How to Easy/Simple Batik with Gel Glue
Ever since I saw members of my infinitely creative extended family create batik Easter eggs over a decade ago, I have been in love with batiking. Unfortunately, it has been an unrequited love. My cousins, aunt, and uncle sat down, used some candle wax and a toothpick, and created masterful designs. I, on the other hand, have created hideous messes on eggs, socks, shirts, bandanas, and who knows what else.
Now, I am excited to share an inexpensive, easy batik technique using gel glue. While it is easy, you need to work carefully to create something you'd rather wear than sneak into the trash. Each of my steps and suggestions comes from hard-won experience - let my decade of fumbles guide you to the perfect results without years of trying!
What is Batik?
Batik is an ancient technique that is dated to the 4th century BCE in Egypt. Other forms of batik were practiced in China and Japan starting in the 7th century CE, and it has been practiced in Indonesia for well over 1000 years. Traditional batik uses a technique called wax resist dying where wax is used to prevent a dye from penetrating a fabric in specific places in order to create a pattern. Complex batiks involve several layers of dye, can take months to make, and can cost upwards of $1000 a yard today! Even though batik is an ancient art form, it did not appear in Europe until the early 19th century.
The batik produced with this gel glue method is, obviously, not as elaborate as traditional wax resist dying techniques, but it will allow you to create personalized shirts, aprons, bags, pillow cases, and whatever else you would like to dye.
You will need:
- White, natural fiber items to dye, like a white cotton t-shirt
- Blue gel glue
- A large plastic box lid
- A box of powdered Rit dye
- Latex or latex alternative gloves
- A bin, like a dishpan, for creating the dye bath
- A glass or metal container that can hold at least 2 cups
- How to Dye with Natural Indigo Powder
Learn how to dye using natural indigo instead of Rit dye.
How to Batik with Gel Glue
Creating your own customized fabric items is easy, as long as you follow these steps carefully. If you are tempted to take short cuts, don't! I have included a few pictures of how things will look if you don't follow the steps! While the instructions are written for a t-shirt, you can dye any natural fiber textile item using this technique.
- Assemble your materials. You need a white cotton t-shirt, gel glue, something waterproof (like a large plastic box lid) to slide inside the shirt, a box of Rit dye, protective vinyl, nitrile, or latex gloves, and a bucket or container for your dye bath. You may also want stencils and/or inspirational quotations to help you decorate your shirt. Additionally, you may want plastic, like an unused trash bag, to protect your floors or counter from the dye.
- Saturate the t-shirt with cold water and then wring it out gently. It should be wet, but not dripping. If it is too wet, the glue will soak in and spread out, blurring your lettering and designs.
- Pull the shirt over the plastic box lid, as if the lid were wearing the shirt. If you do not separate the two layers with something waterproof, the glue will soak through and you'll end up with a weird mirror-image design on your back.
- Get decorating! You can use stencils, as long as you hold them in place carefully and then lift them straight off to avoid smearing the glue. You may also want to add your favorite quotation(s). Writing with gel glue is kind of like writing on a chalk board or dry erase board. It's surprisingly easy, but I recommend practicing on a sheet of paper to get the hang of it.
- After you're finished decorating, allow the shirt to lie flat until it is completely dry. Make sure to keep the plastic piece inside the shirt while it is drying. This will probably take several hours.
Steps for Glue BatikClick thumbnail to view full-size
Do not simply hang the dyed shirt to dry! The dye will run and color will leach from the shirt's back into the lettering on the front.
Let your shirt dry flat and you'll be rewarded with legible lettering and even color.
Using Rit Dye
After your shirt is completely dry, it is ready to dye. The dye package recommends using hot water, but the gel glue is water soluble and hot water can quickly wash it away! Instead, you need to make sure the dye is fully dissolved in warm water, but create a cold water dye bath.
- If you are dying a couple of shirts, pour about half of the powdered dye into a nonporous container. By using a glass or metal vessel, you can easily clean the dye off instead of ruining a piece of kitchen equipment!
- Heat two cups of water on the stove, in the microwave, or in an electric kettle until it is boiling. If you are using a non-tempered glass container, allow the water to cool slightly before adding it to the dye powder. Pouring boiling water into non-tempered glass is a great way to shatter the glass!
- Stir with a metal utensil to fully dissolve the dye powder and allow the liquid to sit until slightly cool.
- Fill your dye bath container with cool water.
- If your container isn't stable in your sink, protect your counter with a plastic bag and move the dye container. While you're at it, place plastic down to protect your belongings while the dyed shirt dries. I recommend placing a trash bag on your counter or, if no one needs it for a few hours, in your bathtub.
- Add the concentrated dye to the cool water.
- Put on your gloves!
- Carefully submerge your shirt in the water. Move it around a bit to ensure your hands or folds in the fabric don't block the dye's access to any portion of the shirt. Be careful not to agitate the shirt too much, though, or you risk rubbing the glue off.
- The amount of time you need to leave the shirt in the dye depends on the shirt's material, the dye's strength, and what you want the shirt to look like. When it has the color you want, remove it from the dye bath and gently wring it out. Do not wring it so much that all the dye is removed, but make sure it won't drip on your floor!
- Insert the waterproof barrier from earlier back in the shirt.
- Place the shirt on your prepared protected area and wait for it to dry.
- Once the shirt is dry, refill your dye basin with warm, soapy water and dissolve a cup of salt in the water. The salt helps the color set when you dye cotton fabrics with Rit dye. Let the shirt soak in this water and wash it by hand to remove the last traces of glue.
- Enjoy your customized shirt!
How to Dye with Rit DyeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Easy Custom T-Shirts
As long as you follow the steps carefully and diligently you can create your own customized...well...anything! Anything you can find in a white natural fiber, that is. This is a great way to remake an old shirt, create a new one, or make a fully customizable gift. Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions!