"If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud." ~ Emile Zola

12 August 2011

DIY: Tea Dye Fabric for An Antique Look

On my DIY project list has been trying out tea dyeing on some white clothing I have. I love the look of aged fabrics and laces, and tested out tea dyeing a few weeks ago on a few bits of vintage lace. As I didn't have much tea, the concentration of the liquid wasn't strong enough to tint the laces much. So I purchased a mega amount of tea bags to prepare to dye the sweater, top, and dress I had set aside for the project. After some research online about dyeing with tea, I came up with a plan. Here's what happened!

How to Tea Dye


1) Tea only works when dyeing natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and some wools. It does NOT work on synthetic fabrics like polyester.

2) Dyeing with tea will give your clothing/materials a beautiful brownish-reddish color that you control by how long you leave them in the tea solution. Tea dye does NOT result in creamy or beige tones, so if you are looking for this, it's best to find a clothing dye in the color you desire. Tea dye does not always result in a completely even color result. A clothing dye is best used to achieve this.

3) It's very difficult to impossible to replicate colors using different batches of tea dye. If you need to create large amounts of matching fabric or need two pieces of clothing to match exactly, make enough tea with one batch to dye everything.


1) Before starting dye preparation, soak garments or materials to be dyed in cool water. Damp fabric takes the dye much more evenly and richly. Keep items in water until ready to dye.

4) Create your dye. For every yard of fabric, use 4 cups of water and 8 tea bags (loose tea is a no-no).

Any brand of basic black tea will work, even the generic. I purchased plain black Tetley tea bags in a huge box of 100 bags.

It is best to use a stainless steel or glass container to create your dye in, such as a large pot or large, heavy glass bowl. I know someone who uses their laundry or kitchen sink, too. Just be cautious about staining. ;) I used a large soup pot, which I both boiled my water in and dyed in. Two of the three garments I stained fit well at one time.

Calculate the number of tea bags you will use, and remove the paper tags from the strings each. Bring water to boil, remove from heat, pour water into container you will be using, and add tea bags (sans tags).

Steep your tea for at least five minutes, or longer if you wish to have a deeper color result. I steeped the tea in this project for 10 minutes. When desired richness of tea solution is reached, use a slotted spoon to remove all bags. Depending on the quality of your bags and how easily they tear, it may be okay to squeeze the liquid from the tea bags upon removal. I used my hands for this, which was dumb and difficult cause the bags were super hot! lol Another large spoon will work better, I think.

5) Dye. Once your tea is free of bags, remove your garments to be dyed from the water they are soaking in. Squeeze well, removing as much excess water as possible so as not to dilute your tea. Place garments in hot tea and stir.

If your desired color result is a more even, smooth tone, add clothes to the tea as loosely as possible. Stir and swish in the tea at regular intervals while soaking. If you are looking for a more uneven, mottled, or tie-dye result, you may want to leave clothes a little more tightly bundled when you add them to the tea and stir or agitate minimally, if at all.

Soaking time is totally dependent on your desired color intensity. A 30-minute dye time seems to result in a softer, more subtle color. I left mine in the tea for just over an hour for a darker, richer tone. NOTE: The color of your garment will be lighter after drying, so you might want to dye to a slightly darker tone than you desire ultimately.

Keep in mind that different fabrics and textures will take the color differently. I dyed a 100% cotton crochet sweater that ended up a more subtle version of the deeper peachy color that the 100% cotton jersey-ish knit top turned. Both were dyed together and for the same length of time.

7) Check color. Once you are happy with the color you see on your fabrics, remove clothing from tea (preferably close to a sink, and don't dump tea down the drain yet!) and rinse in cool water until water runs mostly clear. A lot of tea will rinse away, but there should be sufficient color left in the fabric. If your color appears lighter than you'd hoped, squeeze as much liquid out of your garment(s) as you can, and drop into dye for a longer soak. Depending on how long your tea sat after boiling, it may be necessary to reheat to at least steaming before dyeing again.

MY RESULTS? A unique, beautiful peachy-tan-rusty color that I just love! See more photos at the bottom of the article. :)

***WARNING: One thing I failed to find in my research into tea dyeing fabrics is that perspiration in clothing turns darker than the rest of the garment when dyed! Ack! Maybe that would seem common sense, but having no dyeing experience, it never occurred to me! :P I dyed a white cotton dress with almost imperceptible perspiration stains under the arms, and though the body of the dress turned out lovely, the under arm area turned 3 times as dark! Looks like I will need to dye with a clothing dye that is much darker. LOL

6) Post-dye. So, do you love the results of your tea dyeing? :) If so, there are a couple of things you can do to set the color. Take your pick.

*Toss in the dryer. I dried the knit top and crocheted sweater right after dyeing, using a medium setting for knits with good result. If you're worried about leaving in the dryer for too long, try drying for just 10 minutes on a lower setting (i.e., not "high"). Finish by pressing with a hot iron.

*Wash items on a gentle cycle in cold water. I did this with one dress, and the color maintained and set beautifully. Let air dry (my choice to both preserve clothing and use less energy) or tumble dry on low.

* Upon removing clothing from dye, drop into a mixture of water and vinegar. Use 1/2 c vinegar for every cup of water. Allow to soak for 15 minutes, then rinse well. I was a bit leary of having clothes that smelled like vinegar, so I did not try this method.

If you are not happy with the results, as the tea may be dyed out with some type of bleach. Just keep in mind that older fabrics and laces may be too fragile to withstand bleaching and repeated washing.


Sassy said...

What an informative post. Thanks.

Robin said...

Trying it in a few minutes. Thank you for the instructions!

Robin said...

Trying it in a few minutes. Thank you for the instructions!

Robin said...

Turned out great! Thanks again!

Trashmaster46 said...

You won't be able to smell the vinegar on your clothes. I've been using 1-2 tbsp per load of clothes in the washing machine as a fabric softener for years. Works like a wonder on natural fibers! (Still need to use a dryer sheet with my old synthetic blankets, though. phooey)

Trashmaster46 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lotus Out Loud ॐ said...

Thanks! I will have to try that! :)

Katja S. said...

I have dyed shoes and small projects with tea before, but I am about to embark on a major adventure by dyeing an ivory silk ball gown. Thanks so much for the tips!

Sarah said...

Thank you! I am making my daughter a princess mummy costume and this was the exact info I needed.