How to Tea-dye fabric

I have heard of tea-dying for a long time but I’ve only recently attempted it myself.  I was working on a quilt that had warm earthy tones in it and I wanted a neutral background for some applique.  I auditioned a variety of fabrics including plain white muslin but nothing I tried seemed right.  What I really wanted was an off-whitish mottled “old” looking fabric and nothing I had was cutting it.  So I figured it couldn’t hurt to try the tea-dye method.  Below is my resulting quilt:

 The owl quilt

See how the fabric doesn’t look completely even in tone?  That is exactly what I was looking for.  Here is how I did it:


  • 1-2 yards muslin.  I ordered mine from the Dharma Trading Company – they have a nice Kona PFD (Prepared For Dying) cotton that I had left over from another project.
  • 6 tea bags – I used regular Lipton bags.  I bet though you could use raspberry tea or some other type to get a colored tint.
  • A big pot – I used my Dutch oven
  • Enough water to fill the pot an inch or two below the top
  • Oven or heat source to boil the water
  • Washing machine & your regular laundry soap

Step 1) Pre-wash and dry your fabric with hot water and regular old laundry soap if your fabric is not PFD.  Some manufacturers coat their fabric with chemicals to give it body or a nice feel and that can inhibit absorption.  Let’s just wash that on outta there, shall we?

Step 2) Stuff your fabric into your pot (without water!) to make sure it will all fit in there.  If it doesn’t fit cut your fabric to smaller pieces and dye it in batches, or find a bigger pot.  Take the fabric out and fill your pot with water to an inch or so below the top of your pot.  Your fabric will displace the water so you want some room for the fabric to fit.  Set it on your heat source and let it get to a nice boil.

Step 2) Turn off the heat and drop in your tea bags.  Let the tea steep for 5-10 minutes and remove the bags.

Step 3) Twist your fabric into a ball shape.  Twisting it prevents the tea from getting maximum contact on all surfaces.  That is what makes it mottled.

Step 4) Carefully put your twisted ball of fabric into the tea.  Be careful not to burn yourself!  Use a spoon to mash down the fabric as best you can.  Trapped air will cause some of it to keep rising above the surface but that is okay.  Stir the fabric every couple minutes.  You can see from my pic below that the fabric isn’t tightly balled up anymore but you don’t want to stir it so much that the fabric comes completely unfolded.

tea-dying in a pot on the stove

Step 5) After 10-15 minutes, drain off as much of the tea as you can.  Again, be careful not to burn yourself.  Squeeze the excess out.  At this point your fabric will probably look pretty evenly dyed.  That is where the washing machine comes in.

Step 6) Wash your fabric right away in hot water with regular laundry detergent.  If you have a mini-cycle use that to conserve water.  I would not recommend washing anything else with the fabric since the excess tea might stain it.

Step 7) Dry your fabric using your dryer’s hottest setting, and press your fabric as usual.  The tea dye should now be set.  Ta-da!  Hurray for good old fashioned tea bags!

PS – in case you are wondering, I know my instructions for tea-dying were in the owl quil tutorial as well.  I seperated it out because I noticed I was getting a lot of search hits for tea-dying and I thought this would make it easier to read for those folks.

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2 Responses to How to Tea-dye fabric

  1. Noelle says:

    Did you know that my mom tea-dyed her wedding veil for Carolle to wear on her wedding day? She did this to make her white veil match Carolle’s antique-colored lace dress.

  2. pq says:

    Awesome!! Your mom is so crafty :)

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