Create colourful napkins with natural dye

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

The fab Caroline South shows us how you can make your own DIY napkins. And the best part? They’re naturally dyed using a home-grown colour palette. Follow her basic guide, then experiment with different dye materials to create a set of inexpensive, eco-friendly linen.

Check out our other blog posts in our eco series below and pick up a copy of issue 103 for more sustainable inspo.

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.

Natural dyes

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.

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

You will need

  • White cotton napkins
  • Dye materials (we used black beans (blue), red cabbage (purple), beetroot (pink) and turmeric (yellow))
  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • Large cooking pot
  • Sieve
  • Rubber gloves

How to create the napkins

Step one

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.

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

Step two

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.

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

Step three

Wearing rubber gloves, chop the dye source into small pieces and place into the large pot. Black beans can be added as they are.

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

Step four

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.

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

Step five

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.

Create colourful napkins using natural dye

Step six

Rinse the napkin under cold water until the water runs clear. Open the napkin out and leave to dry, then press to finish.


Caroline SouthAbout 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.


  • Emmy

    Eeek! I can’t wait to try this! I have a whole bunch of lightly stained white napkins I plan to use for this project. Can you still wash them the same in the washing machine once dyed?