White to Ivory: Dyeing with Tea

bridal-bra

I am working on a design idea for a bridal lingerie set, but had the hardest time finding ivory elastic to match my chosen lace. White just looks like an eyesore next to ivory, and I didn’t want a contrasting color.

white-ivory-nylon

I’ve learned through my elastic dyeing experiments that pale colors don’t always turn out as well as darker ones. And ivory has been the hardest color to get. It doesn’t matter what color or how little dye I use, there’s no in between white and a mottled greige that looks just plain wrong.

Tea dyeing turned out to be a perfect solution. I could have also tried coffee, which is far more common in this house! Tea is a really low-commitment, no mess dye, with no need for separate pots or gloves.

I’m just starting to read about natural dyes, especially those that don’t need any mordants or additional chemicals to assist in helping the dye bonding process. These are called “substantive dyes” and include stuff like tea, coffee, onion skins, tumeric and ooh, pecan shells, which are overrunning my garden right now. (We have eight mature pecan trees.) I see a dyeing experiment coming up this fall! But, and a big but, from everything I read, these dyes are the most permanent on wool, and a little less so on cotton. And there isn’t much information about using them on nylon.

But really, all I wanted to do was just “off-color” my notions. I tried a few different teas–PG Tips, chamomile and Lady Grey. The first elastic came out kind of icky gray-ish tan. The chamomile didn’t add much color. The Lady Grey seemed to have more red or warm colored tea leaves in it and that gave me my best results.

tea-dyeing-nylon

First I made the tea by steeping one teabag in a pot for about 1 minute. Just one teabag, because I really just wanted to dim a white color, not go any shade of pale brown. I let things cool down a bit before dunking my notions. In my experience, anything with spandex starts to curl above 140°. When it was ready, I immersed my wet and elastic and notions and stirred them about until they looked like it had just taken on a slight stain.

IMG_1396

I think this will work just beautifully. For all I know, I may have just stained (rather than actually dyed) these elastics, which is just fine. I’m pretty sure they will never fade back to blinding white. If you know the secret to that without using bleach or high heat, pass it on to me, because a few of my white t-shirts would thank you!

Have you ever dyed with tea?

Good Dye Reading:

*Dyeing with Tea

*About Natural Dyes and *some interesting science about mordants

*Handbook of Natural Dyes by Sasha Duerr

(p.s. Thanks to everyone for the kind wishes and suggestions on my WordPress commenting problems. My problem was very simple, and I think I got it solved. I was on Akismet’s spam list, and one of my gracious readers helped me get through to Akismet support. There are sometimes more problematic reasons behind why one’s IP (the address that identifies the network from which you work) would be flagged by spam filters, but thankfully none of those sticky reasons were my situation. Computer is all clear, network is all clear!)

49 comments

  1. Laurel says:

    I have done quite a bit of tea-dyeing for bras – I even used tea dyeing to tone down a too-intense pale pink to create a pale peachy-beige. It works quite well, but does fade a bit over time – I stabilized with vinegar (as I recall) and that seemed to help. I wonder if the Retayne product would work well for it before assembling/sewing the bits together? Thanks for your posts!

  2. alison says:

    I have used strong coffee to tone down the color of some too bright cobalt blue jersey that I was making a tee shirt from, and it gradually faded back, but not all the way. As far as turning things white again, the best way I have found is to use the power of sunlight… when I hang laundry to dry outside in the sun, it does get “sun bleached”, and sometimes that is all it takes to get things white again. Plus, you can do it over and over again, and the clothes smell lovely

  3. lisa g says:

    i did try tea dying once–i was making a wedding dress and had white lace but ivory satin. the tea i used ended up looking “dirty” against the ivory so i washed it out and used a super diluted yellow dye instead. i dunked the lace for 3 or 5 seconds and it gave me much better results. i never thought to try different types of teas though!

    • Amy says:

      It really is a quick trip to “dirty”. My only problem so far with yellow dyes is that they tend to “split” in low heat and look mottled on nylon elastic. I just bought a pure yellow acid dye (not a mix) so I will probably experiment with that one in the future!

