Cantings are the tools which are used to apply wax in batik. They are little pens with a bamboo or wooden handle and a copper bowl and are the most accurate way of applying wax. Cantings were invented in Java and the word is actually Javanese, although you may sometimes still see it spelled in the old Dutch form - tjanting.
As the finest batik in the world is without a doubt produced in Java, then it makes sense to use the tool which has been developed over the centuries to do the right job.
A Javanese canting is made of a wooden handle and a thin copper bowl and spout. The spout is important as it is by looking at the size of the hole in the spout that you can gauge the flow of wax you will have coming out
There are basically five spout sizes, although since they are hand made, they are not always completely uniform. They range from extremely fine through fine, medium, medium-wide and wide. If you wrap a little cloth round the end of the spout, the widest cantings work excellently as a substitute for a brush.
We also have double, triple and multiple spout cantings. The doubles work well and can make lovely swirls. They are also useful for drawing the outline to a line which you may then fill in with wax. The multiple spouts are much more difficult to use as they need the wax at a perfect temperature, however they are very interesting as examples. They are usually used to make little dotty patterns and we have lots of batik samples where this kind of canting has been used to create textured backgrounds.
Basically, the finer the spout, the hotter you need your wax as it will flow out more slowly. Some people find the wide spouts hard to control as the wax flows so quickly - however this can be a great source of freedom and is great for doing some wonderful large pieces such as banners. The fine spouts are ideal for detailed work, which a brush simply can't give you. I recommend a medium wide spout for children.
Look at the angle of the spout. This is the angle you should hold it at. In other words it is not designed to be used with your work flat on the table but with it held up at an angle of about 45°. In Java, the women have a large piece of cloth draped over a stand or just put a hand behind the cloth to make a writing board for the canting. If you are working with your work pinned to a frame, prop it up against the table. If you can train yourself to work like this, you will have far fewer drips because your canting is now much more controlled and it only needs a very slight movement of the wrist to stop or start the flow.
You need to heat up the wax to a hot temperature. If you are serious about batik I recommend you get a proper thermostatically controlled waxpot which will stay for as long as you want at the required temperature. (unfortunately we are having trouble getting these at the moment) I personally have had a lot of success with an electric frying pan (also thermostatically controlled) The added bonus is that you can also used it for our copper stamps.
If you just want to try batik out first, you can use a small pan heated on a hotplate, camping stove or cooker. Don't expect to be able to use the pan for anything else afterwards!
There are various types of wax. A beginner will probably be happiest using our batik wax mix. However we also stock pure white paraffin wax, pure beeswax flakes and soya wax. Make sure the wax gets hot, but turn it down when it starts to smoke. Put your canting in to the hot wax for a couple of minutes to heat up before you start. The copper bowl will retain the heat and keep the wax warm enough to work with for longer. Scoop some wax up into the canting; you only need to fill the bowl about half way.
Apart from the drips, one of the biggest problems people have in batik is not having the wax hot enough. It should be translucent when it goes onto the cloth and fully penetrate to the back. Look at the back of your piece before you apply any dye. If it is not as clear as on the front you will not have a perfect resist and dye will seep in. Now rewax the bits on the back with the canting. It's worth it!
Practice always makes perfect, so enjoy using your cantings.
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