What I love about natural dyes is how truly surprising the source of the color can be. For instance, one would think that pomegranate seeds hold a treasure trove of dye color, but it is actually the pomegranate rind that holds the true color potential and has been used for millennia as both a dye and a mordant for the intensity of its tannin. In my opinion, this is just another way that nature continues to provide—you get to enjoy the pomegranate fruit and at the same time make gorgeous shades with its leftover rinds.
The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub. Its fruit comes into season in the fall and winter months in drier climates. Pomegranate is native to Iran and northeast Turkey and has been cultivated throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. The pomegranate also thrives in the drier climates of California and other areas of the southwestern United States. It has been considered a symbol of fertility in multiple cultures throughout history, including in Persia, China, and India. Pomegranates are a beautiful and colorful fruit to add to any celebratory gathering.
Pomegranate rinds can also provide golden winter color without a mordant or an even brighter tone with aluminum sulfate. Adding iron turns the color more ochre, green, and even black. By using fresh pomegranates, you can enjoy a holiday pomegranate cocktail with the seeds and then use the rinds to dye the confetti-print cocktail napkins.
- 16 cotton cocktail napkins, about 8 by 8 inches (4 ounces)
- Rinds from 1 to 3 large pomegranates, cleaned well and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon guar gum powder
- 1 teaspoon aluminum sulfate
- Heat- and water-resistant gloves
- Medium stainless steel pot with lid
- Stainless steel bowl
- Dedicated dye blender
- Pencil with round eraser for stamping
- Steam iron
- Piece of cotton canvas
Scour your cotton cocktail napkins.
Put the chopped pomegranate rinds in a medium stainless steel dye pot one-third full of water to create a concentrated dye liquid. Bring to a slow boil and simmer for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let the dye steep. You can also let your dye steep overnight for deeper, richer colors.
Scoop the pomegranate rinds out of the dye bath with a strainer; you can save the rinds and create another dye bath or compost them. Using a cheesecloth, strain the cooled liquid through cheesecloth into a stainless steel bowl. Pour liquid back into dye pot and heat on low.
Turn off heat and let cool slightly, and then pour 1 cup of the heated dye liquid into a blender reserved just for dyeing. (If you have any leftover dye liquid, you can save this for later projects or use it to dip-dye extra party linens.) With the liquid still warm, add the guar gum and alum mordant powders in thirds. Blend evenly each time to remove lumps and to make sure that the paste is as smooth as possible.
When your printing paste is ready and cooled to room temperature, wear gloves and use the round eraser on the end of a pencil to stamp circles in a random pattern on the napkins. Let the pomegranate rind paste fully dry. Lightly steam the fabric with an iron with a piece of cotton canvas in between.
You can use your napkins immediately. When necessary, wash them gently with pH-neutral soap and hang to dry out of direct sunlight.