How to Make Reusable Napkins: Botanical Dyeing with Food Waste (Guest Blog)

botanical dyeing reusable napkins

What’s the one thing your waste-free kit is missing?

Shopping bags? Check.

Reusable coffee cup? Check.

Metal drink bottle? Bamboo straw? Cutlery? Check. Check. Check.

How about reusable napkins?

Did you know that tissues, paper napkins and paper towels make up a large percentage of waste that ends up in landfill? Besides plastic drinking bottles and straws, tissues and paper towels are some of the largest contributors to our waste problems. Yes, they are made from natural fibres and CAN break down and return nutrients to the earth, but the problem lies in the landfill environment. The desired environment for breakdown is similar to that of a compost heap - warm, damp, aerated, and kept at a lovely constant temperature. Everything your common landfill is not.

Enter the reusable cloth napkin. Think back to the times of our grandparents, I know my grandmother had beautiful cloth napkins, lovingly handmade. A simple exchange, an easy swap for tissues and paper napkins.

With this in mind, I would like to show you just how easy it is to make your own botanical dye reusable napkins. But before we start, I hear you say - what is botanical dye?

What is Botanical Dye?

Botanical dye is a dye made from part or all of a plant. The dye is extracted by soaking the plants in hot water, wherein the natural colours of the plants are released.

In this instance we will use avocado seeds for our dye. Otherwise destined to be food waste, avocado seeds produce a beautiful blushing brown to pink depending on the mood of the dye bath. That’s the beauty of botanical dye: no two dyes will ever be the same.

materials need to dye cloth napkins

Equipment needed:

Botanical dye.

  • Large stockpot or saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • 5-6 avocado seeds
  • Water

Reusable Napkins.

  • 50cm x 50cm of cotton or linen fabric (old sheets remnants are perfect)
  • Scissors
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Sewing pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Cotton thread


make your own reusable napkins

  1. Using you ruler or measuring tape, measure out 25cm along the top and bottom edge of your fabric, mark with a pin. Do the same along the side edges - mark out 25cm. Cut, using your pins as a guide. You should now have four little squares of  fabric measuring 25cm x 25cm.sustainability at home
  2. To prepare your dye bath, first you will need to ensure your avocado seeds are thoroughly washed. Give them a nice little once over with a damp washing cloth. This is to make sure your dye bath is not polluted by the flesh of the avocado. Pop your avocado seeds into your stockpot and fill with water. You will need to fill your pot about 3/4 full, to make sure your fabric will have plenty of room to swish around in the dye bath for a nice even colour. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and let simmer on low for one hour. Breathe in that sweet natural smell of your dye bath as it matures. how to make a dye bath
  3. Remove avocado seeds from pot, and return to heat. Add in your fabric now and bring back to boil. (Don’t forget to compost your avocado seeds). Once your dye bath has reached boiling, reduce heat again and simmer on low for another hour. After this last hour has passed, turn off heat. Leave your fabric in the dye bath until it has cooled, or longer if you wish. The longer the fabric stays in the bath the stronger the colour. I like to leave mine in overnight for a more intense colour.
    sew your own reusable napkins
  4. Rinse your fabric in cold water, dry and iron. Fold over each edge twice and press. Sew on  straight stitch setting on your sewing machine, stitch each edge in this manner. Repeat for each of your four pieces of fabric.

That's it! I'd love to see how your creations turn out and how you're using them - post a photo on instagram and tag @thelmajadedesigns and @airllywood. 

renae wan, thelma jade designs, handmade napkins

To see more of Renae’s work and experiments with botanical dyes head to her instagram page @thelmajadedesigns or visit her Etsy shop.