Upcycling ‘Round the House – Your Dining Room

By Ebony Porter, March 16, 2016, Green

In a world where we have so much stuff (and so much trash), upcycling has become the way to give something old a new face lift, complete with a revitalized sense of purpose. With our Upcycling ‘Round the House series, we’ll take you into each room of the house and present one project that turns something so-so into something oh-so-grand. 

Freshen Up Your Dining Room with Dyed Cloth Napkins

When was the last time you rejuvenated your dining room? Spring comes with an abundance of food from our farms and gardens, so there’s no wonder we start brimming with fresh ideas for new recipes and visions of spring-themed dinner parties. In the “Dining Room” installment of our Upcycling ‘Round the House series, we’re going to help you freshen up your table presentation.

Upcycling 'Round the House: Your Dining Room

It’s time to transform these boring white napkins!

If you’re not already using cloth napkins, then get on board! They’re better for the environment, classier at the dinner table, and will be a household item that will be used with love for many years to come. Rather than purchasing new ones to give your table a lift, why not consider dyeing them using totally natural, non-toxic dyes?

All around us are organic materials you can use to transform the textiles in your life. By collecting parts of foods we already consume or foraging for plant life and insects in your area, you will find dyestuffs that can paint your world into new colors – complete with some thought, love, and patience.

Today, we will turn your current table linens into gold using yellow onion skins! Not only can you use our recipe to dye cloth napkins, you could also dye your white tablecloths, whether they’re made of cotton, linen, or lace. Yellow onion skins will help you discover colors ranging from a pale lemon shade to a rich earthy saffron. The saturation of color all depends on how long you allow your skins to soak and the fabrics you’re dyeing.

The Basics of Natural Dyes

With any natural dyeing, you can only dye an item made from pure and natural fibers. This means no rayon, no polyester, and no other synthetic fabrics. Wool and silk are considered protein fibers since they come from an animal, while cotton, hemp, and linen are considered cellulose fibers because they come from plants. When selecting old linens to dye, be sure they are 100% cotton or linen.

You’ll need a large (preferably aluminum) pot for your dyes, along with a colander, a long wooden spoon, gloves, and a dose of patience! Use a pot that, when half full, will contain enough liquid to fully submerge and cover the fabric when it comes time for dyeing.

You’ll also need water, and a heat source.

Prepare Your Onions

Upcycling 'Round the House: Your Dining Room

Yes – onion skins. Preferably, classic yellow onions.

To dye with yellow onion skins, you’ll want to gather as many onion skins as possible. The more onion skins you have, the stronger color your dye will be. Start saving your onion peels from any cooking you do, or head to the local grocery store where the skins lie by the bucket loads at the bottom of the onion bins. Just ask the grocer if you can have any extras there might be in the back.

To store them, simply keep them in a plastic bag in a safe location. In fact, my bag sits on a high shelf in my laundry room. And if you have a mesh net onion bag, then it’s all the better.

What is wonderful about this concept of dyeing is that it reuses something that otherwise ends up in your compost bin (or the landfill). Not only does this project upcycle, it also involves recycling!

Prepare Your Dye Pot

Upcycling 'Round the House: Your Dining Room

Make sure your pot is never more than half full of water. The fabric you’re dyeing has to go somewhere.

1) Fill your large pot with your onion skins and cover them with water.

2) Don’t fill the whole pot with water as you don’t want your dye to be overly diluted.

3) Don’t worry about dirt on the skins, it won’t affect your dyeing results.

4) Bring the pot of onion skins to a boil for 30 minutes and then simmer for one full hour. The only smell you’ll experience is that of a basic onion soup cooking.

5) Allow the pot to completely cool.

6) For best results, allow the onion skins to marinate in the water for at least 48 hours. The longer you let them sit, the stronger dye you will create.

Preparing to Dye Your Linens

1) Once your pot of dye is ready, strain the onion skins out with a colander and into another pot. You can then transfer the liquid dye back into your original pot.

2) The liquid should be a deep rusty orange color. When using an aluminum pot, the alum in the metal helps the dye achieve a stronger, brighter tone.

Upcycling 'Round the House: Your Dining Room

The fabric needs to be submerged fully in water, but the dye needs room to move so it comes into contact with all of the available surfaces.

3) Take your linens and fully submerge them into plain warm water, and make sure all the fibers are fully saturated. The fibers will accept the dye better when they are wet.

4) Place the linens into the dye pot one at a time. Using your long wooden spoon, gently submerge the fabric so it can move freely. Be sure and pop bubbles if they occur. Don’t overcrowd your pot.

Upcycling 'Round the House: Your Dining Room

Find a safe place for this pot to sit for the next two days.

5) Bring the pot of dye and linens to a boil, and then allow to pot to simmer for one hour.

6) After the one hour of simmering, remove the pot from the heat, and let the linens soak in the dye. The longer you leave the linens in the dye the better, so if you can hold off for 48 hours, do it!

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

If you’ve followed our method, it’s been 4 days since you started dyeing. We’re almost finished!

1) Remove the linens from the dye and thoroughly rinse them with water. It’s safe to do this in the kitchen sink.

2) Toss them into the washing machine and wash with a gentle detergent.

3) Dry in a dryer, and then bask in your golden results!

Upcycling 'Round the House: Your Dining Room

Now, isn’t that new color just lovely? Thanks, onions!

You should proudly now have a whole new color scheme on your dining room table, thanks to some discarded onion skins, water, heat, and patience. And if you’re like me, this first project might send you down a rabbit hole into the vast and vibrant world of natural dyeing.

Stay tuned for our next installment of Upcycling ‘Round the House, as we’ll venture into the bedroom!

Images courtesy of Ebony Porter.

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Born in Australia, Ebony has been in Texas long enough to consider herself a Texan-Aussie. Ebony has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, for more than 10 years. When she's not writing she's building quilts, growing her own food, or camping with her family somewhere far from the sounds of the city.

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