Determining Right/Wrong Side of Batiks and Dyed Fabrics

For those of you about to begin your Nature’s Jewels quilt and for those of you just curious – here is my tip about how to know which side of your batik or hand-dyed fabric to use as the face-up side. 

Some quilters hesitate to call them “right” and “wrong” sides of the fabric, but the fact is, in the making of these fabrics, the wax and often the dyes are applied to one side making that a preferable side to use as the right side.  So in this article, I’ll continue to use those terms, and if you prefer to think of them differently, just translate in your mind!

Some background first…there is a difference between batiks and hand-dyed fabrics.  Batiks will have used a wax-resist technique to show a featured motif over a dyed background. 

Batiks with Motifs

Batiks with Motifs

This could be something as simple as an all-over dot pattern, or as elaborate as large flowers, foliage or geometric designs.  Dyed fabrics will not have that motif, and are more likely to look like a texture than an image. 

Dyed Fabrics

Dyed Fabrics

For an overview of how batiks are made, check out the videos here: The Batik Man and take a look at the photo galleries at the Batiks by Mirah website. 

I’m going to first show you some fabrics with obvious right and wrong sides.  After that, I’ll show fabrics used in Nature’s Jewels.  I’ll bet after you see a few examples, you’ll be able to tell without my help.

I always find with batiks (with a motif), it is easier first to look for the WRONG side.  The batik below is a good example.  The first photo shows the wrong side.  Places where wax was used – in this case in large quantities – have small splotches or spots on the motif that is obviously not part of the intended design.  This just means that the wax didn’t fully saturate through the fabric.

Speckles - Wrong Side

Speckles – Wrong Side

Looking at the same area on the right side, the motif is clearer and more filled in with color.

No Speckles- Right Side

No Speckles- Right Side

So the clearer side is the right side – the side the wax was applied.  Can you use both sides as the right side?  If your pieces are small – sure.  But if you are using large pieces or using it for borders where you want to be consistent on all 4 side, better to stick with just one choice – whichever you prefer (in this case the right side is definitely more attractive).

Here’s another similar example:

Wrong Side

Wrong Side

See all of the splotches in the turquoise motif?  Now see the view of the right side.

Right Side

Right Side

Definitely clearer.  Don’t worry about every last line or dot – some of those seen in the above photo are part of the nature of the wax and of the process.  I just look for the side with fewer of the discrepancies, because I pefer the motif to look crisper and clearer. 

Here’s a batik with attaractive qualities on both sides.  The wrong side is shown on top, and the more yellow right side on bottom.  Notice more of the blue comes through in the square motif on the bottom half.  I would tend to use both sides just for fun, especially in a scrappy quilt, because they are each so interesting. 

Yellow/Red Batik

And here is a dyed fabric, where it is obvious the dyes were added to the right side of the fabric (top half of the photo), giving a richer, more intense appearance.  In this case, I wouldn’t use the wrong side (bottom half of photo) at all – unless it suited a specific purpose.

Dyed Fabric -- Right and Wrong Sides

Dyed Fabric — Right and Wrong Sides

OK – so now you have a pretty good idea of what to look for – more intense color and clarity of the motif.  We’ll look at the fabrics used in Nature’s Jewels.  I’ve used about half batiks and half hand-dyes in this project, and I’ll admit that on some it’s hard to tell which is the right side.  And again – if it’s too much work to distinguish, just use the pieces as they come.  Oh – I should tell you that there is no consistency as to which side is face out on a bolt of fabric.  It could be the right or the wrong side so don’t use that as your guide!

Leaf Batik - Wrong Side

Leaf Batik – Wrong Side

I’ll start with the batiks – especially the ones with more wax coverage (larger motifs).  The main leaf print is a perfect example.  Both of these photos (above and below) show speckles on the leaf design – both show the wrong side.

More Spots on Leaf Print

More Spots on Leaf Print

I didn’t bother to show right side because you can just imagine that the leaves are more filled in and clearer on the right side.  The same goes with the peacock feather motif below.

Feathers - Speckled Side

Feathers – Speckled Side

I chose the most obvious places to point out the speckles.  But another thing to look out for on these batiks is that the overall colors of the background and motifs are prettier, richer and more colorful on the right side.

In the green filligree batik, see the wrong side then right side – look at the lighter portions of the motif.  I’ll bet you’re getting the hang if it now!

