As we mentioned in our recent summer tabletop trends post, one of our favorite table trends of the moment is tie-dyed – or Shibori – linens. We especially love hand-dyed Shibori napkins – each one comes out a little bit different, bringing a unique, homemade aesthetic to the table. And this is exactly the look we’re going for for our next dinner party. So, the other day we broke out our old white linens, bought some dye, and made our own – Shibori style.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Shibori, this is the Japanese-originated technique of manipulating fabric by twisting, tying, binding, folding, etc. before dying it in order to make pretty patterns with the dye (or tie-dye, as we’ve named it in the west). The process simple and we encourage that you try it. Just note that hand-dying can get a bit messy, so make sure you wear gloves and have a safe place to work and dispose of the dye.
This time we were going for a more subdued pattern, so we did just a simple bind – but note that the more you fold, twist and constrain your fabric, the more interesting your pattern can become.
- Blank white napkins (natural fibers like cotton better accept dyes)
- Fabric dye – we used Jacuqard iDye in Brilliant Blue
- A bucket or two: one where the napkins will sit in the dye, and one for rinsing – if you wish
- Twine or string, and scissors (or rubber bands)
- A hose for rinsing
- Gloves (not pictured, because not cute)
Folding and binding your fabric will restrict dye from getting to certain areas of the cloth, keeping it white and thus helping to create your pattern. You can fold or bind your fabric any way you want – fold it into triangles, pinch and tie the center for a circular pattern – get creative. To achieve a light pattern with heavy coverage we chose to do an accordion fold. Start by taking one end and fold it up, and then fold in the opposite direction. Each fold here is about 1 inch apart, but if you want to keep more white in your napkin, you can space them out a bit more.
Now we start to see why this is called an “accordion” fold. Keep folding in this direction for the entire length of the napkin.
To break up the design some more, fold a few times length-wise.
Once you’ve folded your fabric, you need to bind it with string or rubber bands. Here, we’ve used twine to bind our accordion fold. Tighter ties in a higher frequency will allow less dye to reach the inside of your fabric, resulting in more white space.
Following the directions of your particular dye, dilute in a tub of water. If you want a fully covered (as opposed to dip-dyed) look, make sure there is enough solution in which to completely submerge your napkins.
Carefully place your napkins into the dye. If you’re daring, you can leave them floating like this for a partially-covered look.
We chose to submerge our napkins, because we wanted them very saturated. (This is where the gloves start to come in.) Depending on the weight of your fabric, you may need to weigh them down to keep them in the dye. You will want them to remain in the dye for 10-20 minutes, depending on how saturated you want them to be. Less time in the dye will result in lighter napkins with more white space, while more time will give you deeper, more color-heavy napkins.
After your napkins have soaked in the dye, submerge them in a tub of cold water to begin the rinsing process.
While rinsing, release the ties/bands.
Unravel your napkins and continue to rinse. It is important that you rinse your napkins thoroughly so no residual dye remains – after the tub, we soaked them with a hose until all of the water ran clear (and no longer blue).
Hang to dry! Once your napkins are air-dried, we recommend you launder your napkins before you use them on your table.
Keep an eye on our Instagram at @thetable_nyc – we’ll show you how they turned out at our dinner party! Show us your homemade Shibori napkins by tagging us along with the hashtag #athomewiththetablenyc.