How to Dye Fabric With Tea

the original white floral fabric on the left with a floral dress on the right after dyeing with tea

As much as I love the floral fabric of this dress I made, I didn’t love the bright white background so I started to brainstorm how to dye the fabric a slightly off-white color. I considered dyeing with fabric dye but I didn’t want to risk changing the colors of the floral pattern so after a little research and some tests on scrap fabric, I decided that dyeing with tea would give me the subtle color change I wanted. It worked and the process was much easier than I expected!

Since I ended up with such a large tea bath I decided to throw in a green dress that was a bit too neon for me and I was really happy with the results! In this article I will share step by step how I dyed two dresses naturally with tea.

I’ve dyed paper with tea before so I knew the general idea of how to dye with tea but I had never tried it on fabric before. To help me get started, most of my information came from this article from Woodlark Blog , but I did a few things slightly differently based on the ingredients and supplies I had on hand. I learned a lot through trying the process myself and have a better idea of what to do next time!

Some Things you’ll need

  • Tea bags – 50 or more depending on the size of your project. I used 113 tea bags total!
  • Large pot – I used a stainless steel pot that holds 4 quarts of water.
  • 2 large buckets (5 gal) / sink / container – I used my deep stainless steel sink and a long plastic storage bin.
  • Distilled white vinegar – Used as a mordant in pre-soaking to help open up the fibers of the fabric.
  • Rubber gloves – I found gloves helpful when swirling the garments around to protect my hands from the hot tea.
  • Optional: I used an empty gallon milk jug to help measure water.
showing the empty plastic tub used to pour the tea dye and water into

Pictured above is the storage bin I used to dye the dresses in and it measures about 36″ (91.5 cm) wide x 17″ (43 cm) deep and 8″ (20 cm) high. I wanted the dress to have room to spread out to help it dye more evenly. This tub worked great and the tea didn’t stain it at all! You can also see I laid it on top of an old towel in case of spilling / dripping.

Fabric Type

a bright green piece of fabric next to a scrap piece of the bright green fabric dyed with tea

For the tea dye to work best, use natural fibers like cotton, linen, silk and wool. The white floral dress I dyed is 100% cotton and the green dress is 100% linen. Keep in mind that white or light fabrics will hold the tea color best while dyeing a color, like the bright green fabric I was using, will only tone down the color and not change it entirely.

In the photo above, I threw the scrap piece of fabric directly into the concentrated tea in the pot for only about 10 minutes but the final dress color ended up lighter than my test swatch.

The white floral dress was about 3 yards (2.7 meters) of fabric sewn together and the green dress 2.5 yards (2.3 meters) – so that gives you an idea of how much fabric I was able to dye with the dye bath I made.

Prep the Fabric

the elastic and ties removed from the white floral dress and laying on the floor next to the dress

Make sure you pre-wash your fabric or garment beforehand to get it clean and ready to dye. This will also help prevent any shrinking that can happen in the hot tea water.

Since the dress I was dyeing had a lot of gathers, I removed all the elastic and drawstrings and ironed the dress to help get an even dye color.

Type of Tea to use

4 scraps of floral fabric used as tests in different tea dye baths laying on a white table

Different types of tea will get you different color results so I recommend doing a test run before dyeing your final fabric or garment. I used black tea for my dye and 100 bags were a basic black tea and 13 were chai tea bags that I wanted to use up. In my tests on scrap fabric, the chai tea had more brown and yellow tones while the basic black tea had more red undertones.

In the photo above, left to right: Original undyed fabric; First test in black tea and soaked for 20-30 minutes; Second test in black tea and soaked for 10 minutes; Third test in chai tea and soaked for 10 minutes.

After my tests, my plan was to soak the white floral dress for only 15 mins for just a subtle change and to soak the green dress a little longer to see how dark I could get it (this one was more experimental).

Let’s gets started!

The whole process was easy really, but it does help to read through the steps and get the supplies ready beforehand to help everything go smoother.

opening tea bags and removing the tags and putting them in a bowl

Prepare Tea Bags and tea dye

Start by opening the tea bags and removing the tags (I kept the strings on). I had a little helper so this didn’t take too long 🙂

steeping tea bags in a stainless steel pot on the stove

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. I used the biggest pot I had which held 4 quarts of water (16 cups or 3.8 liters) and it was a little tight for 113 tea bags. It all worked out, I just had to pay attention so the water wouldn’t boil over.

