Dyeing, as opposed to dying, is lots of fun. That sneaky little ‘e’ makes quite a big difference, doesn’t it! Just like when I was working in the London War Museum press office and the Queen launched the Holocaust wing and I may have said gerbils instead of Goebbels… Oh, dear, cute fluffy animals and Nazi Propaganda Ministers do not mix.
I’m still not brave enough to say that name out loud, not that I have much call for discussing the ins and outs of the Nazi regime these days.
This is more my speed now. I think this book might’ve belonged to my gorgeous Step Mother, if not, I have no idea where it came from.
Wendy, this is probably an inappropriate moment to ask if you would you like your book back?
Moving right along… Dyeing with tea is fun, but I had this idea that tea-dyeing would turn my old, shabby sheets and towels into the latest, on-trend colourway (see, I can still speak magazin-ese when I want to…), aka Pioneering Spirit and it did, however there are some exclusion clauses…
Funnily enough the thing I was most concerned about – it fading straightway – didn’t really happen, even though I didn’t use a mordant or dye fixer. The dyed fabric was fine washed in a cool cycle most of the time and the occasional hot wash – winning!
This technique only really works on cotton.
Stains come out ten times darker and yellowy stains from underarms showed up like crazy – don’t go there!
However, it worked really well on my white pillowcases that were a bit yellowy-grey from lingering too long in the linen cupboard, but otherwise stain-free.
Towels are really difficult. Mine just looked like the football team had a few rounds with them in the mud.
Teabags are a lot easier than loose leaf tea, because loose leaf tea needs to be strained through a really, really fine cheesecloth or coffee filter and you need to be a lot less clumsy than I am.
Even the cleanest fabric will get colour variance and the odd dark dot, but I really like the texture and au naturale look. It’s what I was hoping for, it’s what says, ‘Oh, yeah, you betcha, this was done by a human with some crazy old hippy dyeing technique.’
You can reuse tea bags. I don’t drink much tea, hence why I didn’t reuse this time, but I did reuse some teabags to dye a tea towel a couple of weeks ago out of curiosity. No doubt you know my reusing addiction by now…
After you’ve had your cuppa, keep the teabags in the fridge until you’re ready to dye and I wouldn’t wait more than a fortnight, as tea bags will start to deteriorate. The colour depth is a bit of a lucky dip, depending on the quality of the tea, mine came out about half to a quarter the colour depth compared to using new teabags. Best to test with something small first to get an idea of colour.
This recipe is based on my 1971 edition of Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing, by Rita J. Adrosko, although she says you must use an alum mordant to make it colour fast, but I was really racy and just did it and ended up happy.
Ingredients to dye with tea
Large pot 20-50 Tea bags Strainer Tongs Spoon
How to dye with tea
1. Make sure the fabric is as clean and stain-free as possible and rinse a couple of times in water to get rid of any soap residue.
2. Boil a large pot of water with 20-50 teabags for 15 minutes (how many you use will depend on how large your item is, and how dark you want the item to be).
3. Using the strainer or tongs, take out the teabags.
4. Dunk the cloth items in warm water before adding to the pot. This step is really important for even colour.
5. Use a spoon to stir the garments into the tea to ensure that they are completely covered. Bring tea to boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally for good colour coverage. Check the garment colour, bearing in mind the colour will fade a bit with the first wash. If you want the items darker, simmer them for another 30 minutes. 6. Remove the items from the tea and wash them immediately in cold water to set their colour.
To maintain the colour, wash your tea-dyed items in cold water whenever possible, as hot water will cause the dye to fade more quickly.
If you’re striving for a similar colour to mine, this is a more precise version of what I did:
Boiled teabags for 15 minutes, removed teabags, rinsed cotton in hot water and added to the pot. Brought tea to the boil, simmered for 30 minutes and washed in cold water.
Like I was saying, this dyeing with tea is good fun, but you do need to approach it with a sense of adventure and I really wouldn’t start with your favourite piece as it may end in tears, rather it’s a great chance to play around with things you don’t love to see if you prefer them infused with the pioneering and tea drinking spirit of our foremothers…
Cybele Masterman (Bele) trained as a beauty therapist, aromatherapist and journalist. After working as all of the above has found herself on a quest for a beautiful and meaningful life that doesn't cost the earth. Follow on google: +blahblahmagazine twitter: @blahblahzine or Instagram: BlahBlahMagazine