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Pastel Paradise: How to Make Natural Dyes for Fabric

by on Mar 28, 2018

I’m all about pastels right now, and I suspect we’ll be seeing even more pastels while spring is in bloom. To create the pastel paradise I want for Easter, I felt I needed pastel colored fabric napkins. Since I wanted to learn more about natural dyes, I searched for ways to dye fabric with traditional household items in order to achieve my pastel color palette. I decided to experiment with a few different ingredients, and ultimately, red onion skins, turmeric and blueberries helped me create three pastel napkins to use this season.

Small napkins are on a table.

To make pastel napkins, I created a dye bath with red onion skins to create light pink, turmeric to make yellow, and blueberries to make lavender. I read a lot about natural dyeing before testing it out myself, but I know that I have so much more to learn as I keep practicing.

My first attempt at these napkins yielded unimpressive results, and here’s why: I was using poor quality fabric that was too synthetic to hold the dye. Let this be a lesson to you to use cotton napkins and pre-wash them for best results. Every fabric type will handle dye differently.

Turmeric powder and grapes in a bowl with the paper towel


  • Cotton fabric napkins
  • Large pot
  • Tongs
  • Slotted spoon or sieve
  • Dye materials:
    • Red onion skin from one onion
    • 1 tbsp turmeric
    • 1 cup of blueberries

Note, the steps that follow show onion skins as the example, but the directions will be the same for all three types of dye.

A slightly old pan with with some water and a lot of red onion peels.


Bring about 3-4 cups of water to a boil with the dye material in a large saucepan. I dyed one napkin at a time.


Once boiling, reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

A person scooping gelatin out of a hot pan with a long silver and black ladle.


Use a slotted spoon, sieve or colander to remove the onion skins or blueberries.

Person is dipping a cloth in dye.


Wet the napkins and squeeze out water so that the fabric is damp. Then submerge in the dye bath on low heat.


Time will vary according to the dye because some are stronger than others. Let the napkin soak until your desired color is reached, anywhere from 1-30 minutes, moving it occasionally with a set of tongs so that the color is evenly distributed.

Note, turmeric is very strong. You should only allow the napkin to soak for a few seconds before rinsing to achieve a light yellow color. The others DO need to soak longer, and the colors may lighten as they dry.


When you’re satisfied with the color, carefully remove the fabric and run under cold water until the water runs clear. Squeeze out excess water and allow to dry.

Something white is hanging on a white rod.

I dried my fabrics outside in the shade because the sunlight can bleach away the colors. You can also dry the fabric in an electric dryer.

Use your new natural-dyed pastel napkins to decorate for spring! I’m excited to use mine for a lot of different occasions this season!

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