The perfect decanter. A sized-just-right serving board (and charming cheese markers to match). There’s no end to the thoughtful host gifts you can buy for an entertaining-whiz friend to show your gratitude for all the good times they cook up. Even in a last-minute pinch, it’s worth bypassing the old flowers-and-fruitcake route for something a little more heartfelt. But if you have a couple of days and access to some natural fabric and dye, you can create an on-trend—and one-of-a-kind—indigo placemat set that will be the talk of the table at their next big event.
Our favorite method for dyeing with indigo is shibori, an ancient Japanese technique built around folding and binding fabric to create what’s called a resist pattern. The striped style we’re sharing today is especially beginner-friendly—and perfect for transforming lackluster table linens into eye-catching and gift-worthy accents.
A few tips prior to dyeing: Read the pamphlet that comes with the dye kit—it’s full of valuable information, and the more you know going into the process, the easier it will be. Then, make sure the fabric you are using is 100% natural, as indigo won’t dye synthetic fibers or blends. We love working with linen, as it picks up the indigo color nicely.
Ready to get started? Read on to learn how to bring linen placemats, napkins, and more to life with this timeless dyeing technique.
At a glance
Time: 4 hours or more
You will need:
Step 1: Prepare the dye bath
Following the kit instructions, fill a 5-gallon bucket with warm water and mix in the dye with a paint stick, stirring in a circular motion. Next, add the soda ash and reduction agent. Stir slowly in one direction, then reverse and continue stirring slowly in the other direction. The dye will look neon green, and you will start to notice a foamy top forming; you can remove this foam before you begin dyeing if you like. Next, cover the bucket (to prevent oxidation) and wait at least 30 minutes. (The longer you wait, the darker the dye will be; we waited 45 minutes before dyeing our first item.)
Step 2: Fold fabric
Dampen a placemat with water, then fold the fabric accordion-style, working from one long edge toward the other. Next, fold the whole thing in half, as shown.
Step 3: Bind fabric
Position three paint sticks beneath the folded placemat, evenly spaced. Place three more sticks on top of the folded placemat, directly above the other three sticks. Tightly bind each pair of sticks together using rubber bands, making sure that the rubber bands don’t touch the fabric.
Step 4: Submerge fabric in dye
Wearing rubber gloves, submerge the fabric in the dye bucket. Hold the fabric under the surface of the dye and massage gently for three to five minutes, being careful not to touch the bottom of the bucket.
Step 5: Remove, rest, rinse, and repeat
Remove the fabric from the dye; the color will appear both indigo and green. Let the folded fabric sit to oxidize—that’s when the color will change from green to indigo. Once oxidized, you can repeat the dyeing process for a deeper, darker hue.
Step 5: Wash, dry, and display
After dyeing, remove the rubber bands and paint sticks and lay the placemats flat to allow for full oxidization. Wash in cold water and tumble dry on low to complete the process.
No time to DIY? Shop these shibori-inspired finds:
Project and photography by Sara and Melissa of Alice & Lois.