  4. Maddie says:

    Amy, I will be using this is the future! The stark, bleach white of elastics is not pretty by any means, but I never would think to use tea. Plus, I wouldn’t know where to start. Beautiful bra you’re making, BTW.

  5. blacklabel says:

    my gran showed me how to tea dye many many years ago & i remember being absolutely stunned at how well it worked.
    while i personally love stark white undies, I can understand there being a need for something a little toned down too. your bra is looking fantastic – cant wait to see it finished.

  6. Rebecca Howard says:

    Oh how well I know the problem of trying to dye all the bra bits to ivory. My tea dying never seems to work well – wrong colour happening. My best effort has been with Rit powder dye in Golden Yellow. Just a few grains in about 500mL water. Looks like there’s nothing there. Then just dunk the piece of strapping or whatever in for about one minute. Pull it out, squeeze it in a towel and let it air dry. Seriously looks as if nothing happened at first but when you hold it up in the light next to white – ha! It has become ivory:)

  7. Sunlight-as someone said above (especially in Aus where the sun is probably 99% uv XD). Also colour remover. The latter is the nastier, less environmentally (and physiologically) safe option. Takes all colours off (I’ve used the one from idye) but if there are two or more colours, the more intense of the two will likely bleed over the area covered by the less intense and this will then require a couple of rounds of colour removal. The level of toxicity really makes me doubt how worthy this method is though. I’d stay away if possible..

  8. I have used tea before when making a theater costume for my daughter. She needed a shabby looking petticoat and I used tea to dye the petticoat fabric and the apron. It worked really well. I haven’t thought about it until now. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Ms. McCall says:

    I tried dying my bra notions, and it was a really tricky thing, the casing took the colour way faster than the elastic, so I had to do a couple of batches varying the times they were in the bath. I did love the orangey-brown colour though.

    That bra you’re working on looks really really lovely!

  10. Karen Frost says:

    Not RE: natural dyes. I already dye enough things naturally on accident. I was just looking up bra history after mulling, “why tiny bows in the center of bras?” Also considering wrapping a vintage silky long scarf into a bandeau (& yes, I’m fairly small). Your designs are beautiful & you live in Austin, too!

    Have you considered working on costumes with Austin’s thriving bellydance community?

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Karen. Love your bandeau idea. Austin has such a huge costuming community! For now, I’m just doing custom work for friends, which I enjoy, but I never know where it could lead ;).

  11. Angela says:

    This post sort of rocked my world. After a rainy outdoor wedding my ivory lace dress was caked in mud. I took it to a fancy wedding gown cleaner and they cleaned the ivory color right out, so the rows of lace were all different colors of white and off-white. I was really upset. I don’t know why I never considered this before, but of course it is possible to dye it back! Thank you!

  12. Sallie says:

    This is such a great reminder to me to experiment with some simple dye methods! I used to dye paper with tea, back in the day, and always loved the result! And, I don’t know, is it just me, or is there something incredibly romantic about a tea-dyed bridal lingerie set…?

  13. Carolyn says:

    The tea dye looks really good! a lovely soft pale colour. I’m glad you sorted out your wordpress commenting problem. I had the same thing recently, and another blogger kindly directed me to the wordpress help site where they sorted it out instantly. The worpress tech guy said it was just a glitch in the system.

  14. Helen says:

    I’ve done some tea dying of cotton lace for headpieces – I love the use of natural dye. They usually go a lot darker – I’m going to have to experiment, as I need to dye some ultra white lace to an ivory colour!

  15. Abigail says:

    I just used your advice to dye a whole wedding gown – found it at GoodWill for $25, and decided to buy it because it fit perfectly and I loved the design, the only problem was that it was true white and I wanted ivory. I figured, what can I lose? $25 and 16 Lipton tea bags? So I boiled up two big stock pots full of water, tossed 8 tea bags in each (I know, way too much… but I knew I was going to dilute it later) and let steep for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, I soaked the dress in warm water in a big rubbermaid bin, and filled the bathtub about 5″ deep with water. Then I poured in the two giant pots of tea, and put the dress in. I only had to leave it in for about a minute and a half, an voilá! Ivory dress. It’s hanging up to dry in the basement, and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t dry blotchy. Thanks for the advice!!

