Dyeing fabric with tea became popular a few years ago when people started using it to make new fabrics look vintage and yellowed. Decorators using a shabby chic or primitive decorating scheme embraced this technique, and soon everyone was doing it. It is very simple to do and requires items you most likely already have around the house. There are several techniques for doing this, and much depends upon how you want the finished piece to look.
Step 1: Prepare the Fabric
If you have new fabric, such as upholstery or decorator fabric, wash it thoroughly to remove all sizing from the fabric. Dry as directed by the manufacturer. If it is an older piece of fabric, you may want to test a small piece to see if it is colorfast. Tea can cause unstable dyes to run and can ruin an entire piece of fabric if you skip this step.
Also, if you are tea dyeing a craft item that incorporates ribbon or embroidery floss, you should also test that, as both items also tend to run onto fabric.
Step 2: Prepare the Tea
How much tea to prepare will depend upon the amount of fabric you are dyeing. You will need enough of the tea and water mixture to at least dampen the entire piece, so use your judgment. Fill a pan with the amount of water you will need and bring it to a boil on the stove. Add the tea bags or instant tea until the desired color is obtained. Mix it darker than you want the finished fabric to be. If using tea bags, let the tea sit until the color is obtained.
Step 3: Dye the Fabric
Remove the tea bags from the pot of tea and immerse the fabric. Some people like to use wet fabric because doing so creates a more even look. Leave the fabric in the tea bath for at least half an hour. Remove the fabric and wring it out and dry it in the dryer. If it isn't dark enough, repeat the process.
Step 4: Dry the Fabric
For smaller pieces, such as craft items, you can either wring the fabric out or leave it wet. Put it on a cookie sheet and then into a 300-degree oven to dry. This technique will leave light and dark areas of uneven color on the fabric, so it is very popular with people creating the primitive craft look. You will find that by leaving the fabric wet and not wringing it, the color is darker. You can do the same technique wringing the fabric out for a lighter look. Be sure to keep a careful eye on the fabric as it dries in the oven and to remove it promptly.
Alternate Steps 3 and 4: Dye by Misting or with Tea Bags; Dry with Alternative Methods
You can also put the tea and water mixture into a spray bottle and mist it onto the fabric either all over or just in certain areas. The tea must be very strong to use this technique. You can air dry it, oven dry it or put it in the dryer.
If you want a very aged, grungy look, you can follow one of the above techniques and then put the wet tea bags on the fabric in different areas and then dry it on a flat surface. You will have dark stains where the tea bags sit.