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.
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.