    • Amy says:

      Hi Abigail, I’m glad your dyeing was a success! I’ve heard lots of stories of dyeing wedding gowns in tea. I haven’t tried big amounts of fabric (only just the little bits in this post) so I’m curious how it dries!

    • Tiina says:

      I am on this blog to find out about tea dyeing. My daughter is a flower girl in a wedding in 3 weeks and we ordered the dress in white as we were told. The bride didn’t realize her dress was ivory until last week and now I am unable to exchange my daughters dress. I’m just curious how your gown turned out. Do you have pictures to share? Any suggestions?

  16. Marilyn says:

    I just tea dyed the lace for making my daughter’s wedding veil. I had a bit of a problem in that I ended up with some dark spots. I believe they were caused by putting the tea bags in while the water was rapidly boiling which caused a concentration of tea “particles” to accumulate around the water line of the pan. Since it was 10 yards of lace, it was bulky enough that it touched the sides of the pan in some spots and picked up the concentrate therefore, dark spots. (The overall color actually came out perfectly) After unsuccessfully trying to rinse out the dark spots, I kept the lace wet while mixing up OxiClean and hot water and then soaked it in that solution for 1 1/2 to 2 hours and it removed it all, taking the lace back to my starting point!!!!!! I was overjoyed that it worked and I didn’t have to re-purchase lace!!! Now starting over and I will transfer the tea to a clean container before dipping to make sure I don’t repeat my error!
    Thank you for the above tutorial, it was a great help to me.
    Marilyn

  17. Penelope says:

    I’m so glad I found your listing.. I had tea dying in mind for turning some brilliant white gupier lace to ivory. I need it to attatch to a veil I’m making for someone. White wouldn’t do as her dress is ivory taffeta. You’ve given me hope that it will work. I’ll be experimenting this afters, fingers crossed
    Penny x

  18. Julie says:

    Hi all!

    I actually tried this on a linen skirt and it worked like a charm. Don’t be fulled by the darkness of the fabric when it’s wet, it dries lighter. I actually did it twice, since I removed the skirt to quickly the first time.

    Julie

  19. Lydia says:

    Thank you for doing dyeing tutorials on nylon! I am an avid silk dyer and recently discovered that silk (acid) dyes work well on nylon. I’ve heard that is due to the similarity in molecular structure of silk and nylon. The chemistry of it is so fascinating! In regards to tea dyeing, which I’ve ventured into a bit on lace, paper, silk, and polyester, it amazingly works to some degree on most fibers. I have found that it helps to brew your tea like normal, but make it stronger than you think you’ll need, take off heat, vinegar, take your bags out to prevent odd splotches, (I use a fine mesh/ tricot lingerie bag to safeguard against broken bags) THEN add your items to be dyed, keep covered as much as possible to keep heat in. After 10 minutes, the dye won’t do much more so add fresh tea to bath if you need more color. Also with lace, most are some combo of rayon, nylon, and cotton. ( I work at Fabric Depot in the Bridal Dept so I’m fawning over these all day 🙂 Tea has better results on lace in my experience because it dyes all fibers, instead of select ones leaving you with even dyeing instead of say bright white threads on a champagne background. Btw, best champagne color: Walmart black tea.

    • Amy says:

      Sounds like you have a fun job! And thank for the tip on best champagne color and tea dyeing tricks. Most of the lace I dye is a nylon/spandex blend and for these I use acid dyes. They really are the best.

      • Lydia says:

        Sorry I guess I was referring to the fiber content and difficulties of dyeing non stretch lace “tea colors”.

  20. Shelley says:

    I just happened upon this. Nice to see that others do this. I used green tea to make white satin shoes ivory to match my wedding dress. It was a excellent match. At first I tried regular tea but it came out too brown. (I got a swatch with the shoes so I could test it).

