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Teatime Crafts: Painting & Dying With Tea

Painting & Dying With Tea


There is an old tradition of dying white fabric with black tea to give it a soft ivory color. Many of the botanicals we use to brew herbal tea are also used as dye. Here we are also suggesting that some can be used like watercolor paint to make lovely, sepia toned paintings.

Preparing the tea paint:

Boil your teas and herbs to make strong concentrations. The amount of tea and the length of time will vary, depending on the darkness of the color with which you wish to paint. Black tea will give you sepia tones. Hibiscus flowers will be a brilliant red. Dried blueberries can become a soft purple. Green tea doesn’t always stay green when it’s boiled. Sometimes it even turns reddish brown.

Painting on paper:

The best paper is a very porous watercolor paper. A glossy surface will not absorb the tea paint well. When painting, you can add water to small portions to thin and dilute your paint to help create shading. Look at a copy of an old-fashioned sepia photograph as an example.

Suggestion: Use your tea-painted watercolor paper to make some of the paper crafts in Fun With Tea.

Dying with tea:

Boil your tea and herbs to make a strong solution. (Example: 5-6 black tea bags per gallon of water) Let it steep until cold. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of salt, stirring until completely dissolved.

Remove the teabags or strain the tea since loose leaves can make a darker spot on your cloth. Test a swatch of fabric in your dye before using it on your main fabric – tea only works on natural fibers. Most synthetic fibers do not accept the color.

Moisten your fabric completely. Then, completely submerge the fabric so that it covers all the surfaces evenly – adding a weight if necessary – and let it sit in the tea dye bath for at least an hour but longer for a darker color. A faster method is to boil the fabric in the pot with the tea. This works for small pieces but may not be practical for larger ones.

Rinse with cold water and a light soap solution. Tea dyed fabric will fade a bit with each wash.