Sunday, October 17, 2010

tea staining

small measures with ashley: tea staining

Image above: Lampshade before tea staining
I’ve long been a fan of color. While I know that an all-white room, a set of stark white dinnerware or even a simple white T-shirt appeals to many, it has never been my cup of tea (no pun intended). When my family vacationed in Florida two summers ago and my Pop wanted a family photo of us in jeans and white shirts, I had to borrow one from my younger sister. A high-school friend’s father used to joke that I always looked like I was headed to a funeral (although, in my defense, those were the days when I, along with many others, was deeply entrenched in all things Anne Rice and Robert Smith). Heck, even my wedding dress, which I had custom-made by local Asheville designer R. Brooke Priddy, was a deep red. To date, the only white apparel I own is a pair of ankle socks that, worn with my black Dansko clogs all summer long to keep my feet nice and dry, remain squarely out of sight.
You can imagine my relief, then, when I met my husband and found he shared my color predilections. Not only did he vibe-out on a similar color palette (think autumn and winter hues), he’s a professional color consultant, having earned his MFA from Penn with a concentration in color theory and painting. Our home is rife with color: pumpkin in the kitchen, merlot in the dining room, deep olive in the bathroom, espresso in the living room, mustard in our bedroom, moss and mushroom in Nugget’s room, battleship gray in the hall leading upstairs, sage in the guest bedroom/office, and more mushroom in the guest bathroom. Most of our decorations aren’t white, either. Occasionally, we come across something in the palest of shades that’s just too good to pass up. This was the case with our recent lampshade find.
We needed another lamp in our living room to balance the lighting across the space. Hubs found a gorgeous specimen with a wooden base, but a white shade. Our solution? A tea-stained dye. We try to keep toxic chemicals out of our abode as much as possible, so a light tea stain seemed like the perfect remedy. It not only modified the color to something more to our liking, it warmed the overall light emitted from the lamp. In today’s Small Measures, I’ll explain our process and how you too can bring a deeper degree of color to some objects in your home.

While the process is quite straightforward, I would like to offer up the disclaimer that not all fabrics will take to tea staining. For the most part, cotton and linen are your best bets, as well as paper. If you’re wondering whether or not your chosen cloth will work, try staining a small, out-of-direct-view patch first. Otherwise, you should be all set.

New and improved!
CLICK HERE for the how-to steps after the jump!
Tea-Staining Fabrics
1. Boil 4 cups of water in a medium-sized pot.
2. Add 4 or more bags of strong black tea (we used Prince of Wales) to the boiling water, depending how dark you want your stain.
3. Continue to boil until the water is reduced by about half, around 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and allow tea to cool for about 10 minutes.
5. Place a towel underneath the object to be stained to absorb drips.
6. If you are staining a lampshade, like we did, perch the center of it on a vase or similar object to keep it raised above the towel (for drying).
7. Paint the tea on with a foam brush (that’s the route we chose), a regular brush, a rag or whatever works for you.
8. Be sure to brush out any streaks, unless you want them.
9. Use a lint-free towel to remove any drips, if necessary.
10. Let dry before handling.
And there you have it! Easy peasy. Several years ago, we picked up the framed vintage Japanese cloth above at Anthropologie. Originally, the matting on top of the fabric was stark white and, per my explanation above, it just didn’t suit us. So we used a tea stain for the matting, following the same process. We simply brushed the tea stain on with a paint brush and allowed it to dry thoroughly before placing it back over the cloth.
What about you? Do you have any experiences with tea staining or using any other natural material to create a stain or dye? I’d love hear about it! — Ashley
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October 15th, 2010 - 10:21 am
I like that, it turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, something to do this weekend me thinks!
Or.. how about knitting a bird and making a nest for it, I have a free pattern giveaway
October 15th, 2010 - 10:38 am
hi ashley, enjoyed your how-to. i’ve used tea (and coffee, and even beet ‘juice’) staining extensively on paper, in my artwork. interesting to see how you use it here!
examples at:
AT said:
October 15th, 2010 - 10:54 am
Love it! I have tea stained paper for a handmade journal. For paper, if it is thick enough, I prefer just quickly running the paper through a shallow dish of the tea, then lying flat to dry. It makes the stain very smooth, but also gives an aged look to the edges. Nice work!
Felicia Fuller said:
October 15th, 2010 - 10:59 am
I’ve been looking for some new lampshades and like this one. Where can I find it?
Megan said:
October 15th, 2010 - 11:36 am
Thanks for the great tutorial! Any advice on tea staining curtains?
Joanna said:
October 15th, 2010 - 12:47 pm
I used Tea Staining to make a cool piece of artwork for my living room a couple years back. I had a huge photocopy of a Sanborn Fire Insurance map of lower Manhattan in the early 1900′s from college assignment. It was such a great map that I wanted to frame it, but just a plain white piece of paper isn’t very interesting, so, using an old baby pool, I decided to try staining it. I crumpled a brown grocery bag and placed it underneath the map so it wouldn’t stick to the bottom and (gently) poured the tea over it. When it dried, the map looked awesome and old. the bag underneath created faint lines, that made the map look like it was cloth and folded away for some time. People always ask where i got it and are super shocked to hear that it was just a simple “aged” photo copy
October 15th, 2010 - 2:26 pm
Fantastic tips… I hadn’t ever thought of tea staining a lamp shade, I can’t wait to try this project!
Miz.Jo said:
October 15th, 2010 - 2:53 pm
Hey Ashley, this is a great project. It can be applied in so many different ways and its super simple.
Several years back I was taken with how pretty the fabric was that my mom used to strain her berries to make jelly. She used two old cotton clothes and they were the prettiest tie dye looking berry color. I stole them and stitched together a shirt! Eventually, after many wearings and washings, the color faded. But it was cool while it lasted.
Celia said:
October 15th, 2010 - 3:03 pm
My mother used to sew for me A LOT when I was a baby and a young girl. When she made a dress and could only find white socks… she would “tea stain” my socks to get the color just right to match my outfit. This really can be a great way to achieve the perfect color that you want!!
October 15th, 2010 - 4:04 pm
felicia-we picked it up at our local t.j.maxx, and with their wide product variability, i’m not sure where you might be able to source one. sorry! wish i could help more!
megan-for curtains, first of all make sure your fabric contains at least some cotton or linen; otherwise the color might not take. then, wet the curtains first, squeezing out the excess moisture which helps the fabric accept the color better.
then, for the staining, you could either brush it on, which will render a mottled look or do a dye bath, increasing the amount of liquid used largely (i.e. make a big stock pot of water and then add many tea bags to it, and cook it down until you achieve the desired darkness you’re striving for). submerge one panel at a time in the dye bath, leaving it in for up to an hour, moving it around with a long-handled spoon periodically for color uniformity and to remove creases.
wring it out and allow to dry naturally. be aware in advance, however, that the color might be mottled and not as even as that achieved with chemical dyes. for me, taking a chance on a lampshade was a risk i could afford to take. if you’re talking about dying your grandmother’s heirloom lace curtains, be prepared for some variability in color.
Verito said:
October 15th, 2010 - 8:04 pm
You should check out this argentine decor wedsite, and there is a diy proyect on dyed (don’t know the name, that paper thing where you bake cup cakes) with tea and stuck on the wall like wall paper…it just soooo cute!!
Vone said:
October 16th, 2010 - 8:33 am
I made a hooded wrap to go over my friend’s wedding dress and the day before the wedding I gave it to her and we realized that it didn’t match the dress – her dress was ivory and the wrap was white. So after a minor panic attack I tea stained it. I filled one sink with water and the other with 1 tea bag some boiled water and then removed the tea bag and added more water. I got the wrap really wet and then put it in the tea stain and then rinsed off again. And then to avoid drips I ironed it dry on a towel. It still seemed a little too light so I did it one more time and it looked perfect.
That was my first tea staining project and good thing it worked.
Auntie Sheboo said:
October 16th, 2010 - 11:45 am
This is great and made me remember two things that my grandma taught that I had forgotten. She used to take peelings from red onions and boil them to create the same affect. The color is slightly pinky-orangish brown. To set the color so you don’t have fading like the great berry shirt described by MizJo, she often gave them a vinegar bath which prevents fading to some degree but not totally. She also used beet juice, which was mentioned before and walnut hulls to make a very pretty brown. I’m wondering if Saffron would also be good. Thanks! This is great!
elisa said:
October 16th, 2010 - 12:08 pm
we had fun with tea staining too! sometimes it isn’t just brightening white but taking down a loud colour to something a bit gentler. lovely, easy process isn’t it? x
Emily said:
October 16th, 2010 - 4:50 pm
I love the look of tea stained things- I have been tea staining paper for use in paintings/multi-media projects since college. I’ve also used coffee grounds and straight up coffee.
I’ve never used it to stain anything other than paper, so I appreciate your tutorial- I’ve got some white tea towels from the dollar store that I want to tea stain and then stencil with fabric paint.
Once (emabarassingly recently) my sister and I were on a paper flower kick. We wanted to make some natural/ neutral blooms to arrange with our white ones. We made a pot of coffee, took it and our tissue paper outside to stain. Let’s just say that tissue paper wasn’t the smartest decision- it tore irrepairably when we picked it up off the ground. Major. Craft. Fail. Will use coffee filters next time around;)
amy said:
October 16th, 2010 - 11:05 pm
Finally, someone who knows the process and showed me well! Thank you so much. :)
MsChilePepper said:
October 17th, 2010 - 1:26 am
I’ve used tea, coffee and juice from beets and berries to stain light-colored woods for various projects, with great results. Really, anything that will make an UNdesirable stain on your clothes or table linens could make a really nice effect on fabrics and other materials. Mustard, turmeric, greens, lots of other stuff can be used for natural dyes. Experiment!
October 17th, 2010 - 2:09 am
Sweet! I have a cool distressed denim western shirt that was factory Tea Stained and LOVE the look. I tried it once without looking up or having any instructions. Didn’t work. Now that I have a Fool Proof “how to”, look out…I’m gonna be a tea staining FOOL!

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