We'll let you in on a little secret: hand-dyed linens are the trick for a cozy, yet clean and natural feel at the dinner table. And better yet? Linens that are hand-dyed with natural homemade dyes are the prettiest! There's something about the way that linens colored with food-based dyes complement food sitting on a plate–you can tell they're in perfect harmony. We dyed some cloths with spinach, avocado pits & peels, and yellow onion skins to use at our photoshoots, and here's how we did it.
First, you'll need vinegar, salt, gloves, clean natural fabrics (cotton, linen, wool, silk), and a large stock pot. Then, choose your veggies!
We chose avocado pits & peels (which give a nice blush pink color) and yellow onion skins (which make a light brown dye) because they're both easy to collect over the course of a few weeks and store in the freezer. Every time you finish an avocado or a yellow onion, just keep the pits, peels & skins a container in the freezer–it's a great use of food waste! We also decided to give fresh spinach a go, just to see what the green color would be like.
Here are some other ideas for produce you can use and the colors they yield:
- Pomegranate skins - yellow
- Red cabbage - purple
- Beets - pink
- Ground turmeric - yellow-golden
- Butternut squash husks - yellow-orange
- Coffee grounds or tea - brown
- Strawberries or cherries - pink
- Beets - deep red
Remember as you're getting started:
Natural dyes like these stick best to natural fabrics–we used organic cotton flour sack towels, but you can also try linen, wool, and silk. Skip polyester, nylon, spandex or any other plastic fibers, as the fabric won’t hold the dye properly. Also keep in mind: the colors created with natural dyes like this are incredibly variable! Don’t expect to get the same result every single time. The surprise is what makes it all so gratifying!
How to prep fabric:
The fabric first needs to be treated with a fixative, which will help the material cling on to the dye permanently. We used a vinegar fixative, which is made by combining one part vinegar and four parts water. Boil fabric in the mixture for one hour, then rinse well and, wearing gloves, wring out the water.
Making the dye:
Roughly chop the food ingredients you choose to use, put in the stock pot, then fill with water (you should have about double the amount of water to food), sprinkle in some salt, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour. Strain and then return dye to pot.
Let’s get to dyeing!
Place wet fabric in the dye bath. Simmer for an hour or longer, or you can even soak the material in the dye overnight–the longer it soaks, the deeper the color will be! There should be enough dye so that the fabric can swim around freely; if it's at all bunched up you might get a tie-dye pattern, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it could turn out nice!
Pro tip: If you’re using multiple dyes at once, you can simmer one for an hour, move it to a bucket to let continue soaking, and then clean out pot and start over with another color.
From left to right, these are our towels are dyed with yellow onion skins, avocado pits & peels, and fresh spinach immediately after dyeing. The colors fade slightly after a first wash.
Wearing gloves again, rinse dyed fabric in cold water until it runs clear, then wash the fabric in the washing machine and dry fully. Don’t mix with other laundry at this point, as the dyes could still run.
We chose to use a dye fixative after this to make sure there's no channce of the cloths bleeding in the wash or fading quickly. If you'd like to do this, use 4 oz Rit Dye Fixative with 3 gallons water for every pound of dry fabric (that’s about two adult large t-shirts). To use, fill the stockpot with water, cover, and heat on stovetop to just below boiling. Add Rit Dye Fixative and mix well, then add fabric and stir continuously for about 20 min. Rinse in warm water, then rinse again in cool water and wash with detergent and tumble dry.
There you go–now you have the prettiest, earthiest dining linens around. Below is our Peach BBQ Chicken kit sitting pretty atop one of our avocado pit & peel-dyed cotton towels. It sure complements those peaches well!