I've been working with wax as a means to decorate fabric since art college, some 30 years ago now! My interest has taken me to study it in Indonesia and to share it's magic with many students in workshops here in the UK.
I enjoy seeing patterns in nature and enjoy finding different ways to translate ideas onto fabric, wax has offered a fascinating medium for this.
Wax can be controlled using traditional techniques and I admire the work of many Indonesian artists, who produce such delicate and beautiful work. Wax can also give a sense of spontaneity when applying it with a brush or printing tools and I particularly enjoy finding everyday items that might have printing potential using wax as a resist on fabric.
I've wanted to make my own clothes for some time now and have always admired the fabulous pleated indigo skirts of the Miao in Guizhou Province, China, ( see image above) and feel inspired to make something on a far simpler scale for myself. For this project I'm going to make a simple wrap around skirt, using wax for the surface decoration of the cotton fabric which will be dyed using indigo and gathered with a waistband.
Step 1: Equipment Needed for Printing
Cotton Fabric ( I used good quality cotton sheeting, recycled from my local dry cleaners, £2 per huge sheet ! )
A flat bed thermostatic frying pan for heating the wax safely.
Wax, I use a mixture of paraffin and beeswax.( The added beeswax will help produce better whites on the fabric).
An assortment of printing tools- potato mashers,my favourite! forks, waffle irons, if you can find them, cooking spatulas, plastic ones are good to use ,but metal objects will retain the heat better.The list is endless and is becoming an obsession of mine to fine the ultimate pattern maker at every car boot or charity shop visit!
Step 2: Let's Get Wax Printing
I started this project cutting up my cotton fabric into squares measuring 20" sq. for ease of printing and set about exploring all the new potato mashers that I'd be collecting, you'd be surprised how many variations are out there!
I added the wax to the pan and waited for it to warm up, when the wax looks clear it's time to place the tools I wanted to use in the pan. Wait a few minutes until the tools are hot enough, you can always check by printing the first stamp on some newspaper to see if the wax is looking clear.
I had fun creating flower head patterns using a combination of different tools and found it helpful to cut a pieces of card to protect the center of the flowers, before printing the petal shapes.
Step 3: More Printed Patterns...
I found lots of variations of flower head patterns using these kitchen tools and worked my way through a lot of squares quite quickly.
Step 4: Added Tie Dye Techniques.
I saw a few spaces in between the wax prints and thought it might be fun to try some tie dye techniques. So I added a few tied buttons in between to give extra tie dye flowers.
Step 5: Time to Dye With Indigo
For more detailed instructions on how to make and use an indigo vat please refer to my previous projects,"Batik Potato Masher Duvet Cover" and "Batik Potato Masher Window Blind", as the process is the same.
Once the vat is made and left for a couple of hours, the dyeing process is simple, just "wet out" the fabric before dyeing then lower slowly into the indigo vat. After a few minutes carefully pull the fabric up to avoid air bubbles and hang up outside to oxidise. (The process of the dye changing from green to blue as it hangs in the air).
Further dips will deepen the shade of blue, try and leave the fabric to dry on a washing line for as long as possible before taking the wax out.
Step 6: Shocking the Wax Out
I found that by boiling up a few kettles and adding a tablespoon of soda crystals and a squirt of fairy liquid, the wax came out very easily with a good bit of agitation with the wooden tongs. It helped that my fabric was in small squares and easy to handle in a bucket.
I washed out the fabric squares in cold water, which helps shock out the rest of the wax and left to dry.
Step 7: Time to Sew a Skirt!
At this stage I'm not working from a pattern, but imagining a simple gathered skirt with a waistband . So I simply decided to cut my printed squares in half, to give more variety of patterned panels around the skirt. and then started to sew each panel together fairly randomly, pressing seams as I went along until I'd made a suitably long line of fabric some 150" long ! I really had no idea how long the length should be, I just kept on sewing until all my squares were sewn up!
( I've just counted, there were 8 20"x20" squares used, cut in half so 16 panels of 20"x10", hope that makes sense).
I liked the random patterns sewn together, with the blue indigo linking them somehow.
Step 8: Gathering the Skirt
Ok at this point I have to say a big thankyou for some excellent online tutorials, as dressmaking is not my best skill.
First I gathered the fabric to fit onto my waistband by machining 2 lines using my largest running stitch and then gathered the skirt. This did take some time to do as there was a lot of fabric and I was trying not to break the cotton threads!
Step 9: Making the Waistband
I just happened to have a piece of indigo fabric the right length for the waistband, measuring 48" long and found some ancient interfacing to iron on the inside of the waistband.
I pinned this to the top of the skirt, making adjustments to the size of the waistband, right sides together and stitched.
After pressing this flat with the iron, I machined a top stitch along the front edge.
Step 10: Hand Finishing the Waistband and Attaching the Ribbon Ties
Then it was time to press the waistband in half and hand sew to the inside of the skirt with small stitches that didn't show. I prefer a bit of hand sewing any day!
I took the skirt into my local fabric shop and decided not to go the way of a scary zip but to find some matching ribbon and simply attach 2 lengths to one end of the waistband, that would be long enough to wrap around my waist.
I would also suggest a couple of poppers sewn into the inner waistband to secure the skirt firmly.
Step 11: Finishing Off the Hem
All that was left to do was to sew a hem at the bottom and sides of the skirt and voila!
All finished, time for a cup of tea!
Step 12: Finished Wax Resist Skirt!
I feel the waistline would have looked better if I had designed it with the gathers hanging from my hips like the women wear in Miao Province, China, for a more flattering look, but maybe that's for the next project!
This one is a fun jazzy kind of skirt that has taken those wax printed potato masher patterns and my sewing skills into a new level for me,
Hope you liked it!
You may like to visit jennifer-douglas.com to see more of my work.