Add tea bags to the water, keep at a slow simmer and steep for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

the white floral dress soaking in a sink full of water and vinegar

Soak garment/fabric in vinegar water

Meanwhile, while the tea was steeping, I filled up a sink with warm or hot water to fully submerge the dress. I used a gallon milk jug to measure and filled the sink with 4 gallons (15 liters) of hot water and 5 cups of distilled white vinegar (this was all I had). I left the dress to soak until the tea dye was ready.

Soaking the fabric or garment in vinegar acts as a mordant to help open up the fibers of the fabric. In the Woodlark Blog article I was following, they recommend a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water, so I’m curious to try this again with more vinegar to see how that affects the results.

straining tea bags with a strainer before removing them from the pot of water

Strain Tea Bags

After the tea has finished steeping, remove the tea bags from the water. I used a strainer to lift them out of the pot and tried to squeeze out as much water as I could since the tea bags soaked up a lot of the water. I used a large spoon to do this since the water was pretty hot. Don’t worry if any of the bags break, you’ll be straining the tea again.

straining the tea through a piece of fabric into a bowl to remove debris

Once the tea bags were removed, I strained the tea through a scrap piece of fabric into a large bowl (tip: use a stainless steel bowl if you don’t want the tea to stain the bowl you’re using). If you’re using a 5 gallon bucket, you can just strain the tea through the fabric directly into the bucket.

None of the tea bags I used broke, but there was still quite a bit of tea “dredge” to filter out of the water.

Note: If your project is small enough, you could pour the strained tea back into the pot on the stove and dye it directly in the steeped tea to get a more concentrated dye bath.

white floral dress in a tub submerged in tea water

Add garment / fabric to dye bath

After straining the tea, I poured it into the plastic tub. The tea was very hot! You will need to add more water in order to fully submerge the garment or fabric. I added 3 more pots of hot water (from the sink) to the tub and then stirred the water.

I probably could have done with one more pot of water but I also didn’t want to dilute the tea too much.

swirling the dress around in the tea dye bath with green rubber gloves on

Add the garment or fabric to the dye bath and fully soak right away. I pushed the dress down into the water to get rid of air bubbles and swirled the dress frequently – pretty much the whole time.

Since I was only soaking the white dress for 15 minutes, I wanted to make sure the dye was evenly dispersed so I think it helped to keep the dress moving in the dye bath.

rinsing the dress in cool water in a sink until the water runs clear

Rinse Garment / fabric in cool water

Once the garment / fabric has soaked as long as you want (in my case 15 minutes) then rinse with cool water until the water runs clear. Also keep in mind that the color will look darker when wet.

In the Woodlark Blog article, they soaked their fabric in a cold water bath of one part water and two parts vinegar and then rinsed. Since I was out of vinegar at this point, I just skipped this step!

the white floral dress hanging on a hanger to dry above a sink

I squeezed out the dress and then hung on a hanger to dry while I dyed the green dress. I was loving the color at this point and didn’t notice any splotchy places!

For the green dress, I put it in the same dye bath as soon as the floral one was out and repeated the same steps. Except, I soaked it for about an hour and didn’t swirl it around in the dye bath as frequently – about every 15 minutes. The water was also lukewarm at this point. I noticed more splotchy spots on the green dress in the end and I wonder if heating the water up again and would have helped.

Final Wash

I washed both dresses together in a gentle wash cycle with a mild detergent and dried in the dryer. It’s up to you how you want to wash your fabric and garments and you can choose to line dry if you prefer.

Before / After

The color change of the floral white dress is pretty subtle, but that’s just what I wanted! There are only a couple of spots where the dye was a little splotchy but it’s really not noticeable and was pretty hard to capture through photos anyway.

There was a more obvious color change after dyeing the green dress and I really love the muted light yellowish green color it turned out! However there were some more obvious spots where the dye wasn’t even (photo below) and I suspect it could have been prevented with hotter water, more swirling, or maybe more vinegar in my pre-soak. It’s really not that noticeable though with all the gathers of the dress!

pointing out a spot on the green dress where the dye didn't dye evenly

Dress Details

For those wondering, the white floral dress is the Eleonora Dress by Silversaga Patterns (I had the pleasure of pattern testing this beautiful dress) in a cotton dimity lawn from Lyrical Fabrics. The green dress is the Dae Dress by Soften Studio in Cloud linen (color Honeydew) from Matchy Matchy Sewing Club. You can find more pictures and details for both dresses on my Instagram page.

wearing the white floral dress after dyeing with tea standing in a grassy field

I enjoyed dyeing with tea way more than I thought I would and definitely want to try it again. There was some leftover floral fabric from the dress I made so I may experiment with dyeing it for a longer time or even overnight to see how it turns out.

I would love to hear if you’ve tried dyeing with tea or if you have any questions about the process! Thanks for reading!

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