DIY Batik Clothing

Batiking fabric is a fun way to create your own unique clothing! You can batik shirts, tank tops, dresses, pants, scarves or even batik fabric to sew your own clothes. All you need are a few batik supplies and old or new clothing to start your batik art adventure!

What is Batik?

Batik is a method of creating designs on textiles by applying wax then dye. The wax creates a resist which allows the fabric under the wax to retain its original color. Removing the wax reveals the final design. You can dye fabric several times and add wax after each color to produce a multi-colored design. Each dye, however, should be darker than the previous layer for the effect to work.

Materials Needed for Batiking:

NOTE: any items that will be used for handling dye or wax shouldn’t be used for food preparation after. You can pick up items like measuring spoons, pots, tongs, etc. at a dollar store or used items at a thrift store for use in this project.

Preparing the Wax

Prepare your work surface by laying down cardboard, then a heat resistant mat (such as a Ranger craft sheet or a Teflon sheet). You also might want some cardboard pieces that will fit inside of the clothing to prevent them from sticking together or from having your wax design bleed through to the back side. Melt your wax in a Ranger Melting Pot or other set-up.

Another way to melt the wax is to put it inside of an aluminum melting pot and then placing the aluminum pot inside of another pot full of water on the stove. Or you can use a loaf pan on top of an electric griddle. Either way, make sure that you have a thermometer to check the temperature of the wax to keep it consistent. The melting point of Paraffin is about 135 degrees F and the melting point of beeswax is about 145 degrees F. Don’t heat higher than 200 degrees F. CAUTION: if the wax begins to smoke, that means it is too hot. If the wax gets too hot it can catch fire! Also, always use caution when working with hot wax and be sure no young children or pets can gain access to your set-up.

To create a crackle texture in your design (photo above), add some paraffin wax to the beeswax so that you’ve got about 40% paraffin and 60% beeswax. When the wax is completely melted, dip the Tjanting tool into the wax, scooping up the melted wax in the hole. Let the metal portion sit in the wax for a bit to keep the wax and the metal hot.

Then quickly draw your design onto the surface of your fabric or clothing item. The Tjanting tool will give you the delicate and more intricate lines and designs. (Quick note about fabric: 100% cotton will give you the best results with the Procion MX Dye--it will result in brighter colors and less color loss after washing. Clothing or fabric with even a small percentage of synthetic fabric blended with cotton will result in a less-saturated, more faded color.)

You can create bigger swatches of wax with a natural bristle brush. Just dip the brush in the wax and quickly paint onto the surface of the fabric. You can also create drips and splatters this way by flicking the wax onto the fabric.

NOTE: if the wax looks opaque (not see-through) and looks raised on top of the fabric, then the wax is not hot enough and will not produce a batik design (photo below).

The wax must be hot enough to penetrate and soak through the fabric. You can check to see if it is working by looking on the other side of the fabric or the inside of the clothing item. If you can see the wax design through the other side, then the wax has adhered to the fabric and will preserve whatever color the fabric is (photo below).

Preparing the Dye

To prepare the dye, add about 3 gallons of warm water to a dishpan, bucket or plastic storage tub and add the dye, salt and soda ash in these amounts (depending on how dark or light you want your colors to be):

  • Very Pale: ¼ to ½ teaspoon dye, 1 ½ cups salt, ¼ cup soda ash
  • Light: 1 tablespoon dye, 1 ½ cups salt, ¼ cup soda ash
  • Medium: 1 tbs dye, 1 ½ cups salt, ¼ cup soda ash
  • Dark: 2 tbs dye, 2 cups salt, ¼ cup soda ash
  • Darkest: 4 tbs dye, 3 cups salt, ⅓ cup soda ash

First, fill the container with 3 gallons of warm water. Add the dye and salt in the amounts above for the desired effect. Next add the fabric and stir often for 10-15 minutes. Remove or simply lift up the fabric and add the soda ash. TIP: it may help to dissolve the soda ash in a different container with hot water first. Then stir the soda ash into the dye bath. Put the fabric back into the dye bath and stir often for 30-60 minutes. The longer you leave the fabric in, the darker the color. Each ⅔ oz jar of Procion MX dye contains 2 tbs of dye. For darker, more intense colors, use two jars.

