Batiking in Ghana

I am just going to start this blog post by saying that I mainly observed the batiking process for Global Mamas for a few days at one place in Ashaiman, Ghana (near the capital), so I am certainly not an expert nor have I thoroughly studied all Ghanaian batiking techniques. :-))  Also, many of these pictures are courtesy of Global Mamas (and some of them are mine).  

This history of batiking in Ghana goes back quite a long way.  I wrote a little about it in the post I where I wrote about my time in Ghana in February.  I wanted to go a little more in depth here and post a few more photos.

The basic process the starts with a block dipped in melted paraffin to place the design on fabric, repeating the design for 6 to 12 yards of fabric at a time. Fabric can be dyed before the wax is applied, or not, depending on the colors desired. 

The blocks for printing were traditionally made of wood, but now are mostly made of foam mattress pieces.  Foam mattress are everywhere in Ghana and make great batik tools because they are easy to carve into shapes.

Another volunteer carving a foam piece for a sample batik pattern.  She is wearing a dress of fabric that she batiked.

The parafin wax is melted over a coal or gas fire in a wide pan. The women use the wax over and over and even reclaim wax used on previous fabric, so the wax is usually a brown color.  They boil any water (from reclaiming the wax) off, and dip the foam design in the hot wax, letting excess drip off (or shaking it off).  The batikers carefully and quickly set the design on the fabric, pressing just enough to get the design set but not enough to push too much wax in the fabric and distort the design.  That was the part I found the most tricky when I tried batiking.  Sometimes I would not press hard enough and not all the design would come through and sometimes I would press too hard and wax would push out into the fabric and distort the design. The batikers could get a couple of design repeats per dip in the hot wax, then they would dip again.  They worked quickly and efficiently to cover 6 or 12 meters of cotton at at time.

After the wax cooled and dried, the fabric is carefully dyed so as not to crack the wax and let in the dye into the design.  If the wax cracks, the dye goes into what was supposed to be a clear area of the design. Sometimes that is desired (see the dress below - she cracked the wax on the first design and it gives it an interesting texture), but usually not.  The wax keeps the dye from penetrating the waxed area, thus creating an area that resists the dye. 

The dyed fabric is dried on a line, then the wax must be removed from the fabric.  The batikers carefully push each fabric section into a simmering cauldron of water. The wax floats out of the fabric to the top of the cauldron, where it is skimmed off to be reused.  After simmering for 10-20 minutes, the fabric is placed in a large bucket of cold water and a woman quickly goes through the fabric to make sure all the wax is off, again skimming off any extra wax to be reused. 

De-waxing: wooden stick is used to keep the fabric below the surface of the simmering water and to agitate the fabric, and a large ladle is used to skim of the melted wax that floats to the surface. Note the waxed and dyed fabric waiting to be de-waxed.

Washing the fabric in cool water after de-waxing; making sure no wax is left on fabric.

Then, the fabric is hung to dry again.  When the fabric is dry it is brushed with a piece of foam to get off any last remaining bits of wax clinging to fibers. 

If the cloth needs to have another design (for instance, different color dots on top of a floral design), the process is repeated, with different blocks and different dye baths.  This batik process can be repeated several times to get the colors and designs desired.

Quite intensive (and hot) process! But, what beautiful fabric!