Fresh Flower Napkins Using Pollinator Palettes

Fresh Flower Napkins Using Pollinator Palettes

Cayla Zelanis

This week Sasha Duerr, renowned natural dyer, artist, and educator, guides us through the beautiful and interactive process of using commonly found flowers that will not only serve as beautiful backdrops pressed into old linens but are also important sources of pollen for insects buzzing around your garden or local park. 

Pollinator Palettes - Viola Summer Napkins

Growing and creating colors with edible flowers from your garden can be beneficial all around. With their stunning colors and patterns, pansies and violas produce nectar for both bumblebees and honeybees, helping to bring pollinators to your backyard or even your urban apartment’s windowsill. The edible flowers (and leaves) can be used in salads, as garnishes and to make delicious infusions.  Easy perennials to grow through the summer months, violas are also a versatile and wonderful way to add gorgeous plant-coloured hues to both refresh pre-loved textiles and infuse a refreshingly floral summer drink!

The Flowering Evolution of Pollinators 

Our friends and partners at White Buffalo Land Trust shared some deeper insight with us on pollinators and just how vital they are to our ecosystem. WBLT is a team of active land stewards, field researchers, educators, and leaders committed to the work of developing California's Central Coastal bioregion into a thriving food system built on the regeneration of soil, ecosystems, and community systems. 

  • Flowers co-evolved with other creatures, developing nectaries and showy flowers to attract and feed them
  • Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, humans and most importantly, bees are all pollinators. 
  • From drylands, to pasture, from woodlands to forests, cultivating habitat for pollinators is key to enhancing the overall function of our ecosystems.
  • Pollinators visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot. They travel from plant to plant carrying pollen on their bodies in a vital interaction that allows the transfer of genetic material; this is critical to the reproductive system of most flowering plants. 

  • Patternings including distinct characteristics such as colors, scent, and nectar guide pollinators to flowers to attract and reward. (Sometimes this is only perceivable by the pollinator). 
  • One in every three bites of food is due to pollinators 
  • Flowering plants have co-evolved with their pollinator partners over millions of years producing a fascinating and interesting diversity of floral strategies and pollinator adaptations. The great variety in color, form, and scent we see in flowers is a direct result of the intimate association of flowers with pollinators.
  • The biggest threats to pollinators are: Pesticides + Herbicides, Land Disturbance, Pathogens, and Climate Change. 
  • Cultivating a Pollinator Habitat: Ensure sufficient foraging habitat for pollinators, and provide essential nesting sites for native pollinators including dead branches, bare soil, and specific plant host species. Marginalized land such as field edges, ponds, urban areas, and noncrop land can be converted into flowering pollinator pastures. A diversity of flowering forage year-round is needed to keep pollinators healthy. 
  • Plants have evolved to have different flowering times that occur throughout the growing season to decrease competition for pollinators and to provide pollinators with a constant supply of food. From the first hints of warmth in late winter through spring and summer, until the last call in autumn, flowering plants are available to their pollinators providing pollen and nectar in exchange for the pollination service.

Bundle Dyeing With Violas  

Pansies and violas can create a rainbow of beautiful hues on old textiles. You can create your own napkin set by cutting pre-loved cotton or linen sheets, or take older napkin sets and cover stains with lush floral prints. These napkins can evolve as you do as it's easy to continue adding layers of color and pattern over the years, shift their hues simply, and continue to give them new life. 

What You Will Need:

  • Well-washed 100 percent natural cotton or linen large enough for napkin(s)
  • pH-neutral washing soap (eco-friendly dish soap works great)
  • Non reactive stainless-steel cooking pot with lid reserved just for dyeing (thrift stores and garage sales are great places to find affordable stainless-steel dyeing pots!)
  • 12 -14 viola flowers per napkin
  • Single chopstick and cooking string or strong rubber bands for creating pattern design

Getting Started: 

  1. Gather your linens or cottons for your project. Make sure to pre-wash by soaking or simmering in hot to warm water with pH-neutral soap to remove any dirt, grime, or residues. Rinse and hang to dry.
  2. Optional: For more light and wash fastness for color you can choose to add a mordant (a fixative that helps color bind to fiber).  Soak textile overnight with 1 1/2 teaspoon of aluminium acetate mordant per 1/4 lb of dry weight of fiber (Botanical Colors is a great resource for natural dye extracts and mordants - See more here!)

How To:

  1. Gather 12-14 deep colored pansies or viola flowers to create lush, fully patterned cotton or linen napkins 
  2. Place flowers in desired pattern on your cotton textile
  3. Use a single chopstick to tightly roll textile with flowers in place  
  4. Once textile is rolled tightly tie a string to each side of roll to keep in place
  5.  Add rolled textile to a large enough pot to fully cover your textile(s)  
  6. Bring textile and water to a low boil (180 F) and then simmer gently for 20-40 minutes. Careful not to rapidly boil as you can lose color
  7. Remove your textile from the water and let it cool while still rolled 
  8. To bring out more blues add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 1/4 cup water and sprinkle over textile. To bring out more pinks add 1 teaspoon vinegar to 1/4 cup water and sprinkle on textile 
  9. Carefully unroll your textiles revealing patterns and prints of your flowers on chosen cloth 
  10. Rinse with water and pH neutral soap
  11. Hang to dry! 

Viola Simple Syrup  

Viola simple syrup brings garden color and flavor to summer infused cocktails, mocktails or sparkling waters. 

Violas have a delicate and perfumed flavor, and in herbalism, medicinally known to help lung and chest coughs, as well as headaches and dizziness. Violas in traditional folk medicine were also called “heart ease”  as it was often used as an integral ingredient in love potions.


  • 1 cup viola flowers (for deeper colors remove any leaves or stems and choose darkest hued flowers)  *Be sure your flowers have not been sprayed with pesticides before using*
  • 1 cup distilled water 
  • 1/2 cup sugar 

How To:

  1. Boil your filtered water for 5- 10 minutes, turn off heat and let cool. Add violas to water and let them steep overnight. 
  2. Strain your viola water through a fine mesh strainer and make sure to press flowers for any remaining color. 
  3. For every cup yielded of viola water, add in 2 cups of sugar.
  4. Stir into the same pot on low heat to fully dissolve sugar. Carefully keeping at a low simmer and making sure not to boil- as that will lose color from your violas. 
  5. To shift the hue, stir in a little lemon juice, a drop at a time (5-10 drops) to create more of a clear bright purple. For more blue hues leave out additional drops of lemon. 
  6. Your syrup can now be refrigerated and stored for up to 6 months.
  7. Add your viola simple syrup to cocktails, mocktails and sparkling waters for a colourful floral infusion straight from your summer garden. 

More on Regenerative Design and Pollinator Palette Inspiration: 

NATURAL PALETTES: Inspiration from Plant-based Color

More Seasonal Color Projects, Recipes + Techniques: 

NATURAL COLOR : Vibrant Plant Dye Projects for Your Home and Wardrobe 

More on origins of Eco Printing and Bundle Dyeing with Master Alchemist and Dyer India Flint: 

ECO COLOUR : Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles 

Heirloom Seed Resource for Growing your Own Pollinator Palettes: 

Baker Creek Seeds: