Another dye bath

January 25th, 2011

Mary Edna’s studio is built specifically for batik production.  Protective gloves, mask, and a well-ventilated dye room are essential, because when the dyes are still in powder form, they create tiny airborne particles that are carcinogenic.  Mary Edna uses state-of-the-art, fiber-reactive Proceon dyes, which react chemically with the silk to become part of the cloth.  The dyes come in powder form and must be mixed with exact proportions of water, urea, calgon, baking soda, and washing soda.  Any mistake in the chemistry will cause the dyes to bleed, ruining the batik.

Testing on paper towels or scraps of fabric, Mary Edna diligently works out a satisfactory color harmony, often comparing her dyes to colors in nature.  A grid of test colors serves as a record of each layer of dyes used in the batik.

Mary Edna applies the liquid dyes with a brush or sponge.  Details require careful control of a fine tip.

The wet dye appears very dark, almost black, but when it dries, the color will be a bright blue-green.  Another dye bath will be required to achieve the contast seen here.

In general, Mary Edna works from lightest to darkest hues when dyeing a batik.  Here, she applies another layer of green to sections of a leaf.

Large areas require broad strokes worked into the fabric to keep the transitions smooth. Mary Edna works quickly to fill up any area that is continuous with the section she dyes.  If the dye is allowed to dry along an edge that isn’t waxed, strange lines or a mottled background may likely occur.  Mary Edna expertly avoids this effect.

There are still hours of work ahead in order to bring this dye bath to a close.

Batiks in progress

January 20th, 2011

Mary Edna is in a period of prolific art production.  Currently she is working on three batiks in her studio for the upcoming Kimono Silks exhibition at 214 King Street in Charleston from May 12 to June 21, 2011, coinciding with Spoleto.

Collected on Mary Edna’s last trip to Australia, this vintage damask silk has a flower motif woven into the fabric. Chrysanthemums, leaves, and stems float over the design.

This is Mary Edna’s first work capturing the realism of flowers on kimono silk.  The full moon enters the work as if reflected in a pool of water.  Chinese sumi brushes ordered from Dharma Trading Company are made from bamboo and natural fibers designed to hold up against the hot wax.  These brushes, along with the fine lines created by the tjanting tool, allow for a variety of markings.

Mary Edna’s studio doubles as a gallery space when it’s not filled up with giant batiks on silk.

Fuchsia flowers on a pale green background will dry much less vibrant for a subtlety of color and antique quality that Mary Edna anticipates.  She pins her work to wooden saw horses so that the silk can be turned easily, keeping the wax from cracking, and making dye and wax application exact.

Using a few shades of green, Mary Edna creates gradients of color to gives leaves depth and turn. Blending the pinks with greys, the background will eventually appear much more like moonlight with only a little green saved for stems and leaves.

Thick wax creates a yellowing effect in the bold flower designs. When removed, the white details will really sing. Until the work is complete, Mary Edna can only imagine the elegance of the finished art.

Three Batiks at a Time

December 11th, 2009

Thank you to all for attended the KIMONO SILKS opening night, and to my patrons for their purchases. The Exhibition will be on display until January 24, 2010 at 214 King Street.

The Waxing

December 4th, 2009

Below is the third waxing of four batiks. The silks are then dyed, waxed and dyed again.

I  just finished 7 hours of ironing out the batiks for the exhibit on December 10, next Thursday. My studio is a jumble of papers. It takes 5 minutes per square foot of ironing between newsprint to remove the wax. These vintage silks are thick and require many papers to soak up the wax. The last dye bath has the cloth almost fully covered in wax to resist the darkest layer of color. This creates depth in art, especially in aerial design. The ironing not only removes the wax but also heat sets the dye. The dye molecules bond with the cloth. After dry cleaning, I will wash the silks, sew hems, and cut poles. My photographer, Rick Rhodes, will archive them for me with color corrections in his studio.

Hope to see you at the opening or that you get a chance to drop by 214 King Street to view
the newest work.

Exhausted but happy,


The Process

December 1st, 2009

My first batik in 1974 had only 3 colors, Tree of Life, which hung in my parents home.  Since that time I have enjoyed making over 300 batiks.  Each one now may have as many as 300 colors with the combined dyebaths.  At first, close ups of Savannah’s environment, birds, and microscopic images filled my days of dyeing.  A flight over Savannah and Hilton Head Island with my dear brother and photographer, Nancy Heffernan, changed my life forever. From that day, the aerial perspective became central to my art.The meditative quality of the work, inherent in the slowness of the medium, is a gift in this fast paced world.  From the aerial photograph to the sewing of the silk, there is joy in the making of the batiks. I encourage young people to work in a field which fills them with passion.

My excursions have taken me to foreign lands and over the beloved landscapes near my home.  I have photographed the Great Wall of China and Mount Fuji from a jet.  New Mexico, Colorado, and Maine have also been a part of my adventures. When I fly with my brother, Burke, in the little Ercoupe, it is like an acrobatic dance and so much fun.  We are kids again.  With Daddy flying over the Outer Banks of NC, the trip was a dream of a lifetime. When flying with an instructor, I can easily set up the airplane for the right altitude and design.  Then I hand over the controls and photograph the landscape.

My Nikon FM2 cameras were replaced with the digital D90 last year. I also use a small Olympus 10 megapixal for travel.  All of these images of flight are stored in my brain and come to life in the studio. The silks as they receive wax and dye lead me in a flow of color, line and design.

Here are a few of the working stages of the newest Kimono Silks.  Drawing with a pencil, waxing out the white of the silk to resist the first dye bath and a second waxing and dyeing are shown below photographed by my assistant, Timothy Pakron.

Creating a Batik

October 27th, 2009

Welcome to

September 7th, 2009

Mary Edna Fraser is a master of the ancient art of batik on silk. With the largest batiks in the world, she illustrates her bird’s eye view of threatened landscapes.

Captivated by the complex patterns from the air, she’s been photographing France, Indonesia, Australia, and most of the coastal U.S. for more than a quarter century. She often illustrates the immense undeveloped coastline of her South Carolina home, where beach, marsh, and mainland entwine. She works from her creek-side studio on James Island, where she exhibits her silks and monotypes.

She has been collaborating with Dr. Orrin Pilkey since 1993 beginning with a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum exhibition. In 2003, they published A Celebration of the World’s Barrier Islands (Columbia University Press), which included about 50 batiks. Their current book and exhibition about global warming will be put out by Duke University Press in 2010.

Exhibiting and lecturing internationally, she has been featured by Duke University, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and National Geographic. Private and public collectors include, most notably, the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, the New England Aquarium in Boston, the American Embassy in Thailand, and NASA. She has many commissioned works, including a collaboration with master blacksmith Phillip Simmons at the Charleston International Airport.