indigo dyed napkins

by | May 30, 2016 | All Things Home, crafts, Decorating, Secret Weapons, Tutorials | 52 comments

A few of you spotted (and asked about) the blue napkins I used in my table arrangement last week…

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…so, this post is all about them.

These napkins are actually antique linen napkins from my Oma.  They look quite lovely in the picture below, but they were actually a very yellowy-cream that I never cared for…

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The color was so off that I never used them.  I always went to prettier white and cream linen napkins.  They are so pretty, aside from the color, and it was a shame they weren’t being used, so when I was working on an indigo dying project for a freelance client, I decided to “throw them in the pool”.

(As an aside, I was slightly insane and accepted six freelance tutorials that had to be completed in two weeks, just before Lucketts!  It definitely put the pressure on, but it was worth squeezing them in.)

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I have never done any kind of dying before, but I loved the idea of it, especially using an all-natural indigo dye.  I ordered some off of Etsy and did a ton of research to decide which approach I was going to take and which ingredients I was going to use.  (I do have to be able to communicate how to successfully repeat the project, after all!)

I wanted to keep the napkins looking traditional, so I opted to not create a resist pattern on them with rubber bands, popsicle sticks, etc.  I just dunked them in the dye; twice for a mid-tone blue.

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They turned out so interesting!  The way the napkins were wrinkled when they were dyed and dried show as variations in each napkin that give each one a decidedly hand-dyed appearance.

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I love that I’m now going to actually use my Oma’s napkins instead of keeping them in a drawer.  I may even dye them again the next time I work on a batch of fabrics to get them even darker!

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A full tutorial will be available on HGTV.com soon and I will link to it when it’s available.

Until then, I’ll offer up a few tips.

I was pretty overwhelmed at all of the instructions and different methods for indigo dying.  There are a lot of methods out there!  The instructions I followed were so specific about water temperature and the timing of everything that I was certain I would mess it up.  I found it to be pretty forgiving, though.  Ultimately, approach it like an experiment and try different methods until you find one you like the best.  This is the kind of project you’ll get better at the more you do it.

Since making the dye bath is the most time consuming part, have a lot of things ready to dye all at one time.  It’s just a better use of your time and energy to use the dye bath while it’s there.

Natural indigo dye does have a funky smell to it.  Not bad, just funky.  We had to work inside, because it was pouring rain outside, but if you’re not under a deadline, I would definitely suggest waiting for a pretty day with sun and a gentle breeze.  Between the steam from the dye bath and the funky indigo smell, the studio was…well, pretty funky on dyeing day!

Lastly, wear gloves anytime you handle the dyed linens until they are put in their final wash.  The dye will turn your hands blue.  I wore gloves most of the time, but didn’t when I took the linens out of their vinegar bath and my hands still turned a tinge of blue from doing that.

I did throw my dyed linens in the wash after the dye was set.  There was a lot of debate in various tutorials I read about whether they should be hand washed, not washed, tumble dried, etc.  I decided that I wouldn’t use anything that couldn’t be tossed in the washer, so I just went for it and everything turned out just fine.

This was the actual project I was making for the freelance tutorial…

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…a hand-dyed linen scarf.  I love how delicate it turned out.  I knew immediately it would be right up my mom’s alley, so I gave it to her.  I told her she needed to give it back, though, if she wasn’t wearing it, because I totally would!

Oh, and now that I’ve done indigo dying, I’m totally hooked!  Even though making the dye bath was a little tedious, I am already looking forward to doing it again.

52 Comments

  1. Karen Keller-Eyer

    Great post…..LOVE how you made the old linen napkins new again and useful!

    I have a friend Debbie Maddy that teaches classes on indigo dyeing and ice dyeing and recently traveled to Japan to learn advanced techniques. She has a line of indigo fabrics recently released by Moda Fabrics that you would love and she uses in her quilt patterns Calico Carriage Quilt Designs. Check her out please……the nicest person with a charming Texas drawl !

    Reply
  2. Mary Hannon-Fletcher

    Oh my goodness, what a mess you have made of these beautiful napkins. If there were linen all you had to do was to boil them a few times to get them a beautiful white!! I am shocked! The look all blotchy!
    Mary

    Reply
    • Cynthia Krantz

      I absolutely disagree, Mary. I love the various blues that resulted with the indigo dye. They are especially fabulous with the vintage blue & white dishes. I think Marian did a splendid job. And, after all, they are hers to do with as she wishes. If she will use them now that they are blue, why not? They are lovely!

      Reply
    • marian

      Mary,
      It’s good to know about boiling linen! I wasn’t aware of that. These actually weren’t yellowed with age. That’s just the color they were and it was a pretty unappealing yellow, so much so that I almost didn’t want them. Anyway, now I like them and they are being used and my Oma would like that. To each his/her own! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Kathy

    I guess one persons trash is another’s treasure. I love the way the look and I really like the scarf. Can’t wait to see how it was done.

    Reply
  4. Toni

    I was curious if that was indigo or chalk paint. I’ve seen that you can use chalk paint to dye fabric also. Looks lovely. Great job, can’t wait to see more!

