Tea-Dye Fabric for an Antique Patina

Want to give your modern-day embroidery an antique look? Brew a pot of tea!

While there are commercial dyes on the market, natural fibers like cotton, silk, linen, and wool can gain an aged appearance after a good soaking in tea water (coffee is another quick-dye option).

The benefits are that it is easy to do, rather inexpensive, and you can adjust the color by the amount of time that you soak your fabric.

Disadvantages are that tea can leave spots on the fabric (which can actually add to the antique patina), the color can be uneven and, it washes out over time.

Pros and Cons of Tea Dying

For all of these reasons, it is best to work with small pieces of fabric, a yard or less. Consider dying the fabric before embroidery rather than dying the finished project. Be sure to dye all of the pieces of fabric you might need for the project to ensure that coloring is similar.

You can even dye lace, provided it is stitched with silk or cotton thread. When dying lace, you would probably want to wait until after the piece was embroidered to soak it in tea.

Ideally, tea dying will work best with decorative items which will not be frequently laundered.

The Recipe

  • Start with two tea bags for each cup of boiled water, and four cups of liquid for each yard of fabric. More tea bags can be added for a darker dye.
  • Steep the tea for 10-20 minutes.
  • Squeeze tea bags and remove from the liquid.
  • Wet fabric in plain water before soaking in tea.
  • Stir often and soak for anywhere from an hour to overnight.
  • After soaking, rinse fabric under cold water. Much of the color will rinse off. If you want the fabric darker, soak it some more.
  • When you achieve the desired color, soak the tea dyed fabric in a mixture of two parts vinegar, one part water, and two tablespoons of salt for 15 minutes. Rinse well, dry in the dryer, and press.
  • Embroider!