Green Batik -- Wrong Side

Green Batik — Wrong Side

Green Batik -- Right Side

Green Batik — Right Side

Now moving on to some of the smaller motifs – the polka dots – that have less wax coverage.  These are harder to tell but I think the Midnight with big dots is the easiest: 

Circles Less Distinct

Circles Less Distinct

The dots aren’t clear so they don’t show on the background as well as they do in the photo below.

Well-Defined Circles

Well-Defined Circles

The batiks with the small dots are even hearder to distinguish, but the orange dot definitely has a more attractive side.

Rich VS dull Sides

Rich VS Dull Sides

Notice how much brighter the top half is and how much clearer the dots are on the top (right side).  Can you tell the difference on the cream dot below?

Cream Dots

Cream Dots

I like the upper right side because there is so much more color in the dots.  And another reason I chose to use that side is because of the huge value difference between this fabric and ALL of the others in the Nature’s Jewels quilt.  So I chose the side that bridged the gap a little better.  If I had used the lighter side, the difference would have been even greater (maybe too great).

Moving on to the dyed fabrics from Nature’s Jewels, I almost always choose the side with more details. That means more value difference, more speckly places – just more interest.  So that means it is usually easier to find the RIGHT side on these fabrics.

Tons of Detail

Tons of Detail

Still gorgeous, but less distinction.

Fewer Distinct Details

Fewer Distinct Details

I confess – even though this is one of the most amazing fabrics, I chose to use the wrong side face up because I felt that the right side was too busy for this project.  The sharp lines on the right side created a false impression of a seam that I didn’t want.  And in the border elements where I used this fabric, I tried to use the pieces that were the most green and the least red so that they looked different from the red squares opposite each of these pieces.

Gold Dyed Fabric - Speckled Side

Gold Dyed Fabric – Speckled Side

Here’s another dyed fabric in the quilt.  Above you can see more speckles – more details. Below – less interest.  OK – I admit it’s harder to tell on this one. 

Gold Dyed Fabric - Fewer Speckles

Gold Dyed Fabric – Fewer Speckles

So when you do your quilt, don’t worry about it!  What was more important here was the flow from one piece to the next (see the center portion of the quilt).  That meant using whichever side achieved the best continuity.

And the last one I have to show if the beautiful blue Bayou dyed fabric.  Both sides warmed my insides, but I preferred the side that showed more of the green mixed in.

Blue/Green Dyed Fabric

Blue/Green Dyed Fabric

Now that you know how to tell one side from the other, how important is it that you pay attention to the right and wrong side of the fabrics? It’s only as important as you want to make it.  Here are some points to consider:

  • You can use either or both sides of these fabrics and still have an effective quilt. 
  • Sometimes you may choose the brighter side because you intend to make a brighter quilt, and the same holds true for the opposite – you may choose the less vibrant side to tame down a fabric.
  • If you can’t tell – or have to struggle to tell the difference on a fabric, then just take the pieces as they come.  Don’t spend the extra time if the overall effect will be the same.

This is a subject that I can go on and on about, but I hope this is enough to let you stop wondering if there is a right and wrong side. 

I’d love to hear feedback.  Look for more tips soon!

About laurieshifrin

I am a quilt designer, author, quilting teacher and lecturer.
This entry was posted in Laurie's Quilt Designs, Nature's Jewels and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Determining Right/Wrong Side of Batiks and Dyed Fabrics

  1. Jo Anne Watson says:

    Thank you for making it so easy. I’m using batik to make a caftan, so it does matter.

    • Glad to be a help, Jo Anne. Finding the right and wrong sides of batiks is one of the fun pleasures I get from working with batiks. I know that sounds odd, but I feel that taking the extra time adds to the overall look of the project. I hope you have fun with the caftan.

  2. Christine says:

    this was excellent! I have wonder a many of times what the right side was flipping the fabric over a couple of dozen times….thanks

  3. Diane says:

    I am just discovering batiks and just discovered your blog. Thank you for your insight. It is very helpful.

  4. LJ says:

    This is so helpful! I just received a jelly roll of batiks–my first foray into this beautiful world of fabrics, and I was specifically looking for instruction on how to tell the right side from the wrong side (after I cut them all into 2.5″ squares). This was the first and only link I needed. Thank you for making it so easy.

  5. Fran says:

    Thank you! Very helpful. I’ve always wondered so finally decided to google some guidance on figuring out right and wrong sides. I think I have pretty much been doing it right over the years. I have one of your books and made a quilt from a pattern in it years ago!

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