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How to Dye With Tea: Give an Antique Finish to Paper, Fabric, Shell, Ivory, Horn or Bone

Updated on January 13, 2020
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I'm not really a crafty person, but this is easy enough for anyone!

Dyeing with Tea

Tea, as we all know, stains teeth and clothing. You can put that property to use by learning to use tea as a dye to provide an antique finish, not only to fabric and textiles, but to horn, shell, bone and other natural materials. If you have a shirt that has a stain, or want paper to have an aged look, or some other project in mind, tea is a great, natural way to dye things! Tea will give a natural, ivory to brown look to your materials but results are not exact. Dyeing with tea is easy, safe, non-toxic, fun, and provides an elegant look for lace, bedding, buttons, hair accessories, and many more items. So go get a box of cheap tea bags, and be ready to join in!

Yes, You Can Dye with Ordinary Tea!

Tea Leaves Tipped out in Front of Tea Box, by Joerg Lehmann
Tea Leaves Tipped out in Front of Tea Box, by Joerg Lehmann | Source


  1. First of all, you will need to check the absorbency of your materials to be dyed. Materials such as cotton, wool, silk, bamboo, ramie and linen fabrics will normally take dyes easily, as will paper. Polyester or other synthetic fabrics may be almost impossible to dye with natural dyes. Horn, shell, bone and ivory will soak up dye at different rates, depending on the porosity of the material, but harder materials generally take longer to dye than softer materials. It is always a good idea to test your tea dye on a small area of the material you plan to dye in a hidden place. If you're planning on dyeing paper, make sure that the paper is strong enough that it will not disintegrate when it is left in the water.
  2. Next, you will want to make some very strong tea by opening a quart teabag or three regular teabags, putting the loose tea leaves into a heatproof container, and adding a pint of boiling water. Let this steep until the tea is quite dark.
  3. If the tea has cooled, reheat the tea to enhance the action of the dye. Immerse the material you wish to dye into the tea. If you want irregularities in the way the fabric or paper takes the dye, crumple or twist the material, and weight it or fasten it with a twist tie or a rubber band.
  4. Leave the material to be dyed in the tea at least overnight. Check the progress of the dyeing and leave the materials immersed for a longer period of time if you wish to have a darker effect.

Hints and Tips

  • You can dye ivory or bone (such as buttons or hair accessories) to give them an aged look. Shell may or may not take a dye.
  • The usual precautions for working with hot liquids apply!
  • Use cheap tea. If you want to experiment with green or white tea, make sure to keep observations of your results. You can experiment with scraps of material before dyeing your entire piece.
  • Ready to expand your repertoire? You can also experiment with other dyes, such as natural dyes for Easter eggs, or natural hair dyes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 classicalgeek


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