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.
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.
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.
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
*Handbook of Natural Dyes by Sasha Duerr
Update for first-time visitors
This post was written several years ago, while I was experimenting with tea-dyeing. A lot of folks find it while searching for advice to dye a white color off-white or ivory. As a result I’ve received many emails asking me for advice in dyeing all sorts of things–suitcoats, jeans, communion dresses, bridal gowns, home dec curtains, you name it.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to respond to emails asking for advice on a tea-dyeing project, mainly because I get so many and my answer is always the same: I can’t predict for you what will happen or what color will result. It’ll always be an off-white to beige color of some sort if you are using black tea. You are basically staining your fabric.
I don’t have a recipe or a specific tea to recommend. It’s really just as simple as dunking something in hot water steeped with tea and letting it sit for awhile. I used the tea I had in my cupboard, and I had to experiment. That is what you’ll need to do, too. And please read through the comments as they may give you some more tips!
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