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DIY hand-dyed napkins from Rachel, the epic crafter

November 16, 2011

This project is so beautiful and REALLY relevant to any one of us with a crafty heart. You could make these to use around the house, for a special holiday dinner party, for a bridal shower, a festive brunch, for gifts… the list goes on. Which is one of the reasons we love running this blog! All the pretty photos and projects make good inspiration for life, not just weddings.

Here’s Rachel, with her final DIY project on 100LC.

We decided to rent the plainest, cheapest white tablecloths possible for our long dining tables. And since we weren’t having lots of fresh flowers or pretty place settings, we knew we’d want to use the napkins to add some color. The side benefit was that we got to have cotton napkins, which I love – they are actually absorbent, unlike the standard polyester ones you can rent from most places.

Napkins are easy enough to sew, but all that hemming is time consuming so I decided to start with pre-made napkins. If you’re having a smaller wedding, you could definitely save some money by making your own. Just start super early.

We wanted a striped look, but as we started playing with the process we found that we really loved the striped tie-dye effect we came up with. Have several extra napkins on hand so that you can experiment. Folding the napkins in different positions will give you stripes in different places and you’ll want to test your dye intensity and rinsing and drying procedures – all of these factors impact your final product.


Napkins (plain, sturdy cotton ones from here) – $250 for 180 napkins
Fabric dye (we used Rit powder) – $15 for several boxes with coupons
Salt – $2
Tubs for dying – used some storage containers we had
Gloves – had them

1. Prewash and dry all your napkins

2. Mix up your dye according to the instructions on your package, but with less water. We used Rit dye and we added the dye powder + 1/2 cup salt to 2 cups of hot water and then mixed that with an additional 4 cups of water. Depending on your desired intensity, you can vary this amount.

3. Fold the napkins. This is where you want to experiment. The placement of your stripes will vary based on how you fold the napkins.

4. Dip the folded edges of your napkins in the dye, holding for anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on how saturated you want them. The dye will gradually creep up a little.

5. Rinse your napkins in warm water, gradually decreasing the temperature to cool, until the water runs almost completely clear. If you want well defined stripes, rinse very well at this point. If you want stripes + solid color background, rinse them gently but don’t worry about getting to the clear water point.

6. Hang dry if you want better defined stripes. If you prefer your napkins to have softer stripes + solid color background, you can skip this step and put them directly in the washer.

7. Run the napkins through the washing machine on warm (if you’re doing multiple colors, only run a single color in each cycle!). The colors will bleed a bit, which I liked because it gave them a nice overall color with the contrasting stripes.

8. Tumble dry and fold. The color will be totally set at this point – no worries about it smearing on your guests if the napkins get wet.

Large batch operation

We folded napkins individually, then stacked them together, used a large binder clip to keep them in place and then filled an entire rectangular storage container (which had the dye in it) with rows and just left them to soak up the dye. We could do about 30 napkins at a time this way.

diy hand-dyed napkins

Total costs

We spent about $270 on this project. The cotton napkins are $1.53 each to purchase vs. 70 cents to rent. So yes, this definitely increased our expenditure, especially because we ordered enough napkins to accommodate our entire guest list, since we knew we wouldn’t have the final guest count in until much later. But I really loved the napkins, they were useful, and they did add a lot to our tables. We tucked the programs and menus right inside and they functioned as our seating labels as well.


If you haven’t seen Rachel + Dustin’s beautiful wedding, be sure to give it looksie ASAP. And there are still some of Rachel’s own napkins left in the Marketplace you guys! There’s no shame is taking the easy way out with your DIY-ing.

Don’t forget to pop over to Rachel’s blog this week for the rest of her tutorials.

Process photos by Rachel.
Wedding photos by Fresh in Love Photography.