How to Make Sharpie Tie-Dyed Fireworks Napkins

My favorite project from this year's 4th of July party had to be the tie-dye style custom paper napkins I made to line the hot dog baskets.  They look like groovy fireworks, and were so much fun to make!

tie dye fireworks napkins 4th of July

You can get the kids involved in this project, because it's pretty much no-fail.  No need to be an artist; it all looks great in the end!

Sharpie Tie Dye Napkins Materials:

  • paper towels
  • red and blue Sharpies
  • rubbing alcohol
  • cardboard, plastic, or parchment paper--something to protect the table
  • eyedropper or medicine syringe (optional)

Sharpie tie dye napkins 4th of July fireworks

Set your protective covering on your work surface.  I used parchment paper, because I have a ton of it, but scrap cardboard or plastic wrap would work well, too.  The color will bleed through the paper towel, so don't skip this step if you care about your table or counter.

All you need to do is use the Sharpies to draw extremely basic fireworks shapes.  I'm talking about a dot in the center with a few dots in a circle around the center dot.  Or lines radiating from a center point.  You don't want anything too complicated, because it'll run together and get muddy.  Basic is good.

Once you've drawn a rudimentary firework with the Sharpies, apply the rubbing alcohol to the center of the design.  As the rubbing alcohol soaks into the paper, it expands in a wet ring, and bleeds some of the color from the Sharpie lines, creating the cool, tie-dye effect.  I used a medicine syringe, because I happened to have one.  An eye dropper would also work well.  It's nice to use something that gives you a little control, because you want to put the alcohol directly in the center of your firework, and you don't need much.  But if you were careful, you could simply pour a few drops directly from the bottle.

4th of July hot dog fireworks napkins

Once they're dry, they're ready to use!  

Sharpie tie dye shirt napkin

To save some of you some trouble and experimentation, let me tell you what didn't work while I was figuring out this craft:

  • using regular printer paper
  • using parchment paper (REALLY didn't work--stick to using it as a protective layer)
  • using the kind of tissue paper that looks kind of shiny on one side

4th of July hot dog fireworks tie dye napkin

I didn't try the non-shiny kind of tissue paper (didn't have any on hand), but I suspect that would work.  Likewise, I think basic paper napkins would work.  Basically, you need something really absorbent, like the paper towels or the cotton shirts we decorated.  I was kind of surprised that regular printer paper failed as miserably as it did.  It seems to get plenty soaked if I manage to spill my drink on it.

In any case, paper towels worked wonderfully.  

Children were happy, hot dogs were eaten.  A success, by any measure.

A note for those who might be concerned about food safety here.  I did some research when I came up with this idea, just to make sure that I wasn't doing something stupid.  What I learned is that when isopropyl alcohol evaporates, it's gone.  Nothing left behind.  Nada.  (Well, the water in the rubbing alcohol is left behind, but that evaporates, too.)  It's a main ingredient in things like hand sanitizer and wet wipes, which we happily smear on our hands right before eating.  

As for the Sharpie, it's a judgment call.  Sharpies are non-toxic.  I even know that some cake decorators use them to draw on super distinct, clean black lines.  I'm not one of them, but I know it's done!  And after all, it's a Sharpie.  It's designed not to be removed.  Once it's dry, it's not rubbing off.  

If you're still concerned, perhaps try ironing waxed paper onto the napkin?  I haven't tried it, so I have no idea if it'll work with the textured paper towel, but it's worth a try!  Report back if you try it.

As for me, I was satisfied with the food safety issues.  It's good to have a mom who is both a microbiologist and a pastry chef.  ;-)