Saturday, May 21, 2011

Experiments in Tea Dyeing

Ever since I was little, I've had this fascination with color and changing the color of things. So when I learned about using tea, coffee, juice, and other natural dyes to dye fabric, I had to do some experiments. This wasn't my first time doing tea dyeing, but this was the first time I did such a comprehensive test with a wide variety of products. I wanted to post my method, mediums, results and application ideas here. Maybe they'll inspire you too!

Step 1
Choose your fabric! Natural fabrics work best, like cotton. Once you have your fabric, if possible, cut a test swatch. This isn't alway possible, for example, if you're doing a whole dress, an antique, or a single piece of fabric, like a handkerchief. In cases like these, try and find a fabric that is similar to your piece, and use that as the test. The test strip(s) are important to figure out the right amount of concentration (how long you steep your tea) and/or time to
leave your piece in. Since I wanted to try as many different dyes as possible, I cut ten strips.

Step 2
Soak your test strip(s) in a bowl of clean tap water. This removes excess dirt and dye from the fabric, as well as loosens up the fabric to accept the dye better. I left mine in the water about an hour. After awhile, take the fabric out and rinse it under running water. Pat dry, but don't dry them fully. They shouldn't be dripping.

Step 3
Start your testing! I used apple juice, orange juice, and cranberry juice first. Since these don't get brewed like tea or coffee, you can start dyeing right away. I left these swatches in for ten minutes.

Then I started with the tea. I only did three at a time. Each tea was brewed for four minutes. On the left you can see my set up for the swatches. I left all of the tea swatches in for five minutes each. Finally, I used this setup to try two more products, powdered juice mix (expired) and watered down raspberry vinegar. Now since these are only swatches, these little bowls work perfectly fine. But if you dye something bigger, then you will need a much larger container. It has to be able to hold both the item and enough liquid to completely cover the fabric.

This is the most exciting part, pulling your fabric out and seeing what happened! Swatches 1 and 2 (apple juice and orange juice) didn't really take any color at all. After drying overnight, the apple is a tinted white, almost like an off-white, and the orange didn't really change. That's to be expected, as they don't really have dark colors. The cranberry swatch, 3, came out really nice though. After drying, the color became lighter, but a lovely dusty pink color. 4, the green tea, was a light green-yellow when it came out. After drying, it's become much more yellowish. The earl grey tea, number 5, took the dye very nicely. My fabric has a slight print, originally it was white on white. This tea not only dyed the base fabric, but the print as well. Not every substance did that. Lipton tea is number 6, it seems to have gotten cut off. It's not much different from the earl grey in all honesty, maybe just a little bit lighter. 7 is a mint tea. This one came out pretty interesting. I didn't think it would be much different from the green tea, but it is. It's quite green, and the print was dyed darker than the base fabric on this one. It's quite lovely when you hold it up to the light. Ah, if only I could do curtains in it. 8 was the chai tea, and 9 was the lemon tea. They look pretty much the same after drying. They're both lighter than the Lipton tea (6) and the Earl Grey (5). The raspberry vinegar (10) was an afterthought, and I watered it down quite a bit. The color is quite flat, and it smells, well, like vinegar. Finally, number 11, the drink powder (strawberry lemonade FYI). Also an afterthought. This one is nice too! It dyed the fabric, and only a little of the print. It's a bit darker than the cranberry juice too.

Step 4
Let your fabric dry completely. The ideal way to do this is to hang it up on a clothesline overnight. I took mine and sandwiched them in paper towels. This probably lead to the lightening of the colors. Make sure they don't drip onto anything stainable. Do it over a sink, lay out towels below, etc.

Whew! That was a lot of dyeing! But what application does this really have for the world of lolita? So much! You can apply this method for lovely results when making your own accessories. You can control the color and get a completely unique piece all your own. You can dye lace handkerchiefs, and even socks for stunning results.

To seal the color in (prevent it from fading, bleeding, etc.), there's a very simple method. If you have a big piece, like a skirt or dress, then you can do this in your washing machine. I recommend doing this as a stand-alone piece to prevent your other laundry from getting dye on it and vice versa. Set it to cold and allow the machine to fill up halfway, before putting the piece in the machine. Stop the machine and pour in one cup of white vinegar, and 1/2 cup of salt. If you can, turn on the agitator for a few minutes to allow the salt and vinegar to dissolve. Put the piece in and allow the wash cycle to complete as normal. Once should be enough. Alternatively (and probably overall a safer option) you can do this same method by hand. This works well in small batches (if you're doing socks or a headbow or something), but could be tough for a big piece. Repeat the procedure until no more dye comes out.

Are you going to try it? I like to use this method to dye fabric for doll clothes, as they always are small batches. It gives a really nice antique look to fabric and it's a fun project!

1 comment:

  1. Tea or tisane dyeing works best when there's a strong proportion of tannin in the mix (in the case of tea) or similarly strong pigments (tisanes). I would recommend combining tea and a tisane if you're looking for an herbal color departed from the standard "tea tan".

    You should also experiment with Rooibos tea - extremely strong, extremely red. :D

    Yay for tannins and tea-dyeing!