Design Your Own Batik Fabrics (Easy Techniques for Beginners)
Batik Is Unique (And Chic!)
Do you still think batik is old-fashioned and belongs in the 1970s? Well, just check all the fabric stores, eBay, Amazon and the special online quilt shops for modern examples: Designers like Robert Kaufman, Kaffe Fassett and Moda Fabrics include batik patterns in their latest collections. And if you love fashion, you always try to find your own style and underline your individuality, right? Well, with batik, you can create unique looks not only by sewing or designing your clothes, but by even designing your own fabric in the materials and colors you love.
Batik fabrics can be used for all kinds of sewing and textile work like quilts, dresses, blankets, bedcovers, tablecloths, table runners, skirts, tops, pants, coats, bags and even carpets. Nothing can beat your own unique style, and you can't beat the feeling of "it's mine—I created it". So, go for it!
Learn How to Batik Your Fabrics
In this article, we'll look at:
- important tips before you begin the process
- key supplies and things you need
- step-by-step instructions for making a basic batik with the knot method
- how to adjust the basic steps for the wax technique (and how you can use this method for Easter eggs)
- how to adjust the basic steps for the salt method (and how you can practice first on paper)
- other batik techniques, including the fold method and the wrap technique
- how you can adjust or change the colors in your batik fabric after it's dried
- other creative tips for your projects
Before You Start: Tips for Beginners
Try the Knot Technique First
There are many different batik techniques to batik, but the easiest way is to take some fabric or piece of clothing and make different knots in it before dyeing. If you're a beginner who's never really tried to batik (or if you haven't done it since your childhood), you should try out this simple knot technique first, just to become familiar with coloring your fabrics and clothes. Use a small piece of fabric or just an old white t-shirt. The knot technique will keep some dye away from parts of your fabric, so the result will be white rings on a newly-colored t-shirt.
Use Light Color Fabrics
I recommended an old white t-shirt, but of course, you could batik a colored t-shirt as well. The only thing you should keep in mind is that it is always easier to color lighter fabrics than darker ones. If you color a darker t-shirt, the result can only be an even darker t-shirt. You could try to use yellow dye to turn your red t-shirt into an orange one—but your resulting colors will probably be a very dark orange and a dark rust red. The lighter your fabrics, the more you can play with the colors.
Use Old T-Shirts, Sheets or Curtains
If you'd like to use more than just a t-shirt because you're planning to sew your own batik clothes, look at what you already have at home before you buy any fabrics just to batik them. You can use old bedding or solid-color curtains, for example, to create your self-designed fabrics. I use white bed sheets found at IKEA. They are 100% cotton, inexpensive and enough fabric to use for a sewing project later.
- Cooker or stove
- Some large old bowls or pots
- Paintbrushes in different sizes
- Vinegar (clear or pale)
- Aluminium foil
- Clothes pins (preferably plastic)
- Batik wax
- Ties, string, bands, cotton threads or wool threads
- Fabrics or old clothes made of cotton or silk (or any other natural material)
- Batik color dye (but you can also use other dyes or paints made to color fabrics)
How to Do a Simple Circle Batik Using the Knot Method
Here are the first steps for a simple batik. The color treatments are always the same for all batik techniques.
- Heat water in a pot on your cooker or stove to a little more than 60°C (140°F), and then put it in an old bowl. Use one bowl for each color.
- Dissolve the color powders into the hot water and stir.
- If you like, put some vinegar into the water. Vinegar makes the fabric more receptive and the colors more durable.
- Make knots in your fabric. You can make as many knots you want or get as fancy as you like (or just follow the picture below).
- Put your knotted fabric into the dyed water and leave it in it as long as you need or want. The duration really depends on how light or dark you want your batik to be, but keep in mind that wet colors always look darker.
- Take your fabric out and put it in an empty bowl where it can lose rest of the colored water for a moment. Put it then on a drying rack and let all of it dry.
- As soon as your fabric is dry, you can open up the knots. You could also try to open the knots earlier—compare your results. This is really a question of taste. If you open the knots after drying, the white lines in the fabric will be sharper.
- Iron your dried fabric. Then you should wash it out softly, by hand. Dry it again and iron it again.
- It is recommended that you wash your batik fabrics 3–5 times by hand until there's no more color running out. After that, you can put it the washing machine along with other clothes of similar colors.
How to Batik Using the Wax Technique
- Never use normal wax for batiks. The real batik wax contains more paraffin, which makes it softer and easier to remove afterwards.
- You can drop the wax, paint it on with a paintbrush, or draw lines and patterns with a fine tool like a syringe (without any needle, of course) before your coloring process.
- Let the wax dry before you put the fabric into the hot dye, and keep a close eye on the wax. Take the fabric out before the wax gets too soft. As soon as the wax breaks away, the fabric will take on the color at this point.
- Remove the wax after the fabric is dried out by ironing it with blotting paper. Sometimes you can even already pull it away with your fingers—but you should know that this will roughen your fabric.
Use This Method for Easter Eggs, Too
This wax method can also be used for coloring and designing decorations like Easter eggs, as seen in the picture below. Decorating eggs with a wax technique is much easier and faster than scratching out the pattern you'd like.
To decorate and design these type of eggs, you traditionally use actual eggs: hardboiled or blown out. You could possibly use wooden eggs, which you can find in any arts and crafts store, but you'll probably have difficulties coloring wooden eggs with a wax method. You could simply paint those instead.
Tip: After you've let the color dry and removed the wax, you might want your eggs to shine and shimmer: Simply take a little piece of bacon and slather them. (Some clear varnish would do for the wooden eggs.)
How to Batik With the Salt Method
This method produces some fascinating results!
- With this technique, you don't have to prepare your fabric. Just put it into the dye for as long as you want, and take it out whenever you think you've achieved your desired result.
- Spread the fabric over a drying rack and sprinkle salt on it. Be creative and generous. The salt will absorb some of the dye and produce some wonderful and very natural patterns.
- Let the fabric dry with the salt on it, and then wash it out by hand.
Tips for Practicing This Method on Paper
If you are not used to working with dyes, there is a way to try this method without potentially ruining any clothes or fabric. It just takes a little patience, along with:
- a sheet of watercolor paper
- a soft watercolor paintbrush
- a little water
- watercolor paints
- a piece of fabric (just in case you need to dab some water off)
- First, wet your sheet of watercolor paper—which, by the way, should stay fixed in the pad of paper, just as you bought it. The fixed paper can't become too warped or uneven from the water. An unfixed, single sheet of paper will become too warped when it's wet and therefore will be more difficult to paint on.
- Take your wet brush and paint just a little water all over the paper.
- After that, add some watercolor paint to your brush and dip it into the water that's already on your sheet. It doesn't matter which color—if you like it colorful, you can use more than one! Just continue to add drops until the whole sheet is full of color.
- Let it dry for a minute (depending how much water you used) and then put some standard table salt over it.
- Try different portions of salt: a pinch of salt in one edge, a little more in another, less salt in another edge and so on. Maybe you scatter the salt in circles or hearts—whatever you like. You get the idea.
- Now leave it alone and let it dry. Don't put it on or near any heat, because the salt will melt.
- As soon as the color is really dry, you can use a hand brush and take the salt off over your sink. The result will show you what kind of batik you could potentially create with your fabric!
Other Batik Techniques
You could even paint a batik fabric design! But here are some easier ways that you should try before you become a professional fabric and clothing designer. Keep in mind that the dyeing and treatment process is always the same as mentioned above with the knot method.
The Fold Method
Simply take your fabric or piece of clothing and fold it several times. You can be loose and creative or totally neat—the results will be surprising. After you've folded your fabric, you should take a band and tie the fabric up like a parcel. The ties and the folds will absorb less dye and you'll see some interesting patterns afterwards. You could also use clothespins to secure the folds.
The Wrap Technique
Wrap your fabric as closely as you can with cotton ties. Again, you can wrap it in a chaotic manner, or you can use your own precise system.
How to Fix the Colors After Your Batik Has Dried
Before you wear your new batik clothing, you should, of course, wash it till all colors are completely dry. Washing will take out or fade some colors, but here some tips how to fix the colors when your piece of batik is really dry.
- If you like a lighter, more pastel color, wash your fabric by hand in warm water. This should be a fast and short wash—it's best done under running water. Use either only a little drop of mild detergent or none at all. Dry the fabric in the air on a washing line (this is best done outside, as the dyes will still run out), and iron it afterward.
- If your colors are too strong, just wash your fabric a little longer, but in the same way as above. Dry it in the air as described, and iron it afterward.
- If you would like to keep your colors as they are, just let them dry and iron them. Afterward, you hang your fabric on a washing line. The air will do the rest. You can wash it the next day as described.
- You also can bathe the batik pieces in vinegar after the colors have dried, and then wash them. I personally don't like the smell and still don't get how the vinegar can fix the color, but it is commonly said that it will help.
- The next time you want to wash your batik fabric, you should do it by hand. Continue to do this as long as it could still stain other fabrics/clothes.
Be Creative With Your Self-Designed Fabric
All the techniques mentioned here can be mixed and used in different color layers. In other words, you could first do the batik in one color, wax the dry result again in another pattern and color it again with another color. It's also possible to add some more batik dye with brushes when the fabric is dry. The batik process can become really creative if you try working with embroidered fabrics, too. Enjoy your creativity and the process of creating something new!
© 2014 Elisabeth Meier