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What is Tea Dyeing?

Hibiscus tea can be used to dye fabric a pinkish lavender shade.
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  • Written By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2014
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Fabric dyeing has probably been around for millennia. Some historians believe that people began dyeing fabric to cover stains or minimize dirt. It is not known how long tea dyeing has been around, but it may have been almost as long as the history of tea itself. Tea dyeing is a easy and economic way for anyone to dye clothing or linens.

Tea dyeing is often used to give fabrics an aged or antique look. Many people enjoy dyeing material with tea because of the variety of colors and shades that are possible, as well as the tradition itself of tea baths.

Tea baths can dye fabrics in an astounding range of colors. Chamomile tea produces a bright yellow; green tea causes fabric to turn light green; black teas tend to produce tan, brown, and beige shades, and hibiscus tea dyes fabric an attractive shade of pinkish lavender. In general, the stronger the smell of the tea, the darker its color. Although the fabric will smell like the tea after its tea bath, washing it once should get rid of any smell.

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To fix the color when tea dyeing, one of a variety of mordants must be used. Alum and cream of tartar are two common mordants. Before dyeing the fabric, make sure that it has been washed in hot water to remove any bleach and shrink the fabric. Do not try to dye synthetic fabrics with tea, since the dye will not take. Make sure the fabric is wet when you begin the dyeing process.

When making the dye, use one cup (250 ml) of dry tea for every six cups (1.5 L) of water. Tie the tea loosely - as it will expand - in a cheesecloth square, and add the boiling water and one tablespoon (15 ml) of alum or cream of tartar. Stir the mixture, and let the tea steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Squeeze the sack of tea and remove any tea leaves that may have escaped.

Next, immerse your fabric in the tea bath. Stir the mixture occasionally to ensure even coverage, and remove the cloth when the fabric has reached the desired shade, keeping in mind that it will probably dry lighter. Save the mixture for tea dyeing, as you can reuse it if you are not satisfied with the shade. If you want an even shade, hang the fabric on a drying rack or dry it in a hot dryer. If you prefer a more uneven or dappled finish, dry the fabric while crumpled.

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SZapper
Post 11

@JaneAir - That's a cute story. However, it's not too late to do some tea dyeing. I think it's really fun, and the fact that it uses natural material is just a bonus. I'm pretty sensitive to most chemicals, so regular dyeing isn't really an option for me.

I recently used tea to hand dye some cotton yarn and it worked really well. I can't wait to knit myself a sweater out of that yarn! I definitely plan to experiment with tea dyeing more in the future.

JaneAir
Post 10

I vividly remember a class project from when I was in fifth grade where someone used a tea dying process. The project was to write a letter to someone as if you were in the revolutionary war times. Most of us, myself included, just used a plain piece of notebook paper.

However, one of my more creative classmates used kitchen parchment paper and dyed it with tea to make it look older. The teacher loved it and I was so jealous! The idea seemed genius and I remember wishing I had thought of it.

I think that instance must biased me against tea dying or something, because I've never used tea to dye anything! I mostly just use it for drinking.

lighth0se33
Post 9

I used to dye my hair with tea. Chamomile tea is supposed to give light brown or blond hair blond highlights, so I decided to try it instead of going to the salon and paying a fortune.

I boiled some water and steeped the dried chamomile for about fifteen minutes. Then, I poured it into a spray bottle. I went outside, stood on the grass so as not to stain the floor, and sprayed it all over the top layer of my hair.

I sat out in the sun for twenty minutes. The tea uses the sunlight to change the color of your hair. When I went back inside and looked in the mirror, I saw reddish highlights.

I guess my hair was too brown for it to produce blond streaks. I liked the red color, because it made my hair brighter. The tea did soak into the ends of my hair more than the rest, so my ends appeared quite red. I remembered this, and the next time I used the tea, I left the ends dry.

orangey03
Post 8

My friend uses tea to dye her Easter eggs. Though she can’t produce as many bright colors as she could with artificial dyes, she gets some interesting hues that set her eggs apart from all the others.

She uses chamomile tea to make beige yellow, red bush rooibos to make copper, black tea to make a creamy brown, blueberry to make dark blue, green to make mustard yellow, and hibiscus to make a light blue. When she first used the teas as dye, she was surprised to find that the pink colored hibiscus tea actually produced blue eggs, and the green tea made yellow ones. Now, she knows what to expect and plans accordingly.

