02 April, 2012

B is for Batik

As a quilter, I go through a lot of fabric. My absolute favorites are imported batiks. Batiks are high quality, hand-dyed (often with a wax-resist technique) fabrics that are - usually but not always - imported from Bali, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. Some American manufacturers dye their own fabric here, but most batiks are imported. The dense, cotton base fabric, however, comes from all over the world, including the US.

Why do I love batiks? There are a couple of big reasons.

Thread Count. Most quilter cottons and prints are made of high thread count fabrics. These 75 thread count fabrics need stiffness and limited stretch to accept the pattern being printed on the front surface and to keep it from being distorted, but batiks, often made of pima cotton of 200 thread count or more, take this number even higher with a denser, crisper fabric that's great for complete dye absorption. Batiks are never 'flimsy', barely shrink, and resist fraying. They also have a very luxurious drape and hand.

Batik on left, quilting cotton on right. Can you see the thread count difference?
One downside to the high thread count density of batiks is that some sewing machines have a difficult time working through the fabric and it is much harder to hand quilt. Since my machine (a Pfaff) has never had a bit of trouble, and I don't hand quilt, these issues don't impact me, but I have several quilting friends who do not like batiks because of the difficulty of getting a needle through them.
A batik (left) and a quilter cotton (right) of similar coloring. Front of fabrics shown.
Color density. Most quilting cottons are, as mentioned above, printed on one side and the reverse is much, much paler in color, merely a ghostly mirror image of the front (see below). Since the surface dyes don't go all the way through the fabric, print fabrics tend to have a traditional looking flatness of color, even when several tones and tints are printed on the surface. Batiks, on the other hand, with their clear-through coloring, are luminous. Both sides of the fabric can be used. They resist fading, since the dye goes clear through, and even after many washings, they remain bright and vibrant.

A batik (left) and a quilter cotton (right) of similar coloring. Back of fabrics shown.
I've been quilting with batiks for about fifteen years now (I was an early adopter ;) and I make primarily scrappy quilts which, to me, are quilts with a wide variety of different fabrics. I've noticed that I can stick a batik or two into a primarily print-fabric quilt and the batiks will visually pop out, but if I put a print fabric into a primarily batik quilt, the prints just lay there dull and lifeless. So, when I plan a quilt, I consider the way the various fabrics interplay with one another and, usually, either use all prints, all batiks, or make a very scrappy quilt with a fairly even distribution between the two.

Cleopatra's Fan, all print fabric.
Cleopatra's Fan, all batik.
I have hundreds of batiks in my stash and they've become, by far, my fabrics of choice!


Jean said...

I can see why they are your favorite fabric. I've never been fond of printed on fabrics. I much prefer a dyed fabric. Much harder to find these days.

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

I have some batiks waiting for me for my next quilt project (after I finish this eternal hand-quilting project I'm working on for my son). I'll admit I haven't bought them often because they're more expensive than most basic quilting cotton prints.

Love your pictures!

Tammy Jones said...

Jean, Most quilt shops carry a good range of hand-dyed and batik fabrics.

Tammy Jones said...

Thanks, Erin!!

Yeah, they can get a little pricey, but almost all fabrics are shooting up in price, due to some issue with last year's cotton crop.

Maripat said...

Wow...Tammy...the fabrics are gorgeous.