Dying Fabric with Tea and Coffee

When creating quilt portraits, one of the biggest challenges is finding skin-tone fabrics in a range of values.   Necks should always be a bit darker than faces, and if shading or highlights are required, then several values may be required.

While working on this quilt portrait, I decided I needed a few different shades of skin-tone fabric, but I didn’t have enough skin-tone fabrics that worked well together.  So I dyed some fabric with tea and coffee.  I now have several shades of the same skin-tone fabric.

DSCN2769I only needed a small amount of fabric in each shade, so I just used a mug of coffee and a mug of tea.  I started by soaking a swatch about 2 x 4 inches in each mug for about 20 minutes.  Then I rinsed the fabric in cool water until it ran clear.  I ironed it until it was dry.  (Since my art quilts will never be washed, and tea and coffee actually stain the fabric, rather than dying it, ironing it dry is sufficient to set the color.)  I found it interesting that the tea (on the right) looks lighter in the mug, but stained the fabric a little darker than the coffee did.

I put the swatches and another piece about 9 x 12 inches in each mug, and left them all for another 25 minutes.  The swatches got slightly darker from their second soaking.  Note that the fabric looks a lot darker when it’s wet, than it does once it’s dry.DSCN2777  DSCN2784

Here’s what I had after the fabrics were rinsed and ironed – 4 shades of the same fabric.  (Actually 6 shades if I decide to use the swatches.)   I like to convert photos of fabric to black & white to confirm the value differences.DSCN2775




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3 Responses to Dying Fabric with Tea and Coffee

  1. Barbara W says:

    I’m saving this one! Thanks so much for sharing your process!

  2. Denise says:

    Can I dye over an already coffee stained fabric with tea to make it darker?

    • TerryAske says:

      That’s a good question​! ​
      I didn’t try that, but it ​should work. The only way to know
      ​ for sure​
      is to experiment. If you have enough of the coffee-stained fabric, cut off a bit before soaking the rest of it in tea, and see how much of a difference it makes. Let me know what you discover.

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