In this project, raw silk and fresh mint dyed using the itajime shibori technique create a table runner and matching dip-dyed napkins, a perfect base for a summer dinner party—or any occasion.
Heat- and water-resistant gloves
Strong twine or rubber bands
2 rectangular wooden blocks, at least ½-inch thick (about 4 by 8 inches)
Medium stainless steel pot with lid
1 ½ yards raw silk (silk noil) fabric (4 ounces)
4 ounces mint leaves and stems chopped
1 ½ tablespoons aluminum sulfate
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar (optional)
½ teaspoon iron powder
NOTE: Mint (Mentha species) is an aromatic perennial herb popular as a flavoring in cooking, baking, tea, and an abundance of body care and beauty products. Mint thrives in cool, moist climates and grows rapidly by means of its underground runners. Mint can grow wild, and can even become a problem in a garden because it can quickly take over, which makes it an excellent candidate for the dye pot.
When gathering mint (cultivated or wild), harvest just the leaves and stems if you wish the plant to continue to grow, or use the entire plant, including the roots, if you hope to eradicate it from that area.
Mint creates a fresh (minty!) blue-green dye color with alum salts and an iron modifier, and it smells wonderful while steeping in the dye bath.
Scour the raw silk fabric and let air dry.
Cut the raw silk fabric lengthwise down the center and set aside one-half for the table runner. Cut the other half into six equal pieces for matching napkins and set aside. Fold the fabric for the table runner following the instructions for itajime shibori. Bind the folded bundle with the block and strong twine or rubber bands. Leave your fabric and napkins to soak until your mint dye bath is ready.
In a stainless steel pot large enough to hold the fabric, place the mint leaves and stems in water and slowly bring to a low boil.
Simmer for 20 to 40 minutes.
When your mint dye bath looks greenish yellow, strain out the leaves with a stainless steel strainer. Wearing heat- and water-resistant gloves and a dust mask, add the aluminum sulfate, cream of tartar, if using, and the iron powder to the dye bath and stir well. The color should turn a brighter teal-green. Add the wet runner bundle to the dye bath and bring to a low simmer.
Simmer for at least 40 to 60 minutes, or turn off the heat and let the fabric soak in the dye overnight to achieve the desired mint green color. Dip-dye the napkins all at once for consistency. Dip 4 to 6 inches of the napkin edge in the dye bath for at least 10 to 15 minutes for stable results and good dye bonding. When the desired fresh-mint shade is reached, remove the napkins and the bundle from the pot with stainless steel tongs. Remove the twine or rubber bands and the wood pieces from the runner.
Wash the runner and napkins in lukewarm water and pH-neutral soap. Let your runner and napkins dry out of direct sunlight need to hold the blanket so only the edges rest in the dye bath, and keep an eye on it for 20 minutes or more to get stable color. The longer you let the edge of the blanket steep, the more saturated the color. You can also turn off the heat entirely after 15 minutes and let the blanket slowly steep overnight. Be aware that the dye may wick up farther into the woolen blanket, however, so anticipate this when you dip the edges and leave some room for the color to spread higher.
When the desired color is reached, carefully remove the blanket from the dye and gently rinse with pH-neutral soap and water at the same temperature as the dye bath. Press your blanket gently with your hands to remove excess water and lay flat to dry, out of direct sunlight.
As featured in the Spring issue of Beekman 1802 Almanac Magazine. For more check out NATURAL COLOR by Sasha Duerr, copyright © 2016. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.