China has a long history of batik production dating back to the sixth century. Today you can still find batik being done by the ethnic people in Guizhou Province, in the South-West of China. Here the Miao, Bouyei and Gejia people use a dye resist method that is different from the Han Chinese. There are also many different sub groups within the Miao minority. The Miao place great emphasis on their costumes which are made up of decorative fabrics which they achieve by pattern weaving and wax resist. Almost all the Miao decorate hemp and cotton (not silk) by applying hot wax then dipping the cloth in an indigo dye. The cloth is then used for skirts, panels on jackets, aprons and baby carriers.
Indigo is used chiefly for the basic cloth throughout Guizo to give dark blues. A paste is made from the harvested plants which have been soaked in a wooden barrel.
Wax resisted fabric was probably one of the earliest forms of decoration in Guizhou as all the materials were at hand. Beeswax is the main ingredient but other resins or wax are possibly added. The wax resist never exploits crackle, the aim is to produce a clear image and beeswax is both tenacious and flexible. The wax is often heated in a little pot, resting in hot embers.
Once applied the wax appears black on the fabric but at the end of the process the wax is removed from the fabric. The fabric is then rinsed in cool water and air dried. The beeswax can be reused.
The usual tools for applying wax are of copper and brass with bamboo handles. They are made from 2 small triangular pieces of metal, their apexes bound to a bamboo holder by copper wire. It is held like a pen either upright or at a slant to the cloth which is laid flat on a board. This tool lends itself to the drawing of straight or slightly curving lines.
The Miao, Gejia and Bouyei girls are highly skilled at batik. They use very finely drawn circular and double spiral designs representing the horns of the water buffalo, symbolising their ancestor's life and death. Girls start learning to produce batik from the age of 6 and 7 years. The finest work is found on baby carriers, sleeves of their jackets and skirts. The more traditional designs are geometric, where the most skilled wax resist reads as a fine blue line on a white ground. With the influence of the Han Chinese more figurative designs like flowers, birds, fish have been introduced over the centuries.
Reproduced from The Art of Batik, written and published by The Batik Guild, 1999