I WANNA ROCK batik shirt: How I Rocked It: Part II

(If you have yet to check out Part I, start there for cognitive ease on your temporal sensibilities.)

check out my organized batik workspace

When I had a large enough batch of shirts with the first wax applied to them, about twice the size that I usually dye in one go, I gathered together all my bits and tools for the dye process in my building’s poorly lit laundry room. The laundry room isn’t ideal, but I prefer it to my kitchen. There are slop sinks, and the floor is concrete and already covered in various stains and marks.

that there is a big ol' tub

There is precedent for doing dye baths in the laundry machine. I don’t advocate that method. I like to keep the level of dye to water amount as close as possible, even with these higher amounts of shirts to dye at one time. I also like to have a say in the level of agitation. This first gray dye bath was to be seven gallons, about twice the size than usual, so it wouldn’t fit in the plastic garbage can that I’ve used for dye baths for years, I used a bin that once stored all my extra shirts.

salt.  saltsaltsaltsalt.

Salt. Non-iodized. You need some.


I’ve slowly come to realize that you need to regulate and control your timing and measurements of dye baths, if you want batch results to be in close proximity to one another. I usually scribble some notes on old copies of my Bath Math worksheets that I used for the few batik classes I taught years ago.


One the water is salted, and the dye is mixed up in correct proportion, you dunk your shirts in and start the timer. Agitate as necessary. Tweet as desired. About halfway through add the fixing soda ash.

upsidedown, like bats

When the finish is reached, I like to hang dry the shirts. It gives the dye and soda ash a little more time to react with the fibers of the shirt. I’ve also found that the dye process, for reasons I cannot perceive, seems to stretch out the necks of the shirts prematurely. So I hang them upside down, so I’m not stretching the necks unnecessarily but putting them dripping wet on hangers.

wrinkly still waxed batik shirt, but dried

Once the shirt is dry, it is incredible starchy and stiff. They will literally stand up by themselves.

working in reverse

The previously usable guidelines have been washed away. So without washing the shirt first, I have to take a moment to try to get the shirt to lay flat, and remark them again with the basic frame of the design, so I can wax the areas that will be the gray background.

one more large bath

After completing the second application of wax, I start over at the beginning and do a black dye bath. The black bath uses twice as much salt and four times as much dye as the gray bath. It makes the water a bit thicker. Not tar level, but more like a soup that looks like tar.

only a FEW more steps now...so close.

After the second bath hangs dry, I can run them through the washing machine to begin the process of removing the dye and various chemicals. I did two machine washes with a special chemical agent that traps loose dye. You see how broken apart the wax is at this point. Broken, but not exactly flaking off easily or completely. I then boiled them to remove the majority of the wax, which also removed more loose dye. Then I took them to the dry cleaners to remove any wax and chemical traces, as well as re-soften the shirts after all the starchy stressors I put them through. And finally, I close in on the end of the story…

In the upcoming Part III, I hope to give you a coda of the joys of finally stepping up to achieving first class level packaging.