Tutorial: Dying with Black Tea

Being in the Textile Arts Center studio here in Brooklyn is super inspiring….especially the natural dying section. I have nervously dabbled a bit in this area, but for me, it’s always best to start with something simple that I can grasp…..so here goes my experiment with some black tea I found in the kitchen!

And guess what?! There is a little surprise to make it more interesting… I added a simple, cheap resist of Elmer’s glue…good ‘ole Elmer.

So here are the materials I used:
black tea
Elmer’s glue
four different types of natural white-ish fabrics (I found that knit cotton held the color best!)
pot with boiling water
tongs to spare my fingers from the boiling water
…..that’s it!

Step 1: Paint on your glue resist. I used paintbrushes to paint patterns, shapes, flowers and sometimes just smushed it around to see what would happen!

Step 2: Let that glue dry completely before dying. I put our swatches in front of the fan and became impatient…so then we ironed them (after placing a cloth on top!)

Here is the tea I used and the pot…you could used any kind of black tea to get a similar color. I suggest experimenting with what you have!

Step 3: Put enough water in the pot so your fabric can freely move around and turn on high heat. Once the water is boiling, throw in a good amount of tea and wait a few minutes until the color comes out.

Step 4: Leave fabric in bath until the color looks good to you, you can always get it darker by putting it back in.

Here is a picture of some of the swatches after being removed from the bath, before we moved the glue resist.

Step 5: Remove the resist: I found that the best method was to use a scrub sponge with a bit of dish soap and water. Gently rub the fabric until the glue comes out and VOILA!


Now go experiment! And if you want to learn more about Natural Dying, check out one of the Natural Dye classes!

About Lynn Hunter

Lynn Hunter has been working in textiles and instructing at the Textile Arts Center since she returned to NYC after a long stint exploring Europe & Asia in 2013. Outside of TAC, Lynn splits her time between creatively directing at Heirloom, an antique rug company and exploring her erotic rope project Tight Rope.


  1. The swatches look great. Love the idea with the Elmer glue resist. Will try this soon. Thank you!

  2. Anjee

    I love this idea! However, will it wash out when you throw them in the laundry? How do you set the color?

  3. Sharon

    Not only will I try it for fabric, I am going to try it for the clothing I have “ruined” spilling tea on. Now it will be beautiful not stained. (Trust me the tea may lighten some, but will not come out. You could always set-it in a dryer or experiment with a vinegar bath.)

  4. Wendy

    I’m wondering what will happen when the stained fabric is washed. Would adding salt to the pot make the fabric dye stay in the cloth when washed? This is a great idea and would like to make some tea towels, no pun intended.

  5. Parisa

    I have a question, when you dye fabric that has elmer’s glue on it, do you have to dye it in the cooled off tea water or can you simmer it in the tea water? Also, I’ve heard that simmering the fabric in vinegar water beforehand allows the dye to settle better. Do you think I can do that with fabric that has glue on it or do you think the glue would come off with the heat and vinegar? Thanks!

  6. hi, thanks for great info :) posting to my mates

  7. If I don’t have a big enough pot for the fabric I’m dyeing could I use a cooled tea solution? I’m making a linen woven baby wrap so it’s 4 yards of fabric.

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