Resist-Dyeing Techniques

Resist dyeing is an artistic technique of dyeing clothing or other fabrics, resist-dyeing involves dyeing some parts of the cloth to form a pattern without colouring the entire piece. The most common resist-dyeing technique involves applying melted wax onto fabric in the desired shape or pattern using a spoon-like tool with a spout, the fabric is then immersed in the dye leaving the wax-covered areas a different colour than the rest of the cloth.

Other methods include mechanical resists like stitching or tying the fabric to prevent the dye from reaching certain parts or by using a chemical agent in one type of dye which is used to design the fabric, and a second dye is used to colour the rest of the fabric but is repelled by the chemical agent in the first dye enabling it to retain its pattern.

Two famous forms of resist dyeing include tie dye and batik. Here is some information on different resist-dyeing techniques:


Originating from the island of Java, Indonesia, batik is an ancient resist-dyeing technique with records of it being practised as far back as the 12th century. The method of batik starts off with washing, soaking and beating a cloth using a mallet, patterns are then drawn using a pencil but are later redrawn using hot wax. The wax is typically made from a mixture of paraffin and beeswax along with plant resins which act as a dye-resist. Although there are various tools that can be used to apply the wax, the most commonly used tool is known as a canting, the canting consists of a small copper reservoir with a spout connected to a wooden handle. The melted wax is poured into the reservoir which in turn leaks slowly out of the spout onto the fabric on which patterns of dots and lines are made.

A brush or a large copper stamp, called a cap, can be used for designing larger patterns. After the cloth dries the wax is removed by either boiling or scraping it off, the treated areas, however, retain their original colour when the cloth is fully dyed. The process is repeated if more colours are desired (by using a different colour dye after removing the second application of wax).

Batik is an ancient technique and has been influenced and practised by other cultures but the batik of Indonesia is the best known due to its vast range of designs and high quality. Making it can be a lengthy process, the traditional batik technique which only uses a canting, involves drawing on both sides of the cloth and dipping it in a dye bath three to four times, the entire process can take a year but the result is significantly finer than stamped batik.

Not to be regarded as just simply an art technique, historically batik has played a symbolic role in Indonesian society. In the colonial era, certain batik patterns would represent an individual’s social status and Sultan Hamengkubuwono VII of the Yogyakarta Sultanate reserved certain patterns, including the Parang Rusak and Semen Agung for the royal family making it forbidden for commoners to wear them.