She puts the tea in bowls big enough to hold three eggs and pours boiling water over the tea. She adds one teaspoon of white vinegar and some alum. She leaves the eggs in the dye overnight, but during the first couple of hours, she rotates them a few times so that they receive the color evenly.

OeKc05
Post 7

My grandmother used to make doll clothes look antique by tea dyeing them. She collected dolls, but she didn’t like the flashy, bright clothing that came with most of them, so she would use cotton to make her own.

A lot of the clothes she made were a rusty brown color. Sometimes, she wanted to vary the shade. If a garment sat in the tea too long and became too dark, she would simply rinse it with a mixture of bleach and water.

This would remove most of the color, and she usually would have to start again. This time, she would take the garment out of the tea bath sooner.

wavy58
Post 6

We dyed t-shirts with tea in our home economics class in seventh grade. However, we added a twist to the process. We made tie-dyed t-shirts.

The girls used hibiscus tea, and the boys used green tea. Before we immersed the t-shirts in the tea, we wrapped rubber bands around several sections of the shirts. The area protected by these bands would remain white, and the rest would come out lavender or green.

I loved my homemade tie-dyed shirt. I wore it all the time. It did fade a little, because I don’t remember using a mordant. I made several more at home.

Sara007
Post 5

I think if you learn how to dye fabric with tea that you can really make some gorgeous fabric for your sewing projects. I love tea staining with green tea because of the lovely shade of green it gives. The shade of green it gives is perfect for spring fashions.

While I don't follow any particular tea dye recipe I always make sure to buy teas that have the strong color I love. I have found that some green tea is actually more of an unattractive yellow when brewed. Inexpensive Chinese green tea is really bad for not holding true to its namesake.

manykitties2
Post 4

Dyeing fabric is a bit of an art form, and I think that making your own tea cloth can be quite the challenge if you are new to tea dyeing. While it may seem like an easy idea, dyeing fabric with tea requires good timing and knowing which materials to choose.

My mother was always a big fan of tea dyeing natural cotton to give it a soft brown finish. I loved the look of the blouses she would make using tea dyeing. Not only did they look antiqued, they were classically stylish too. Also, when you use natural cotton, you don’t have to worry about the tea dye not sticking to synthetic materials.

serenesurface
Post 3

@turkay1-- I think tea dyeing and coffee dyeing are pretty much the same. If you want to use coffee, just replace tea with coffee. I've done it once with coffee and I think the results were same color-wise (of course depends on how much tea/coffee you use). The only difference is the scent. Even though the scent comes out after a wash or two, I just don't want my fabric to smell like coffee, so I prefer tea.

I also don't tea dye in a tub or container, I do it in the washing machine. All you have to do is steep the tea beforehand, start the washing machine on your usual cycle completely empty (no other clothes or detergent in there) and stop it half way through. Then throw in what you want to dye and pour the steeped tea (minus the tea) into the washing machine with the fabric and let it finish its cycle.

It works great! It's much easier than hand dyeing and the tea dyes the fabric very evenly as the washing machine spins around.

candyquilt
Post 2

@burcidi-- Did it really work without cream of tartar? That's nice!

I personally use the commercial tea dyes to dye my fabrics and quilts. I've never done it with plain tea so I can't compare but I know that the commercial tea dyes are supposed to last longer and be gentler on fabrics. The commercial ones don't actually have tea in them, they just produce the same colors that you would get from tea.

I've also heard that it's possible to dye with coffee. Has anyone tried it and can compare it to tea dying? Which works better, looks better, etc?

burcidi
Post 1

Thanks for the information, now I know the proper way to tea dye! I've done it once with a t-shirt but I didn't have any instructions or anything. I had just heard about it from a friend and decided to try it with a really white t-shirt I had.

I just boiled water and lots of black tea in a large pot and then simmered the t-shirt in there. I didn't know about mordants so I just line dried and ironed it after. It actually set pretty well and lasted a long time, but I'm sure it would have lasted longer if I used a mordant.

I like tea dying but I've heard that it's not very healthy for fabrics because it wears the fabric out. Tea is acidic so I'm sure that damages fabrics somewhat.

Is there a way to prevent this damage or to strengthen the fabric while tea dying so that it doesn't wear out as quickly?

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