How I Built a Batik Factory in my Back Garden and Coronavirus Saved our Bacon
Updated: Jul 23
MAKING LEMONADE OUT OF LEMONS
Sometimes, when I am not feeling very inspired, I sit down at my wax pot in the studio and just doodle with wax on a white scarf, for I have found that working on anything is far better than not working at all. It is an easy, fairly mindless approach to batik and to art but often develops into something good.
This was the case one day a few months ago when I finished a scarf that I batiked with rather organic patterns all over and had dyed a couple of colors. I boiled the wax off it and posted the result on-line. My friend Regis responded by saying that my patterns looked like coronaviruses — and please would I batik a coronavirus scarf for her?
I have to admit that my initial reaction was not very enthusiastic. The idea of putting images of a virus on a scarf seemed — well — a bit tacky and slightly distasteful. Like I was being called upon to glorify and even sanitize a tragic situation. But a commission is a commission; the Shalawalla Gallery was closed for the foreseeable future, and we needed cash.
My first coronavirus (CV) scarf was a rather simple and plain version of what was to follow later. Getting the images of the virus right took a bit of doing. I didn’t really want them to be too menacing — yet not too nice. I didn’t want them to be too cartoony, or too literal. Perhaps I was trying to find something attractive in something so lethal and ugly. It was a challenge.
First the images had to be drawn on the cloth. I chose a very familiar image of the virus, a sphere with protrusions, rather like a WW2 floating mine. A disaster waiting to happen.
Once I got a drawing down, the waxing started and I outlined the virus with tiny white dots to soften its lines and to make the virus seem slightly diaphanous. The first scarf had a sold grey body, the dye painted in to give the virus sphere a rounded look. The background was dyed a dark violet color. Then the wax was boiled off and I had my first CV scarf.
Regis was very happy with her coronavirus scarf and posted a picture of herself wearing it, her whole face obscured. I posted the image on Facebook and immediately got another order from a friend. This time, the colors were the same but I batiked a pattern of lines and clusters of dots in the background to give the scarf a slightly more organic or cellular appearance. The images had become denser and more interesting.
When I posted my second CV scarf effort on Facebook, the whole thing started to take off. I got more orders for scarves with different colors. Some scarves had much brighter colors, reds and greens and blues. My viruses became infinitely more cheerful and less forbidding.
By now, I was working exclusively on scarves and had put all my other batik projects on hold. All available studio space was covered with scarves in different stages of completion. Our drying line in the garden was festooned with lively bright viruses, flapping in the wind. And I sent scarves away to new owners all over the world: the UK, Sweden, New Zealand, as well as all over the USA. We were in business.
I kept thinking that this was a design, a project and product with a very short shelf life. But as the pandemic spread and intensified, the orders kept coming in. Soon I had Beth helping me with some of the waxing and especially the dyeing for the scarves are rather work-intensive. We tried out new colors. A friend suggested that we have the design printed on silk by the bolt in China but I resisted this idea, thinking that what I was selling were hand-painted, individual and unique scarves. Customers were ordering the colors that they wanted — scarves that matched their jewelry, clothes, or personality.
The coronavirus itself is getting us through the hardship of this pandemic.
And far from being a repulsive image or idea, the scarves had become something else entirely. Firstly, they were increasingly cheerful, colorful and attractive. I had started adding a 2020 date on each one. The scarves had become not only a record of a strange time for all humanity, but a souvenir of a time that none of us would — or could — ever forget. For some, a coronavirus scarf was a talisman to wear around one’s neck to ward off the virus or even celebrate still being healthy and alive. But above all, the scarves were fun and each unique. No two were the same as it was impossible to exactly repeat each design.
Will I want to do this forever? Probably not but I have to admit that there is a satisfaction in getting the enemy to work for us. The coronavirus itself is getting us through the hardship of this pandemic. We have never done any kind of mass-produced Batik before and I am finding it an interesting discipline and a fulfilling experience.