  21. Deb says:

    I can attest to the power of Tea! I had an old-fashioned cotton nightgown hanging in the back of my closet that I wanted to use for a steampunk outfit. Problem was, it was stark white. I just wanted to turn it a dingy white like it had been used and abused. I used three tea bags, and a huge pot of water. I actually boiled the nightgown with the tea after removing the tea bags. It was a weak solution so it came out the perfect dingy white. thanks for your post, I wasn’t aware the elastic could be dyed this way too.

  22. Lisa says:

    great read, comments and all. found this site because i’m considering buying a bench (with linen fabric covering) and was researching if white or off-white (aka natural) would fade less in the sun. it seems the straight white might be the best option since this piece is going to be right in front of a window and i’m not getting fade-resistant fabric… i know the lighter the fabric the less it fades, but i wasn’t sure if white fabric would yellow, like white plastic does… dumb question? i just don’t want to regret spending a lot on something i won’t like anymore in two years. i’m tempted to go with white because the nearby comforter has some white in it, but i’m tempted to go with natural so that it’s not a glaring-white piece of furniture, and one that shows even the smallest mark or stain, so i’m thinking likeliness to fade will be the deciding factor since i can’t make up my mind.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Although this is a bit off topic from my dyeing post, I do have experience with pure white linen upholstery! It does tend to “dirty” quickly, especially if you have pets or kids, ha. However, I love being able to put it in the washer on hot water and not worry. I bought upholstery-specific linen fabric and it hangs in the sun which helps keep it white. I don’t have any idea how much an ivory curtain or upholstery would fade but there are specific upholstery fabrics with treatments that prevent uv fading. Something to consider…

  23. Annie says:

    I dyed my daughters satin pure white jacket to an ivory colour with Lady Grey tea and it worked really well. It resulted in a lovely soft light ivory colour and we were pleased with the result. I used 1 teabag per cup of ‘off the boil’ hot water and then let it cool it a little.
    I do not recommend that you make the tea in a teapot as I suspect little pieces of tannin floated in the tea solution and created a few specks of a browny colour on the fabric. I was able to remove these from the fabric but next time would make up the tea in a glass jug just to be on the safe side.
    Also I rinsed the jacket after dyeing with warm water and a dash of white vinegar added. Hope that this is helpful for you.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Annie,

      Thanks for sharing your experience in dyeing with tea! I’m glad you were able to get a pleasing result! Was your daughter’s jacket silk satin or a synthetic satin?

      Also just to clarify for other readers since I write about dyeing a lot and help them troubleshoot, rinsing in vinegar doesn’t fix dye to fabric. Alas, I know this is common internet advice, but a misunderstanding of vinegar’s place in dyeing. It may make fabric softer, however! It’s only necessary when dyeing with acid dyes or RIT on nylon, silk or wool and only *when* the dye bath is hot—it serves to lower the pH which is what those dyes need to bond with fibers. Outside of that, it doesn’t have any benefits in making dye more permanent.

  24. Mimi says:

    I recently ordered a cotton print duvet I loved. The background was listed as “white”, so I ordered a white bed skirt to go with it. The items arrived and the duvet background was just off white and the bedskirt was a dazzling blue white. I looked at my local stores for a coordinating bedskirt but all “natural” and “ivory” bed skirts were too dark. Found your blog and this morning I tea stained the bedskirt to the perfect shade. Eight Lipton tea bags steeped five minutes then added to a bath tub half filled with water. I used paper towels to “wipe” the tannin off the surface of the liquid tea before dumping it in to avoid possible blotchiness mentioned by commenters. I stomped around barefoot on top of the bedskirt for a minute or two until it looked right then removed it. It is perfect. Thanks for the information and inspiration!

  25. Rowezeth Sewell says:

    Hi,
    I wondering, will tea dye work on net curtains? If so how much tea bags will I need to get it look like a pale ivory colour?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Rowezeth,

      The only way to know is to try! Success in dyeing really depends on the fiber itself. Since it’s net, I’ll assume it’s either polyester or nylon.
      *Is it mostly polyester? No, it won’t dye with tea–but it might stain it).
      *Is it mostly nylon? Maybe, but it depends on whether it is home decorating fabric that has a surface treatment to prevent stains.

