previous experience sewing, end up being the "experts" and help other kids when they are struggling.  Most of the students realize, once they get the hang of it, that it is not as hard as they had anticipated.

My students love this project overall.  Some struggle with certain stages but are very proud of their pillow in the end.   

Batik 012   Batik 013  

Batik 014   Batik 015


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