    Reply
  5. Sheri

    The napkins look great, but I LOVE THAT SCARF!!!!!

    Reply
  6. three stones

    Oh my. Negative Nellie! There is a way to comment without being such a poop!

    I LOVE the indigo color and decided I too would dig out my box of family linens out after seeing this post. How great to be able to enjoy them again – my way. My grandmother(s) would love the creatively of it all.

    GO Marion!!
    Actually what on earth is Mary Hannon – Fletcher looking at your blog to begin with – if this bothers her? What about all the furniture? You have to laugh!

    Reply
    • marian

      in fairness, I understand that some people bristle at changing certain things. Maybe it’s natural wood, maybe it’s antique linens, cutting up grain sacks to use for pillows, etc. I know there are times when I’ve gasped in horror at something someone else has done to a piece I thought was beautiful already! I always remind myself that it belongs to them and taste is subjective. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Bonnie Miller

    As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and these indigo dyed napkins are indeed beautiful to behold! So love that you are are a chance taker; someone who turns just okay into just fabulous. Your mom must be loving the linen scarf as well, particularly as it is hand dyed. Another first-rate post!

    Reply
  8. Jean

    I just took an indigo dyeing class at the Asian Art Museum in Seattle, and loved it. It was just amazing to see how all the projects turned out. Love your mother’s scarf and the napkins.

    Reply
  9. Patrice

    They are a beautiful shade of blue, and now I will want some like them. What a great idea. I can do that! I will keep my eye out at the thrift stores for some and dye them myself!

    Reply
  10. Dodie Leibecke

    I think the napkins turned out lovely. And the scarf is beautiful.
    This indigo dyeing is new to me. I can’t wait to try it!
    I look forward to the tutorial.

    Reply
  11. Sue

    Those napkins are gorgeous! I just love the color and now will be researching indigo dye. I collect linens and have used plain old Rit dye on ones that are just an odd color, like your napkins were, but much prefer a natural alternative. Thanks for introducing me to something new 🙂

    Reply
  12. Michelle Turecek

    Oh I love the result!!! In fact I think I’ll add it to my summer to do list. I’m “dying” (pun intended) to know about the other other things in the group that you dyed!! please share pictures of those items too sometime!!!

    Reply
    • marian

      Yep, I will! We did some flour sack towels and some linen pillow cases. I was tempted to throw a hemp sheet in, but I decided to wait until I had more experience!

      Reply
  13. Carole

    I like the splotchy effect, but I understand a purist’s point of view. To dye or not to dye, to paint or leave unpainted? Be assured that whatever we do , the next generation will undo it. I have lived long enough to see all the green painted furniture from the depression era get stripped by their daughters, only to be antiqued by their granddaughters.Great granddaughters came along and restored the original finish again only to have great ,great granddaughters paint everything white and intentionally distress furniture to achieve chippiness. The furniture soldiers on as each generation tries to make it theirs. I think that there’s enough linen napkins out there for everyone to have them their way…indigo dyed or bleached .

    Reply
    • Mary Anne Komar

      What a lovely thoughtful way of being gracious!

      Reply
  14. Monique DEnoncin

    That was brave of you to turn the old napkins in blue. The shades of that color are beautiful.
    Once they are dyed and being used and are soiled with grease or hard spots to get off , can they be washed with hot water and laundry soap ? Will other fabrics take the dye in the wash ???
    I prefer the scarf than the spotty effect of the napkins, but that’s me. Bravo for your diverse ideas !

    Reply
  15. Louise D

    I grew up in the dyeing era! When our clothes needed a pick me up or we didn’t like the color they went in a dye bath. This was all by necessity as we weren’t able to go buy new. I remember sometimes my mom did a process that took the color out first. Sometimes the resulting color was different than what we wanted but it still was new and refreshed. I was happy to see the resurgence of dyeing especially the indigo! It invites creativity!

    Reply
  16. Kristen

    great napkins but I LOVE that scarf! So beautiful.

    Reply
  17. Kitty

    Marian ………love the indigo napkins. I too, have grandmother napkins that I never used or really liked. Now, dyed blue ………perfect for summer ! Guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Love, love, love ’em.

    Reply
  18. dee

    I took the comment about ‘spotchy’ as the woman didn’t understand that the intent was not a solid, even color. And I thought her solution to boil true linen to get it white is probably advice that a lot of us following this blog did not know. I did a little research and now have new knowledge on caring for 100% linen. So maybe we all learned something new today.
    Beautiful new life for the napkins and the scarf is first rate too.

    Reply
  19. Mary Ellen McLaughlin

    I have started selling vintage linen napkins, tablecloths and such on ebay… I sell them with stains and everything! I am certain that they are being used which brings me joy! I will have to try this on some of them!

    Reply
  20. Nancy

    I think since you are the maven of all things blue and white, and fixing old treasures so that they are not collecting dust and actually getting use- it was the absolute right thing to do.

