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What are the secrets to tea dyeing?

A reader is unimpressed with the results she got from tea dyeing. The Patchwork Twins have a number of insights for her.

Answered by Amy Sandrin and Ann Frischkorn

I bought a little box of “Tea Dye for Quilts” and wasn’t impressed with the results. Is there a way to successfully tea-dye a quilt after I have already tried to dye it?

- A Quilter’s Review reader

Amy Sandrin and Ann Frischkorn


There are pros and cons to tea dyeing. Some experts say you should not tea-dye because the tannic acid from the tea will eventually destroy the fibers. Other experts love the process.

Tea dyeing is a great way to give fabrics an old, antiqued look. This process is best on small projects and not recommended for anything large. Tea can leave spots over the fabric and give you an uneven color.

For larger projects we recommend using a commercial dye. You can use a tan-colored Rit dye (liquid form) or Dylon Tea Dye.

To make a tea solution, bring water to a boil — four cups for each yard of fabric. Add two tea bags for each cup of water and steep the tea for five or ten minutes.

When it’s done steeping, squeeze out the tea bags and remove them. Wet the fabric in plain water, then add the wet fabric to the tea solution. To get a smoother, more even color, stir often.

When you feel it has soaked long enough, remove the fabric and rinse it under cool water. A lot of the color will rinse out.

If you want it darker, put it back in the tea solution to soak some more. You can soak for an hour, or even overnight if you want a really rich, dark color.

To set the tea, soak the stained fabric in two parts vinegar, one part water, and two tablespoons salt. Soak for 15 minutes, rinse thoroughly, dry in the dryer, and press.

If you don’t like your results, tea stains can be removed by rinsing in the washing machine with a little bleach. But don’t try that with older fabrics.

Tea dyeing only works on natural fibers such as cotton, silk, linen, and wool. You cannot dye synthetic fibers such as polyester.

If you wash your quilt with regular detergent, the tea dye will come out as detergents are designed to remove tea stains.

Good luck with your tea dyeing project.

Read questions that Amy Sandrin and Ann Frischkorn answered

Meet Amy Sandrin and Ann Frischkorn

Readers’ Comments:

December 24, 2001
Linda M. writes:

What size tea bag should I use? And is there a benefit in using the Rit liquid over the dry dye?

December 24, 2001
The Patchwork Twins reply:

We use individual-size tea bags — the ones you’d use to make yourself a cup of tea.

We prefer the liquid dye over dry because we feel it gives a more uniform covering than the dry dye.

December 30, 2001
Liz C. writes:

The first time I tried tea dyeing I used my favorite “cup of tea” bags and was disappointed in the brassy orange results. Of course, I had used orange pekoe tea bags!

Check out your grocery store or specialty shops and buy black tea for a gentle antique look. Even some of the fruit-herbal teas can give an interesting look. Experiment!

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