      Since dyeing is experimental and not an exact science, the color can be unpredictable with natural dyes. As you can see from the comments and my own experiments, the type of tea affects the color. You could start with a little amount and if you want it darker, dye again?

  26. Cheyenne says:

    I need to dye a Calvin Klein white as snow bra…..I believe it has some lace but I think the rest is silky ……I’m scared to try this because I don’t want to completely ruin the bra because my size is actually really hard for me to find and that would be $52.00 down the drain! It’s really a piercing white and I need to tone it down to an off white.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Cheyenne,

      I wish I had some color-proof advice for you but dyeing is so experimental so you have to go in without expectation of the perfect color. Just by nature of their different textures, each of the components in your bra would dye a slightly different shade, and the elastic may not dye at all. You never know if the fabric or elastic has a treatment on it that may interfere with dyeing.

      As far as dyeing a pure white to an off white, you can see from my post and comments that I experimented with both professional acid dyes and tea; off white is actually an extremely hard color to do without making things look muddy or yellow.

      My best suggestion is—if you don’t want to risk uneven dyeing or muddy colors, then don’t dye your bra! Maybe you will grow to love your lovely white bra… white is so very underrated in my humble opinion ;).

  27. Kerry says:

    Hi, I am ordering a flower girl dress for my daughter but the only problem is, it only comes in white and I need it to be ivory. It has a cotton lining with a nylon lace over top. The thread is a cotton-poly blend. I thought about getting it and tea-dying it, but I’m really scared to since there are different fabrics and they may all take the tea to a different degree, and the dress end up horrible. Have you ever tried tea-dying a garment with multiple fabrics? Do you have any recommendations in my situation?
    Thanks,
    Kerry

    • Amy says:

      Hi Kerry, I so wish I could help but as you have probably guessed from my replies to other comments that dyeing is *always* experimental! I would hesitate before dyeing an already purchased formal garment but some people like risks more than me!

      When you are dyeing multiple types of fibers, especially with natural dyestuffs like tea, you will get some slightly different results on each part. Your suspicions are on the right track. Most likely the cotton will dye to a different depth/shade than the nylon but since the nylon is sheer-like lace, that might not matter. If the nylon has any kind of stain-resistant treatment on it (which the label won’t say), it won’t dye well, either. Honestly, there are no guarantees. It’s really up to how much you like to experiment and are okay with inconsistent color.

  28. Brie says:

    This worked so well! I had to dye a nylon lace bridesmaid dress from white to ivory. I heated two cups of water, steeped two Lady Grey tea bags for 5 minutes, and then transferred the tea to a stockpot with 8 cups cold water. I added my freshly washed and still wet dress, swirled for 30-60 seconds, squeezed dry and hung in my shower. Perfect shade of ivory. Thank you so much!

    • Tina says:

      Brie,
      Your post has given me hope!
      My daughters flower girl dress in in pure white and i need ivory.
      Did you do anything to preserve the ivory color once you dipped it?

      Her dress is I believe a cotton lace trim bust/bodice with tulle skirt.

  29. Joan Ferris says:

    I just bought a vintage French coverlet. It is a bit short with the dust ruffle so I ordered some lovely cotton with crochet trim that I will add to the coverlet. I want to dye the trim an “old white” meaning that the coverlet is a white that is greyed down sort of like chaulk. I can’t allow the trim to morph into a yellowish ivory. That would look horrid. Do you have any thoughts?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Joan, I’d suggest dyeing a swatch of the fabric first. As my previous comments suggest, dyeing with tea, and all dyeing, is experimental so I’d try a few different teas on scraps to see if you find a color you like. You may not get an exact color match. Different teas and even coffee can have a different color hues and depth depending on the type of tea or how much you use. Alas, I haven’t tried dyeing with tea on cotton, and since nylon is a different fiber (the subject of this post), I don’t know what will happen.
      But there might be some good tips around the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *