Onion Skins and my Mom’s Damask Napkins

It’s been a year of both many personal losses and learning new things.   Both my parents passed away after my one older sister, Sandra passed from a stroke  in September.    They both died of broken hearts after grieving the loss of their one daughter and then my dad after losing his wife of 62 years.    A shock to lose half my immediate family in a short seven months.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.    (Emily Dickinson)

And the good part was learning how to do some botanical dyeing in February at a workshop given by Lorri Scott here at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.  Which was a great source of inspiration!  You can get some great images of leaves.  Since my art has been focused around leaves in the past few years, it seemed appropriate to continue with more leaf applications.

In sorting through my parents’ house, I found a set of these white damask cotton napkins that I remembered my mom using at big family dinners.   There was a tablecloth as one point but my mom was good about getting rid of stuff.   Though still amazing how much stuff there was to sort through!  Some were stained with pink, but I could see that these might be useful for something.


And since I already enjoy doing rust dyeing and had just learned how to do botanical dyeing, these seemed like a good thing to play with!


Here is how I did this.  First, I sprayed the napkin with deluded rubbing alcohol.  I sorted through some onion skins which were in pieces, laid them on the front side of the napkin,  which I then folded in half.   I used yellow onion skins which gave off some yellow more a rusty orange but mostly black.  I was able to get the skins from my local farmers’ market and they filled up my bag with all their loose skins.

After it’s folded, I took a re-bar and started rolling up one end.  The end that you start with will show on the edge of the fabric.   On one, I rolled 2 re-bars in it, rolling up from each side.   Then I tied fabric strips around this package and placed in a vegetable steamer for 40 minutes.  That’s it!

The rust and black stripes are from the re-bar.   I do lose the damask designs against the dyeing.  But they turned out really pretty.

Now need to decide what to do with these pieces.

My mom was a fabulous quilter and seamstress.   When I working with these napkins, I could feel my mother’s presence surrounding me.   She is probably wondering why I am turning her white napkins black and rust but as always probably amused by it all.

It seems impossible that they are all gone.   My one friend Janet sent me a card that said “that knowing me all these years that I am probably weathering the time with courage, reason and philosophical musing.”     The one way that I can push through the sadness and the void left by these three people, is to create.   And so I’ll continue to create and record my journey here.

Update:  I made a purse out of these napkins.  Here it is:  I used fabric given to me from my friend who works as at an interior decorator company, hand printed leaf fabric (the red leaves) and the clasp is a magnetic necklace clasp.   Purse


4 thoughts on “Onion Skins and my Mom’s Damask Napkins

    • Kathy, Thanks. It’s amazing how much their lives are now becoming part of my art. I didn’t expect this would happen since for a couple of months I was too grieve stricken to do anything. Merry

  1. Wow! So much has changed for you in a few short months – some additions, some subtractions, but all changes to get used to and embrace. After all, life is change. Though you no longer have the family members who have passed on, you have their memories, and your art. I’ll bet you combine them in additional ways – these Damask napkins are just the beginning.

    Best of luck on your retirement. I, too retired early, at 55 and never regretted it. Your new art expressions sound exciting, but I must admit that I will miss the T-shirts that I would buy at the TMA sales. Hope to see you at THSG meetings once in a while.

    • Yes I’ve had a lot of changes this past year but now I’m taking charge of what I can in my life. Maybe I can make a meeting once I’m working less. It is certainly something I am looking forward to.

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