    Reply
  21. Jenny

    Will you notify us readers when the tutorial, or any other article you wrote for that matter, goes live? Pleeeaaasssseeee?!?!?!?!? We’d love to read your work on other sources as well. 🙂

    Reply
  22. Lori Nordt

    You did an excellent job, as always, Marian. I have tried dyeing with chalk paint with less than stellar results. Next time, indigo it is!

    Reply
  23. Liz

    I love this project! You’ve turned another neglected item into something useful and beautiful.

    Reply
  24. Mz V

    I’ve collected old linens for years, and have dyed many mismatched sets of napkins to make them look more like a set. I’ve used everything from tea and strong boiled coffee to indigo and other natural barks and dyes to turn natural linen and cotton into lush and interesting colors. I LOVE that you posted on this project of yours. My only question is about if you ever sleep. You continue to inspire and amaze us all……

    Reply
  25. L. THOMPSON

    Any thing BLUE is first rate, no matter the shade, fun to try something new and you are successful as always!

    Reply
  26. Martha Hansen

    Lovely idea to dye something you don’t really like a color you love! I have loads of older linens, very nice, but white/off white has its limits. Now I want to try indigo!

    Reply
  27. Jasmine

    I did my first dye job this weekend and I dyed a linen table cloth that I bought from the second hand store with beets and it came out perfectly! Over the summer I hope to dye lots of linens through this natural process. Your linens turned out beautifully!

    Reply
  28. Lynnette

    Oh my goodness…I was petting some indigo dye napkins at Pier 1 today. I am so glad I read this post. My Indigo dye kit just came last week, and I have skads (gazillions) antique napkins that I could make over by throwing them in the vat. You saved my budget!

    Reply
  29. Debbie Klausing

    Just wondering how to care for them? There will be grease stains, etc. I have some old linens with tatting/crochet edges that are stained and would love to restore them. Any ideas, anyone?

    Reply
  30. Lisa Rothenbuecher

    As an old dab hand at indigo dyeing, I just loved your post….I have a whole lot of very old doileys and linens which were not only discoloured, but also had moth holes and generally aged….I threw them into one of my indigo vats and then actually cut them in half and made them in to beautiful bunting….love this post and love your work!
    Cheers Lisa in Australia

    Reply
  31. Cheryl

    Love the napkins and the scarf!! Love the color, thanks for sharing with us!!

    Reply
  32. Bambi Mayer

    Can’t wait for the tutorial to come out. I have an indigo dye kit saved to my wish list on Amazon but I wonder if different sources of the dye (or producers) lead to different colors of blue. I just love the way your napkins look (but that could just be the color that it shows as on my laptop screen). I also collect old linens and have many piled up waiting for their new incarnation.
    Bambi

    Reply
  33. Susan

    Do you know if you could dye with your milk paint? I wonder if that would work?

    Reply
    • marian

      You can. We have played around with it and dyed some linens with Flow Blue. They definitely turned blue and it went through the wash, but I don’t think it’s the best use of milk paint. 🙂

      Reply
  34. karen l

    Love indigo! I learned to use the dye at a workshop. We used a kit available at most art supply places (Jacquard Indigo Dye Kit). Very easy to mix – no complicated temperature – no vinegar bath after. Just a good rinse and throw it in the washer and dryer. I’ve dyed napkins, tea towels, t-shirts, cotton shirts – nothing has bled in the wash. Just an FYI if you are looking for simple & easy!

    Reply
  35. Patti

    I seriously adore the delicate look of that scarf! I have to admit for some reason I don’t like the blotchiness of the napkins either but I do think it’s cool that you are making good use of something so sentimental. 🙂

    Reply
  36. Terri

    Okay, I’m running out to the garage to grab that non-antique, cream tablecloth that I never use and had designated a goodwill donation. Perfect experiment item!

    Reply
  37. Krista

    Those napkins are so pretty! And the scarf too! I’ll be anxious to learn the technique.

    Reply
  38. Julie

    Oh how I love these! I love anything linen or natural fiber. I love the indigo blue and the range of tones the dye created.

    Reply
  39. Beth

    I wish I had thought of dyeing my grandmother’s beautiful lace napkins. They were so stained they were no longer beautiful (and a little off putting to use) so I ended up throwing them out. I wish I had thought to try dyeing them!

    Reply
  40. Sue Pagels

    I have an oak china cabinet that my parents gave us as a wedding present 35+ years ago. It was dark, some veneer had chipped off in places, was never really one of the pretty oak ones to begin with so yes, I painted it. Some people would be horrified, but I decided if it made me love it, that is all that matters. Same with the napkins – if you love them, that is all that matters! (personally I do like them 🙂 )

    Reply
  41. Dana Fernandez

    Looovvveeee this! I have ton of linens from my grandmother and just ordered some indigo dye. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  42. Dana Fernandez

    Love this post! I have tons of linens from my grandmother and just ordered some indigo dye. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  43. Lauren

    Everything looks awesome! It turned out so well and lovely scarf you are talented in so many things Marianne!

    Lauren | Lovely Decor
    xx

    Reply
  44. HippiesChick

    I’m late to the game but I love the napkins. I love tie dying so this would be something I can do. And I always buy old linen napkins when I see them. Most of them are mismatched so this is a great idea!

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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