Chinese Wax Printing

Last updated by david at 2014/5/8

Chinese Wax printing

Miao women are working on wax printing patterns – Wax printing being dried up

Wax printing (also called batik) is a mechanical method of blocking colouring agents by the wax in the place where it is applied warm, often under the shape of a geometrical motive or an artistic representation (going from a flower to a human face)at  a chosen part of some fabric.

Once the wax is dry enough, the fabric is plunged under cold conditions into a tank of soluble colouring agents. The process of dye is ended, the completely dry fabric is then washed in the warm water to dissolve the wax and highlight the motives, (drawings, images, etc.) in a colour contrasting with the dye colour.

Wax printing, which is known as the first printing in the East, is the most ancient handicraft in China and it is perceived as an important part of China's ancient civilization.

Chinese batik has a recorded history of more than 2,000 years. Indigo-dyed batik first appeared during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).

Certainly, batik was practiced in China as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618), and it is highly probable that silk batiks were exported to Japan, to central Asia and, via the silk route, to the Middle East and India.

It is sure that wax was used as a resist extensively in China. Today it still flourishes. Indigo batik is widely practiced as a folk art and is confined to the nomadic tribes who live on either side of the South China border.

These areas have maintained their social customs and traditions to this day, despite the influence of the predominantly Han culture.

The minority tribes of these provinces live in inaccessible mountain terrain and have developed a distinctive batik art. The principal ethnic groups are the Miao of Guizhou province and the Bai and Yi of Yunnan provinces. The girls learn the craft from their mothers.

Chinese Wax printing

Chinese Wax printing

The first gift a girl will give to her prospective husband would be a batik ribbon, and her dowry is considered to be the quality of her own skill, showing how indispensable batik is as part of daily life. It is little wonder that batik has become such a highly developed skill.

The patterns convey something of the joy and continuity of life.

Foremost among these tribes are the Miao, who make batik clothes and are renowned for their unique costumes combining batik with appliqué and embroidery.

Although tourism is always a threat to standards, they are carefully monitored to preserve the integrity of the art form for future generations.

The Miao originated from Kwei-Chow, but in the eighteenth century they emigrated to the Upper Tangking and the islands of Hainan. They applied their precise wax designs using a metal pen with a reservoir between two parallel sides of a triangular-shaped nib.

Women work the cloth on a smooth board, heating wax from an iron pot and drawing the pen geometrically with only the cloth folds as a guide. The cloth is fairly coarse and in dyeing indigo the color breaks through the wax resist in part to shade it blue.

Batik is one of the most traditional kinds of printing and dying technique in China, having a long history of its own. Miao is one of the ethnic groups which makes wide use of batik technique.

Famous batik of the Miao people can be found in Huangping, Danzhai and Anshun of Guizhou Province and Xuyong of Sichuan Province.

Batik in Huangping has a reputation for its delicate and intricate nature, balanced composition and harmonious color, while batik in Danzhai is distinguished by its freer, more imaginative designs and dynamic composition.

In Anshun and Zhijin, multi-colored batik is employed to produce a fine effect which excels both in color and variety.

In Xuyong, the batik pattern is exquisitely woven with colorful thread embroidery, displaying delicate qualities of elegance and ingenuity.

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