The process can be complicated when using more than one dye colour to create complex designs, as layers of wax must be removed and reapplied to achieve the wanted design.
The technique originates in Indonesia, from where it spread around the world with the influence of trade or cultural exchange. In The Gambia, it was traditionally mainly used to dye materials for ceremonial dresses. The batik dyeing technique was common and appreciated before industrially dyed materials overflowed the markets. The skills of batik dyeing were always associated with the Serahule ethnic group and passed from one generation to another. Today, only a few people still pursue these skills, which was one of the main reasons for Musa to revive the tradition and start training for Gambian youth and visitors of The Gambia.
My Gambia team joined the workshop held by Musa, who is behind all batik-dyed materials used in costume design for the movie The Woman King, which was released in September 2022. He was happy to share the process with us.
First, we measured and cut the white material, which we later dyed. It is best to use 100% cotton as it soaks in the dye the best. Using a pencil or charcoal, we sketched a pattern or design of our choice - a flower. We melted candle wax in a metal cup over the charcoal burner. We applied it with the brush (some also use a drawing tool called genti), creating a middle-sized line.
Once the wax had dried and hardened, it was time to prepare the dye. The dye can usually be bought as a powder, so it needs to be mixed with hot water, which we heated on the charcoal burner in a clean pot. After we mixed the dye, we allowed it to cool down to avoid melting the wax, which could destroy the pattern.
We sank the white cloth with a pattern inside when the dye cooled down and let the dye soak in. Then we hung the fabric and allowed it to dry completely. We then washed the material in hot water to allow the wax to melt, leaving a clean pattern to show. The last part of the process was allowing the material to dry again while we were able to enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal with Musa and his family.
When creating multi-coloured patterns, one should always start with bright colours first (yellow, orange, red), followed by darker colours. It is very time-consuming as every colour layer must dry first before washing it out with hot water and moving to the next colour.
Interested in participating? Attend the workshop with Musa and create your unique Gambian souvenir.