Introduction: Natural Dying With Tea & Coffee

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a degree in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mar…

The quick and easy way to give natural fiber fabrics, yarns, and even paper, an aged and antique look is to try natural dying with tea and coffee. This low cost, all natural technique creates warm tonal results to help purposefully take the shine off of new, bright whites.

Another upside to doing this is that it helps hide the inevitable coffee spill on a white shirt/shoes that happens to me almost on the daily. :)

All you need to get started is:

  • black tea (bags work best)
  • strong coffee
  • a natural fiber (cotton, linen, or wool) fabric or paper item
  • a dying tub* (made of anything other than brass, copper, or iron)
  • table salt
  • OPTIONAL: stamps, paintbrushes, or a spray bottle to add decorative patterns

*Size and shape will depend on the size/shape of the item to be dyed. You want there to be enough depth to completely cover the item, but not excessive space otherwise you'll waste coffee and tea bags filling it up.

Step 1: Wash And/or Wet

If you're planning on dying a fabric item, wash it in cold water with a bit of laundry detergent and baking soda. This will remove any additive finish that's been applied to the fabric, making it easier for the dye to penetrate the fibers, and will make for a more even dye job when wet.

If you're planning on dying paper, just wet it to prep it for dying. ONLY DO THIS right before you're ready to dip it into the coffee or tea dye bath.

Step 2: Coffee Dye

Prepare either a small concentrated amount espresso or a larger, less concentrated amount of drip or French press coffee.

NOTE:The stronger and less diluted the coffee, the darker the dye job will be.

Step 3: Tea Dye

To prep your tea dye bath, place 6-10 black tea bags in a large bowl and cover in boiling water. The longer you leave the bags in, the darker the dye bath will be.

For an even dye job, remove the tea bags.

For a more mottled look, leave the tea bags in the bath.

Step 4: Prep Your Dye Bath

Just in case you're wondering "Why shoes?"...

The reason I tried this technique, is that I was working on a collaboration with Converse and SF based craft show West Coast Craft to alter a pair of Converse sneakers to be auctioned off to help raise money for a local kids art education program. We were supposed to play off of our craft discipline, and because mine is ceramics, cups specifically, I decided to use coffee and tea to dye them. :)

Ok, pour the tea or coffee into a dye bath container that will comfortably fit your item(s) to be dyed.

If you're dying fabric or yarn, add 1/2 tsp of salt to help set the dye and give it a good stir.

I wanted to start with a light tea dying and then stamp with the coffee, so it was tea first for me.

Step 5: Submerge & Soak

Submerge your wet item completely into the dye bath.

If you mess up like I did with your choice of container (see second image above), have no fear. Just either add more tea or coffee solution to the container, or if you don't have extra handy, just place a few heavy non-dyable items into the spaces around your item(s) to displace the water and raise the liquid level.

If you're dying fabric, leave it in the bath for at least 1 hour. The longer you leave it, the darker it will become.

Remember: The item you're dying will appear much darker than how it will turn out when you first pull it out of the bath. To test how dark the dye job really is, rinse the item under cold water to remove the excess coffee or tea. If you want it darker than it is after the test, place it back in the dye bath and leave it for another length of time.

When you've reached your optimum 'aged' look, remove the items from the bath and let air dry.

If you're dying paper, fully submerge your piece in the dye bath and let sit for no longer than 10 seconds. Remove and hang to dry.

Step 6: How to Remove Stains From Sneaker Soles

I'm aware that the chance of anyone else 'aging' their sneakers is pretty slim, but just in case, here's how to remove any staining that happens on the white rubber soles as a result of the dying process.

Using a stiff bristled brush and moving in small circles, press the bristles into the rubber with a small amount of dish washing liquid, until the staining is gone.

Step 7: Stamping With Coffee

I wanted to use the bottoms of some of my favorite cups made by local California ceramicists to stamp a pattern on the shoes.

To do this, I added a little bit of salt to a double espresso shot and poured a bit of coffee out onto a small plate as a makeshift stamp pad.

I did a test stamp on a piece of scrap paper and then just went to town creating the pattern I wanted using different cups.

I think this also would have been super cute if I had used a thin paint brush to paint on pinstripes or add hand drawn coffee cups. :)

If you're aging a piece of paper, putting coffee in a small spray bottle and spraying the edges and a few random squirts in the middle will help add more 'aged' dimension.

Step 8: Look Good, Smell Good

If you've dyed a piece of fabric or yarn that will be worn, wash the item(s) in cold water with a very mild laundry detergent and hang to dry before wearing, sewing, or knitting.

Happy Making!

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