Dyeing Yarn with Tea!

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I was thinking it would be cool to combine my love of crafts, tea and owls into one product! I also got a lot of tea to burn since I also blog about tea at Oolong Owl.

I have never dyed wool before and of course my first jump into yarn dying will be with tea. I researched dying yarn, as well as tea dying methods. To my dismay, it is often quoted “There is no real science to this” so everyone did their dying a little different and often experimented themselves. “No science to it” drove me crazy as I have a perfectionist streak in my crafting. I combined/ did middle ground on various methods of tea dyed yarn I found and added my tea knowledge.

Materials for Dyeing Yarn with Tea

Yarn – you’ll need a dye-able yarn that is made of animal or plant fiber. I used a 100% wool, Bare Worsted Wool of the Andes from Knitpicks. This can be in a hank or a finished project. Acrylic yarn will not work.
White Vinegar – amount varies on how much yardage and yarn weight.
Tea – lots of tea, ~ 50% (or more to desired intensity, I used about 80% as I wanted a dark colour) of tea weight of your yarn weight.
Heat safe pot or microwave safe bowl – big enough to fit amount of yarn you are dyeing
Dish soap – couple drops

TEA – I have played a little with using tea as paint and the results are interesting. I found tea tend to dry a different colour, so there’s some oxidation and light fast issues involved. I’ve heard from artists who do a lot of tea painting say that cheap bagged tea works best, my guess due to artificial dyes. I used old/disliked loose leaf tea as that is what I had. Mileage may vary as I did try a bunch of chamomile tea bags which turned out to produce barely any colour.

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Tea Colour – so far I found black tea, ripe/fermented pu’er tea and red rooibos worked very well. Black and Ripe Pu’er produced the same color, to my dismay. Red rooibos had a lot of color payoff! Hibiscus I haven’t tried yet, but I’ve seen others who have done it have it come out a muddy brown purple.

For the photos of my yarn dyeing process I’m dyeing a finished project, since I lost how much yardage it was to make it!

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Dyeing Yarn with Tea

STEP 1. PRE TREATMENT

Pre soak your yarn in a vinegar solution of 1 Part Vinegar, 4 Parts Water – enough to cover the yarn. Soak for 20 to 60 minutes. This ratio seems to not be set in stone by various other yarn dyers. Some people simmer their yarn in this solution, but I did not and it worked fine.

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STEP 2. MAKE TEA

This is all about getting an intense tea colour, so don’t worry you are making a gross cup of tea. I bagged my loose leaf tea in refillable tea bags, but a large metal tea ball (or a couple small ones) would work. You can also boil the loose leaf tea in the pot and strain out the leaf before adding the yarn. It isn’t the end of the world if you need to shake out some tea bits from your yarn once its dyed and dried.

In a large pot, add your tea and enough water that should very generously cover your yarn, as the tea will take up space and absorb liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the color.

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You can also do this in a microwave for smaller amounts (removed staples from tea bags if applicable).

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STEP 3. COLOR CHECK

Check how the tea color is by dipping a piece of paper towel into the tea. If the color is too pale, add more tea and simmer more. On the left is black tea and the right is chamomile with a bit of red rooibos. Aim that the final product will be a little lighter once dry.

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STEP 4. DYE YARN

There seems to be a few ways to do this. With your tea still on the stove, introduce your yarn to the water and  gently simmer for at least 10 minutes (up to an hour). Do not let the tea go to a rolling boil as it will felt the yarn. Also do not poke or stir the yarn too much as the movement will felt it.

If dyeing a project, make sure all of it has fully absorbed the color. Remove the pot from the stove and leave the yarn in the tea to cool to room temperature.

For small amounts of tea yarn dyeing, add yarn to the tea and then microwave for about 3-6 minutes, ensuring the water does not boil.

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STEP 5. LEAVE TO COOL

I left my yarn to soak in the tea for 24 hours, but I’m sure you can remove it as early as once the yarn drops to room temperature.

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For the hank I dyed, I left the tea bags in with the yarn and it did add a slight darker color on parts the tea bag was touching. Not enough to make a variegation though but enough to fire up a perfectionist.

STEP 6. RINSE

Gently rinse the yarn in a bit of cool water and a few drops of dish soap. This will get any leftover dye out of the yarn so it won’t transfer on you. Be very gentle so you don’t accidentally felt your yarn.

STEP 7. DRY

Leave your yarn to dry. I found dyeing a finished project – in particular a tight gauge amigurumi – took awhile to dry.

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The Result!

My Amigurumi Tea Owl is dyed with the Rose Black tea and I dyed the feet with chamomile and a touch of red rooibos.

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The yarn does hold the tea scent for a few weeks but eventually fades away.

In regards to yarn dyeing amigurumi, I think it would be best to dye the yarn first rather than the finished form. As I mentioned above, it took a long time for my owl to dry due to the dense tight gauge of amigurumi. I was honestly worried he was going to get moldy, despite living in the dry southern California weather. When I dyed a skein with pu’er (measured out to make two Tea Owls!) the drying process went a lot easier.

Love tea and want to see my Tea Owls in action? Check out my tea blog Oolong Owl!