Elsie Larson

Shibori Tie-Dye Cloth Napkin Tutorial

Shibori is a much more exciting and ancient version of the tie-dye fun we all had at summer camp. It's the process of binding your fabric with twine, rope, clips, and clamps as well as cardboard, rocks, poles, etc. and hand-dyeing it for a beautiful dye-resist pattern. The end result is a unique, one-of-a-kind patterned textile that you can then turn into a beautiful bolster pillow for your bed, a light summer scarf, or some fun cloth napkins for your next gathering. That's exactly what we'll be making with this project, and I know you'll be just as thrilled with your end result as I was with mine!

Shibori is traditionally used with indigo dye, but you can get a similarly lovely effect with a much simpler technique thanks to some pre-made dye packs on the market. I used a dye pack that can be mixed with cold water and squirted directly onto the fabric instead of having to boil water and submerge the cloth. Indigo dyeing is worth the effort, but if you're not comfortable with that process or don't have easy access to all of the supplies, this is a great alternative with stunningly similar results.

There are a few things to consider when choosing fabric for your shibori tie-dye project. Anything that is 100% cotton will work best for absorbing and holding the dye. A cotton gauze (think a light summer scarf) is going to be just as lovely as a combed cotton fabric—it just depends on the texture you want. Linen is also an excellent choice because of its beautiful texture and drape. Be sure to pre-wash all of your fabrics before dyeing to make sure they're free of any factory chemicals.

Working on smaller cuts of cotton at a time will help you achieve smaller pattern designs because you won't have as much bulk between layers. If you want to work on a larger cut of cloth to make a tablecloth or picnic blanket, scale up the size of your cardboard for a larger pattern and you'll still get great results. You will learn the most from experimenting with the process, so think about cutting up a few more napkins than you'll need in order to get creative with a few of the designs and see which folding techniques you prefer. Below I've shared what kinds of patterns you can get using a set of triangles, a set of rectangles, and a set of squares. These are not the only folding techniques out there by any means, but I do love the bold shapes they produce.

-pre-washed cotton fabric measuring about 18" x 18" per napkin
-cardboard to cut dye-resist shapes
-tie-dye powder and mixing bottle (must be cold water dye)
-twine or rubber bands
-something to keep your surface from getting stained
-plastic wrap
-sewing machine (optional)

Step One: Cut your fabric down to 18" x 18". Pull out extra strings to leave a frayed edge. You can hem these or leave them as is. Cut a set of triangles that are about 3.5" long on two sides. Fold your fabric in half to get a rectangle shape. Step Two: Fold your rectangle shape into thirds lengthwise. Step Three: Fold the short end on the left down as shown to create a triangle. Step Four: Fold that triangle underneath to create a flat edge. Step Five: Fold the folded part back again as shown. Step Six: Fold back under again. Continue this until you get to the end of your fabric for a triangle sandwich. Step Seven: Place cardboard triangles on either side of the fabric sandwich like pieces of bread and tie tightly with twine or add a ton of rubber bands. The triangles will help create a barrier so the dye won't seep through. The larger your cardboard shape, the more white space you'll have in your design.

Step One: Cut cardboard into a set of rectangles that measure about 1" x 3.5". Fold your cloth napkin square in half and then half again as shown to get a rectangular shape. Step Two: Fold your rectangle into thirds lengthwise. Step Three: Fold the left end back onto itself so that it's just slightly longer than the length of your cardboard. Keep folding back and forth until you get to the end. It doesn't have to be even. Step Four: Place the cardboard on each side and wrap with twine or rubber bands.

Step One: Cut your cardboard into a set of 2" x 2" squares. Fold your cloth napkin in half and then in half again lengthwise. Step Two: Fold in half from the right side. Step Three: Fold into thirds horizontally and then again. Step Four: Add cardboard squares and tie tightly with twine or rubber bands.

Run each bound piece under the faucet until it's absorbed a little water. You don't want it dripping wet but enough for it to absorb the dye a little easier. Squeeze it out a bit.

Place your bound napkins onto a safe surface such as a curtain liner, trash bag, or in a plastic tub so you won't ruin your surface. Prepare your dye according to manufacturer's directions. If you are using dye powder already in a bottle, just add water and shake carefully until stirred. If you're using dye from a packet, add to a bottle and fill with cold water. It'll disintegrate into your water as you shake it up. Make sure all of your fabric is prepared before you add water to your dye as your dye will only be good for a short amount of time.

For a really defined pattern, soak your edges with dye so that there is no white showing at all. There will be plenty of white from the spaces that are covered and pushed tightly together, so this will make for a lovely contrast. If you want a splotchy look, drip it all over but don't fill it in completely.

Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and let it sit for about eight hours to let the dye work its magic. Then unwrap and rinse in cold water until the water runs clear. Follow manufacturer's directions for washing in the washing machine so your dye doesn't bleed.

Above are the three different outcomes after they've been rinsed, dried, and ironed. The far left napkin is from the set of triangles, the center napkin is from the set of rectangles, and the right napkin is from the set of squares. Even if I folded another set with the same folds, it's not likely I'd get the same exact pattern each time, but this is the general idea on how your edges take the dye and how the insides that are pressed together resist the dye. It's kind of like putting your quarters in the sticker machine at the arcade. You generally know what you're getting, but it's still a surprise when you open it up!

Feel free to hem your edges by ironing them over 1/4" and again 1/4" before stitching a line down the edge. Repeat on the next three sides. Otherwise, enjoy the slightly frayed look.

Tie-dyeing your own cloth napkins is a really fun way to add more pattern and color to your table and is sure to make your mealtime or next party a little more special! -Rachel

Credits//Author and Photography: Rachel Denbow. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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