Made In China: Textile Design
Silks and Batik
Silk was discovered in ancient times and is developed from various types of arthropod’s cocoons during metamorphosis eg. spider silk, silk worm, mulberry worms.
Like many ancient Chinese discoveries, it is unknown who exactly or how silk was discovered or first created. There are many tales and legend with this discovery – one of which being the tale of the young woman who lived with her father and their magic horse, who could fly as well as understand human language. Once when the girl’s father went out to work he didn’t return and the girl made a promise to the horse that if he could go out and bring back her father that she would marry him. When the horse returned her father back home, the girl’s father refused to allow the marriage to take place and killed the horse. He then skinned the horse and hung its hide out to dry, the hide then took flight and grabbed the daughter then flew away only to land on a Mulberry tree and when the daughter was released onto the branch she turned into a Silk Worm.
Another more convincing story being that in Ancient times, workers found the silk cocoons by accident and thought they were fruit from the Mulberry tree. After failing to eat these incredibly hard “fruits”, the ladies tried to boil them to soften the shells but when this too failed, the women lost their patience with the hard white fruits and beat them with sticks thus discovering the silk.
Silk is produced from Silk Worms (Bombyx Mori) which feed on the leaves from the Mulberry Tree and produce silk during their metamorphosis. It takes on average 24-28 days for a silk worm to grow old enough to begin to spin a cocoon. From this cocoon, the silk must be harvested at the right time for unwinding before the moth hatches out of the cocoon, spoiling the strands. So the cocoons are heated to kill the pupae inside. When reeling the silk into raw strands, 1 silk cocoon may harvest 1000 metres of raw silk – It has been said that it may take 111 cocoons to produce 1 man’s tie.
What Is Batik?
Batik is a method of printing silks and other similar fabrics by masking images and pattern on fabric with hot wax, dying the fabric then washing in hot water to dissolve/separate the wax from the fabric allowing the masked areas to be repeat printed over or left bare. The wax is applied using a tool called a Tjanting, which is a small round bowl-type tool with a small peak from which the hot wax would controllably dispense.
This process can be repeated until the desired image is created. A highly skilled process, Batik is one of China’s Ancient treasures and it was commonly passed on from mother to daughter for generations as a skill that every young girl must learn.
Batik was found in China as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581- 618), It is said to have been developed by Chinese artists who then took the technique to the likes of Japan, the Middle East and Indonesia.
Batik is a very skilled process when done well but can be very simply yet effectively copied for simple designs, I in fact taught a group of Students at my work placement this method of printing in a small class at the end of the week for students who had completed their class work. Using small sections of silk, hot wax and batik fabric dyes, we took turns in sketching out our designs onto paper then tracing around them through our silk squares and leaving the hot wax to dry before painting on some fabric dyes.
The kids thoroughly enjoyed this process and it proved that this would have been a great way for young Chinese girls to spend time with their mothers and grandmothers learning a valuable trade as Batik became a very popular method of printing and decorating silk.