Hand dye napkins with a home-grown colour palette – Caroline South shows us how. Follow her basic guide, then experiment with different dye materials to create a set of inexpensive, eco-friendly linen.
Be it vegetables fresh from the earth, flowers picked on a countryside stroll, or spices from a kitchen cupboard, nature is full of produce that can be used to create the most beautiful dyes. As they don’t rely on chemicals, using natural ingredients to colour fabric results in the prettiest soft, muted shades. And, by trying this artisanal technique, you’ll be following an age-old tradition, used for thousands of years.
You can use most plants, fruits and spices to create natural dyes, and the final colour will vary depending on both the dye matter and the fabric. Here are a few suggestions, depending on the colour palette you want to achieve:
Yellow – turmeric, celery leaves.
Orange/brown – tea and coffee, brown onion, walnuts, marigolds.
Red/pink – strawberries, cherries, beetroot, hibiscus flowers.
Green – artichokes, spinach, peppermint leaves, nettles.
Blue/purple – blackberries, red cabbage, blueberries, black beans.
You will need
- White cotton napkins
- Dye materials (we used black beans (blue), red cabbage (purple), beetroot (pink) and turmeric (yellow))
- White vinegar
- Large cooking pot
- Rubber gloves
How to create the napkins
First, prepare a fixative to help prevent the dye from washing out, and to help the fabric pick up the dye more evenly. If using berries as the dye source, use salt as a fixative – ½ a cup of salt to 8 cups of water. If using plants to dye the napkins, use vinegar as a fixative – 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.
Leave the napkins to soak in the fixative. After an hour, rinse the napkins thoroughly in cold water, wring them out, then put to one side while you prepare the dye.
Wearing rubber gloves, chop the dye source into small pieces and place into the large pot. Black beans can be added as they are.
Add twice as much water to the pot as dye source. If using turmeric, add around 4 cups of water to 1 tsp of turmeric. Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer for approximately an hour – the longer you simmer it, the stronger the dye will become.
Strain the dye into a separate container, then dip the wet napkin into the dye. We dipped ours for a few minutes to achieve a subtle colour, but if you want a stronger shade, leave the napkin in longer. Bear in mind the colour will lighten when the fabric dries, so remove the napkins from the dye when they’re a shade or two darker than the desired colour. Note: When using the beetroot, we pegged the napkin to the side of the pan and left to soak for ten minutes to produce the shade of pink shown in the main image. With the turmeric, just 1-2 minutes produced the shade of yellow shown.
Rinse the napkin under cold water until the water runs clear. Open the napkin out and leave to dry, then press to finish.
About Caroline Smith
Caroline likes nothing better than organising objects neatly, and always has a camera in hand. Taking pleasure from memory keeping, she describes her website as a scrapbook – a place to share the treasures she finds, and her makes created from natural and found items.