Indigo is one of the oldest dyes known to man - cloth dyed with this same dye has been found in crypts in the pyramids of Egypt, and from even earlier, and it is the dye still used to dye denim today. I love the depth and variety of color derived from indigo, and when Katherine of The Habitat Factory and I decided to collaborate on a project, it was at the top of our lists. These simple dip-dyed napkins are so easy to make, and are wonderful gifts and additions to any summer table. Plus - the chemical process of the dye as it oxygenates is so much fun to watch! We hope you enjoy this project as much as we did! Photos by the beautiful and illustrious Heather Hackney.
To make the napkins you will need:
- High quality 100% linen fabric (2 yards will make 6 napkins)
- A tape measure
- An iron
- A sewing machine
For the dye:
- A galvanized* 5-gallon tub (or two smaller tubs)
- Chemical safe gloves
- An indigo dye kit (like this one)
- A clothes line & clothes pins
*You can also use plastic, stainless steel, or containers made from other materials so long as they will not be used for preparing food and you are okay with getting them a bit stained.
Wash your fabric before you start. This way you don’t have to worry about shrinkage and the fabric is cleansed of any chemicals so it can take the dye better.
Once its washed and dried, measure and cut out six 18” squares of linen. Depending on how wrinkled your fabric is, you may want to iron it first.
Then iron a half-inch hem around the edges of your napkins (they will end up being 17” square). Linen requires high heat on the iron, so crank it up. I used the mister on my iron to get the fabric a bit damp so the creases would be nice and crisp. Now you’re ready to sew your hems!
You want to sew as close to the cut-edge of the hem as possible (away from the edge of the napkin). I also recommend using the same color thread as your fabric, so as to be as forgiving as possible with wobbly lines (it’s part of the charm!) Keep your napkins flat after they’re sewn so as to not wrinkle them before dyeing.
To make the dye, follow the instructions in your kit. I strongly recommend doing this part of the project outside. Indigo is a powerful dye, and will stain porous surfaces. If you used the dye kit we did (this one), just use 4 gallons of warm tap water and stir in the indigo powder, soda ash, and thiourea dioxide. I separated these into two 3-gallon tubs, which was plenty. If you’re just dying six napkins, you’ll only need one container, so you may want to halve the dye recipe and save the rest for another time. The mixed dye will last a day or so but not much longer.
The dye will immediately turn green - and should end up looking something close to yellow gatorade with a blueish purple film on top:
Let the dye sit covered for 10-20 minutes or so, and then remove as much of the film and bubbles from the surface as you can.
Before you start dyeing, fold a napkin the way you’ll fold it for your table. Decide how you want your napkin to look in that state, and then deconstruct the fold so you know how you want to dye the napkin as a whole. I went for a very simple half-blue half-white look for my folded napkin, which meant only about a quarter of my unfolded napkin needed to be dyed.
Dip your napkin in clean tap water and then dip it in the dye. You’ll only need to hold it in there long enough for the dye to permeate the fabric - holding it in for longer won’t yield a stronger color. Getting the napkin wet before the dip will help you maintain straight lines and make the seam from white to blue much smoother. If you’re going for something more uneven, the water dip is not necessary.
The dye will look green when you first take your napkin out of the vat, but will turn blue as it oxygenates (which is really fun to watch!) To gain deeper indigo hues, hang your napkin to dry after each dip until it is completely oxygenated (5-10 minutes), then dip again.
When your napkins are done, wait until they are dry and then rinse them with the hose while they hang on the line to remove any residual indigo powder. Machine wash them alone - all of your dyed pieces can go in together, but no other fabric - with warm water and mild detergent. Tumble or hang them dry. Then dress your summer table in indigo!
Dip-dye can be used to create infinite patterns and designs - be creative! Let each member of the family dye his or her own napkin, or make a personalized pattern and give the napkins as a wedding gift. You can share your designs with us with the hashtag #indigosummer - we want to see your creations!