Experiment with Tea Dyeing

A few weeks ago as I was cleaning up my sewing area, I uncovered a Halloween pattern from Cottage Creek Quilts' "Backdoor Quilt" series that I think has been 'aging' in my collection long enough. The pattern is called Trick or Treat and is the last one currently in my collection. The other designs in this series that I've completed include Be Thankful, Winter Blessings and Sweet Liberty. Each of these mini-wall quilts is quick and easy to finish in a few days, so they are good transitional projects when my focus shifts from one technique to another.

Most of the fabrics for this piece were already in my stash, but I wasn't entirely happy with the background fabric I was considering. It wasn't the right shade and the white on white print was too busy for my eye.

A trip to the quilt shop didn't help me find a background fabric, but I did find a nice black fabric for another element of the design. (I'll share the project in a separate entry when it's finished.)

I don't remember what made me think of it, but I thought maybe I could tea dye a piece of muslin to achieve the color and texture I wanted. And as an added bonus, it wouldn't cost me anything, because I have tons of muslin in my stash and plenty of tea bags in the pantry.

Tea Dye Experiment

Having seen the process on craft shows, I had an idea how do the dyeing, but I did a search anyway and found several online tutorials, including one on eHow.com and this one from Little Mysteries blog. I used elements from each to do my tea dyeing.

Tea Dye Experiment
My tea kettle holds 7 cups of water, so I used 7 regular Lipton tea bags (that's what I had on hand). I let the tea brew for at least 5 minutes before adding a test swatch of muslin. Since my muslin is about 1 yard long by half the width (a 'fat half') I chose to brew the tea in my 8 cup Pyrex bowl.

The test swatch looked great after just a minute, so I dampened the larger piece of muslin in warm water and then squished it up and submerged it into the brew, making sure every fold was covered by tea.

Tea Dye Experiment

Tea Dye Experiment
I left the muslin in the bowl for about an hour, checking it and re-arranging the fabric about half-way through.

I wanted the dye to look uneven, so made sure some of the tea bags were rolled up around inside the folds.

After an hour, I removed the muslin and rinsed it in cool water to remove the excess tea and a few random leaves that escaped the tea bags. It took about 3 to 4 rinses to get to the point where the water was clear.


Tea Dye ExperimentSince the project that I intend to use this muslin for a background won't likely need to be washed, I wasn't too concerned about getting all the tea dye out, but I didn't want to risk it transferring to other items like my ironing board. The used tea bags were added to the compost bin.

When the rinsing was finished, I rolled the muslin in an old towel and squeezed it to remove as much moisture as possible, then hung it to air dry.

It turned out great -- there's an unevenness to the shading that makes it look antiqued, which is exactly what I wanted for my project.

The entire process was finished in one morning while I was doing other housework - it was so easy!

Tea dyed this 'fat half' piece of muslin this morning

I need about 12 inches wide of this piece for my current project, so I'll have a good size piece left over for others. Or for more fabric embellishment, like stenciling with fabric paints ...

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