How to Tea Dye

Tea dyeing is an easy way to mute fabrics or give them an older, antiqued look. Tea stains the fibers and gives a semi-permanent dull brown "dirty" tone to the whole piece. It is used when you want to "antique" a craft textile such as a doll dress or small quilt.

Because the process uses tea bags it is not suggested for use on large objects. Tea also leaves an irregular spotted stain over the whole piece and it is not going to give you a "perfect" or even color. If you want to color large objects or get an even tone, use a commercial dye product.

Tea dye only works on natural fibers! This means cotton, silk, linen, and maybe wool. If it is polyester it will not take color! Tea dye is reddish brown in color and will not dye to an "off-white" or "eggshell" color. It is next to impossible to match colors with tea dye and I do not suggest trying tea dye in order to get a white fabric to blend with a creamy one.

Tea dye is semi-permanent. What this means is that while it will not wash out easily, you can usually remove it with bleach. It may also fade in sunlight. It is not suggested for use on items (such as clothing) that will be washed regularly as modern detergents are designed to remove the tea stain.

What you need:

What you do:

Set the water to boil. I suggest 4 cups of water for each yard of fabric.

When the water has come to a boil add two tea bags for each 8oz. cup of water.

Let the tea steep for about 5 minutes. You should have a really dark brown liquid. Squeeze out the teabags if you wish. It doesn't hurt to leave them in, though, except that they might get soggy and break.

Soak the fabric in the bucket of tea. Swish it around every so often if you want a smooth textured finish. Leave it without moving it much for a mottled finish. You can make samples with a small portion of tea and strips of fabric. Put all the strips in at the same time and pull one out every five minutes.

When the fabric has soaked "enough" pull it out and rinse it under cool water. You will loose a lot of the color doing this, so if it isn't dark enough to suit you, soak it some more. Be aware that when the fabric dries it will be slightly lighter as well. In my experience a medium light tan color can be achieved after about an hour. A richer tan can be achieved with an overnight soaking.

When you are satisfied with the color pop the item into the dryer on a high heat setting and tumble dry. If you are concerned about wrinkles, tumble until nearly dry and finish with a very hot iron. The heat setting is necessary to make the color permanent.

Don't like the result?

Tea, being a natural colorant, can be washed out with bleach. If you have dyed some fabric and now decide you don't like it quite as much as you thought you might, rinse it in the washer with a little bleach. Take care that any older items you treat this way can handle the bleaching. Most cotton deteriorates with time and bleach is very harsh on older fabrics.

One more note

You can use coffee as a dye as well. All those old coffee grounds that are too weak for drinking are fine for dying. Make a brew and soak your fabric as above. Just be aware that coffee is much more aromatic than tea, and your finished item will smell like coffee for a long time to come.

Remember

Tea dye does not work on synthetic fabrics! If you're going to try this anyway, please do not write to me and ask me for more advice. :)

A few more notes...

Every so often I get a letter asking me about tea-dying this or that, or something else. Donna wrote to ask about dying an entire queen-sized bedding set, and I suggested that for such a large amount of fabric she try a regular dye product instead. She would have a more even finished look, and the dye wouldn't wash out in the next load of laundry (remember, bleach...) Donna wrote back to share her experiences:

"Hello Dawn,

Awhile back I sent you a few e-mails about ?'s on Tea Dying. It took me awhile but I finally did the queen sheet set plus two additional pillow cases. You were right about the trim it did not take the dye but I liked the effect. I used the Rit Tint & Dye (Taupe #34) the dry packages. I used 1 package per sheet including 2 pillow cases in the washer. I dyed in 2 seperate batches to avoid uneven coloring. My sheets came out with even coloring. I'm happy with the results. I used very hot water & followed the directions on the box except I doubled the wash time by stopping the washer & resetting the time then rinsed 2X's the second rinse I added a cup of vinegar & cold water, I've heard vinegar will help set colors.

"This taupe color , says you can stain with it also, I bought 4 packages so I have 2 left. I hope the color holds. Your tips made good sense to me so I had the courage to take the chance on those rather costly sheets. Thanks for being there.

donnab"

Can I tea dye my couch?

Sure! All you need to do is brew up a couple hundred gallons of warm tea, make sure to use extra teabags to make it strong. Get a container large enough to hold your couch, and soak overnight. In the morning, after the tea has cooled, remove the couch and let it drip dry. You may need help as the cushions and fabric will have picked up a lot of weight from the tea and will be heavier than usual.

Can I tea dye my carpet?

Yes, but I really recommend using coffee for this. Brew a large pot of strong coffee, and mix the grinds in with the coffee. While it is still warm apply the coffee to your carpet. Use a broom, towel, or your feet to rub the coffee mixture into the carpet. You may need several pots of coffee mixture to sucessfully color a room. After the carpet has dried you can vaccuum up the coffee grounds that are left over.



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