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How to Easy/Simple Batik with Gel Glue

Updated on August 6, 2013
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Easy Batik

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!

Javanese aristocrats wearing intricate batik
Javanese aristocrats wearing intricate batik | Source

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 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Batik

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Wet your textiles and wring them out slightly so they aren't dripping.Pull the item over something large and water proof, like a plastic box lid. Simply apply the gel glue where you want it.You can use stencils to create patterns, just make sure to hold the stencil firmly in place and remove it by lifting straight up so you do not smear the glue.Can you see the glue outline of the Eiffel Tour?Stencil anything you'd like, or add your own, free-hand text.
Wet your textiles and wring them out slightly so they aren't dripping.
Wet your textiles and wring them out slightly so they aren't dripping. | Source
Pull the item over something large and water proof, like a plastic box lid.
Pull the item over something large and water proof, like a plastic box lid. | Source
Simply apply the gel glue where you want it.
Simply apply the gel glue where you want it. | Source
You can use stencils to create patterns, just make sure to hold the stencil firmly in place and remove it by lifting straight up so you do not smear the glue.
You can use stencils to create patterns, just make sure to hold the stencil firmly in place and remove it by lifting straight up so you do not smear the glue. | Source
Can you see the glue outline of the Eiffel Tour?
Can you see the glue outline of the Eiffel Tour? | Source
Stencil anything you'd like, or add your own, free-hand text.
Stencil anything you'd like, or add your own, free-hand text. | Source
You can tell if the glue is dry by looking at it. See how part of the stenciled bird's body looks wet?
You can tell if the glue is dry by looking at it. See how part of the stenciled bird's body looks wet? | Source
Source

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.

The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea ~ Isak Dineson
The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea ~ Isak Dineson | Source

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. Stir with a metal utensil to fully dissolve the dye powder and allow the liquid to sit until slightly cool.
  4. Fill your dye bath container with cool water.
  5. 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.
  6. Add the concentrated dye to the cool water.
  7. Put on your gloves!
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. Insert the waterproof barrier from earlier back in the shirt.
  11. Place the shirt on your prepared protected area and wait for it to dry.
  12. 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.
  13. Enjoy your customized shirt!

How to Dye with Rit Dye

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Put the powdered dye in a non-porous (glass or metal) container .Add 2 cups of boiling, or nearly boiling, water and stir.Pour concentrated dye in your dying container and fill with cool water.Protect your work space with plastic and move the dying container somewhere more stable than the sink.Submerge your textiles - make sure no parts are sticking up!Don't let the textiles float to the top unless you want an uneven dye job. Hold them 'under water.'
Put the powdered dye in a non-porous (glass or metal) container .
Put the powdered dye in a non-porous (glass or metal) container . | Source
Add 2 cups of boiling, or nearly boiling, water and stir.
Add 2 cups of boiling, or nearly boiling, water and stir. | Source
Pour concentrated dye in your dying container and fill with cool water.
Pour concentrated dye in your dying container and fill with cool water. | Source
Protect your work space with plastic and move the dying container somewhere more stable than the sink.
Protect your work space with plastic and move the dying container somewhere more stable than the sink. | Source
Submerge your textiles - make sure no parts are sticking up!
Submerge your textiles - make sure no parts are sticking up! | Source
Don't let the textiles float to the top unless you want an uneven dye job. Hold them 'under water.'
Don't let the textiles float to the top unless you want an uneven dye job. Hold them 'under water.' | Source

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!

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    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 4 years ago

      Great hub! I love how you can use something as simple as gel glue! I'm certainly going to have to try this ^_^ Voting and pinning!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you so much, Mama Kim! It's pretty crazy how well the glue works when you do it correctly! I appreciate the comment, votes, and pin.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Very cool! This kind of reminds me of tie-dying. We used to wrap up t-shirts in rubber bands and dip them in dye to create patterns similar to this...I think! Thanks for sharing info on batik!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      You're right - that is a popular way to tye dye. This just lets you have letters and pictures and whatnot. Thanks for stopping in!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I might have to give this a try! Voted up and sharing.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      If you do, I hope you have fun! Thanks for voting and sharing TTomboso8.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

      Now this looks like fun! I'd love to do a natural canvas tote bag using this method - what do you think? I've never heard of gel glue - is it like white glue? Voted up and shared.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      It should work, you'll just need to let it sit in the dye a little longer since it's s tougher to penetrate fabric. Gel glue is like white glue, but white glue won't work! Gel glue is easy to identify because, for some reason, companies seem to make it in blue. If a store has it, it should be next to the regular white glue, though. Thanks for sharing!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      Natashlh,

      I love batik but did not know about the history. Thanks for easy to use tips.

      Cheers

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Batik is beautiful, isn't it? Glad you enjoyed and thanks for stopping by, Vinaya.

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 4 years ago from USA

      I heard of batik YEARS ago but never tried. As it happens, I noticed a box of Rit dye in our laundry room that never got used. This sounds like a good project for keeping it out of my washing machine and producing something worthwhile. Hmm... what can I batik someone for Christmas?

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      What a happy coincidence! And with stencils, it doesn't even mater if you're artistically challenged (like me), you can still create some pretty fancy designs.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Still too much work for me. But looks like fun for someone :-)

      Ahem... there is a very unfortunate typo in the first set of instructions. There may be others, I didn't notice, but "After you're finished decorating, allow the shit to lie flat"

      This is a funny one and one has to be careful whenever typing in the work 'shirt'.

      LOL

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Hahahaha. Well, if you don't follow the instructions, that might be the correct word...

      Thanks for stopping by and pointing that out! I appreciate it, austinstar.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      What a neat technique! I had no idea that you would use this concept for batik. Thanks for sharing.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, randomcreative. I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Exactly! That's what my t-shirts would look like if I tried to design it!

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 4 years ago from Texas

      What a cool technique! Thank you for sharing this... :) I will definitely have to give a try sometime. Great instructions and photo illustrations too.. voting up, useful :)

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, Jamie Brock! I have another shirt drug right now - I'm hooked!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      I enjoyed reading the history of batik. This is a great instructional hub...now I think I could even tackle this project. I think this will be very popular. Thanks so much!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, vespawoolf! Glad you liked it =)

    • chrissieklinger profile image

      chrissieklinger 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I love it! I can't wait to try this. My daughter likes to make t-shirts with fabric paint but this might be better.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Yahoo! Just don't forget to use the salt or the Rit dye probably won't stick well. Also, make sure you wash anything you just bought. Most textiles come with some sort of finish or something that won't allow dye to penetrate - a quick trip through the wash should remove this coating, though.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for sharing this method of creating a batik look design on tee shirts. I'm thinking the method could be used to make works of art for wall hangings, curtains, and more!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      That sounds like a great idea! I still have some foam board left over from my last wall art project, I could try it out! If I can find the time.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Natasha, this sounds real interesting. I never heard of a batik look before. But it sounds intriguing and fun to do. Thanks for sharing this clever new crafty hub. I might give it a try someday.

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