Adding More Batik Designs

If you’d like to add another layer of batik designs, remove the fabric from the dye bath, squeeze the excess water out of the fabric and then rinse under cool to lukewarm water until the water runs clear. DON’T run under hot water or else you might remove the wax too soon! Gently ring the water out and lay flat to dry. Once the garment or fabric is dry again, you can add more wax designs.

This time, the wax underneath will preserve the color of the first dye bath. Once you’ve finished the design, you can dip it into a different color dye. (example above: fabric was dyed with Lemon Yellow then when dry, batik wax was added. Then dipped in Turquoise dye bath, which turned the tank top bright lime green with the original yellow preserved under the wax). TIP: it may be easier to prepare all the colors in separate bins that you will be using for your project all at once. For this project, I had bins of Lemon Yellow, Carmine Red, Turquoise and Midnight Blue mixed with Lilac.

Mixing Colors

To mix colors, start with the lightest color first. If you’d like orange, start the fabric in the yellow dye first, then the red. Letting the fabric dry between dying and adding more wax will allow you to preserve each of the previous layers’ color. Another nice mix is starting with yellow, then going to aqua and even the midnight blue last. The yellow and aqua will mix to form green. You can add more wax on the green layer and then dip into midnight blue for the final color. The shirt will then have a main color as midnight blue with green, aqua, yellow, and white designs throughout. Avoid mixing colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel such as green and red, blue and orange, or purple and yellow. Mixing these colors together will give you brown--unless that is a color you like, then go for it! Another fun way to mix colors is by using light-colored clothing or fabric as your base. For example, batiking over light blue fabric, then dying in a dark blue creates a nice contrast.

Dip Dye Batik

Another fun technique is to use more than one color in your batik art design. To get a fun, tye-dye or dip dye look, simply follow the instructions for setting up the dyes, but just dip half the batiked garment into one color bucket and let sit for 30-60 minutes. Wring out the color, then dip the other half into another color and leave for the same amount of time. The two colors will be lightest in the middle where they meet. Try to use colors that mix well together to avoid muddy colors.

Once you’ve finished dyeing all the layers and you’ve run the fabric under the water until it runs clear, then prepare a soap soak. Fill a clean plastic tub or bucket with 2-3 gallons of very warm tap water and 1 ½ teaspoons of Synthrapol. Soak in the soap bath for about 5-10 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Removing the Wax

Once you’re done with dying all your layers, run the fabric under cool to lukewarm water until the water runs clear. Lay flat to dry. Then, crumble and scrape the surface to remove the wax. To remove the remaining wax, immerse the fabric in simmering water with just a bit of dish soap added. Be careful not to boil the water--that will create suds that will spill over! You will start to see the wax floating on the top of the water. Some bubbles from the soap will also form on the top which helps collect and keep the wax together. Skim the top of the water with a ladle to remove the wax. Then remove the garment with tongs, let the excess hot water drip back into the pot and place in a small bowl or container to transfer to a cold water bath in a tub or bucket. Submerge the garment in cold water. You will feel the cold wax on the surface and also the inside of the garment. Scrape it with your fingers to remove. The wax will harden in the cold water and float to the top. Skim the wax off the top. Remove the garment, wring out the excess water and place back into the simmering water. Repeat the hot and cold immersions until the wax is removed. Hang dry. DO NOT pour melted or cold wax down the drain, as it will harden and clog the pipes.

Washing the Batik Fabric

After all the wax is removed from the garments and they have soaked in the soap bath, you can wash them in the washing machine with warm water and hang dry. Try washing the dyed garments or fabrics separately for the first few washes to avoid any dye getting onto other items. Be sure that ALL of the wax has been removed before putting the batik fabric or garment in the dryer, as the wax will melt and transfer to other items in your laundry.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to make your own batik fabric and clothing! Hopefully you’re inspired to create some batik art of your own.