Love It & Leaf It: Tie-Dye for Bright Fall Projects
FLASHY FOLIAGE Coleus comes in a variety of patterns and leaf shapes, and in striking shades such as hot pink, burgundy, chartreuse and yellow-gold. Grown as annuals in the Midwest, these low-maintenance plants thrive summer through fall. Pinch off the growing stems on coleus to encourage fresh leaf growth and a full, bushy shape.
DREAM TEAM When I told my friend Joanne Roth, who owns Des Moines-based Modern Monogramming, about my plan to create tie-dyed projects inspired by the electric hues of coleus, her creative brain kicked in. She suggested embellishing 6x6-inch cocktail napkins with embroidered words, using a simple chain stitch. I love the cheerful, bespoke flair they add to the bar cart on my screen porch.
These linen napkins were an inexpensive find on Amazon—perfect for tie-dyeing.
Rather than tossing leftover dye, use it to stain cotton fabric strips and paper tags. (Choose a toothy, or more textured, paper, such as cotton rag.)
Fill a sturdy dish with a mixture of water and corn oil. Nestle in plant cuttings, then add floating wicks (widely available online).
LETTER PERFECT A monogram looks completely fresh when it's stitched in lower case on magenta tie-dye—and especially when paired with matte black flatware and charcoal plates. The charger is a 10-inch wooden plate from Holland Bowl Mill, a family-run Michigan company that began as a wooden shoe manufacturer in 1926.
Coleus clippings keep nicely in water, so use them to bulk out late-season arrangements.
Don't stop with the tabletop! Dye linen and cotton throw pillow covers to dress up benches or chairs.
Dyed & True
Tie-dye package instructions will explain the basics, but over the years, I've learned a few tricks for producing vibrant color (and keeping it where I want it).
AVOID SYNTHETICS Stick to natural fabrics, such as 100 percent cotton, silk, wool, hemp or linen. Poly blends never come out as bright.
PROTECT EVERYTHING Cover surfaces and wear old clothes or an apron. Line the area where you work with paper towels to catch drips and prevent dye from pooling under your project. Wear gloves—and rinse them (while wearing) as you work to prevent tainting one dye with another.
WASH AND DON'T DRY Before dyeing, wash fabric with a gentle detergent to remove chemical residue. Dampness determines how dye travels through fibers: If you want colors to merge and transition organically, keep the fabric quite wet (though not soaking). For more defined lines or patterns, let fabric partially air-dry.
PLAY WITH COLOR I like Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Kits—they're economical and fuss-free, with lots of colors. Unless you dig a Grateful Dead (or muddy) effect, limit projects to two or three analogous colors, like my coleus-inspired red, pink and purple. They'll happily merge to create beautiful, variegated transitions. Remember that complementary hues—opposites on the color wheel, such as purple and yellow—will turn brown if they bleed together. For patterns, I use narrow zip-ties, not rubber bands. They go on more easily and stay put.
LET IT STEEP After dyeing, wrap each item in plastic wrap to prevent different colors from contacting one another and place in a zip-top bag. The longer the rest, the stronger the colors; I always wait 24 to 48 hours. Put your gloves back on and rinse each item separately under cool water until the water runs clear. (Some dyes require a vinegar soak next, but with Tulip One-Step, I find I can skip that.) Finally, heat-set with an iron, protecting the board with butcher paper or a brown grocery bag. (Or put items in a hot dryer, if shrinking isn't a concern.)