A Complete Guide to Tea Dying Paper.

I’m a terrible blogger. It’s been so long since I’ve posted something here that WordPress logged me out. Yeah. It’s that bad. So I’m taking some time after Grandma’s gone to sleep and I’m going to post a tutorial for something that I should be considered an expert at by now.

In order to convince you of this, allow me to present my credentials. An entire ream of paper to be badly treated old writing for The Seagull. I don’t even remember how many separate letters for various Shakespeare (including the one that has been tearing me away from my precious blog). A fake boutonniere. Bits of this project. And this one. And my latest project which is not in any way related to Christmas at all.

I have spent a lot of time elbow deep in tea dye. That is one of the reasons this post has so few pictures. I was actually working on a project and my hands were pretty wet most of the time. Regardless, I now present the completest guide you’ll ever see for this. Maybe.

*Note: This is primarily about tea dying paper, but  these tips will apply to tea dying fabric, yarn, or other substances as well, don’t worry.*

The first step to your tea dying is to pick your paper. Generally speaking, I use tea dye to take the cheapest paper around and make it look fancier, so printer paper it is! The heavier your paper, the more time it’ll need to spend in your dye bath, which brings us to our second point. Pick your tea. This is actually super important. Green tea will make green paper. Orange tea will give your paper an orange hue. My preferred tea dye bath is actually this brown English tea that I can easily get my hands on at school. Not being at school, I decided to wing it on this project and well…

you can see the variations in color in my dye job. It wasn’t very consistent, unfortunately, because what I decided to do this time was to put in a green tea bag and a fruit tea bag, which tends to even out the green and the orange tones to create a pretty good brown bath. If you control it.

PROTIP #1: Use brown tea. If you have to mix other colors of tea for whatever reason, try to control it and be consistent about the color.

Unless you want a varied look. That’s the nice thing about crafts, they’re very  subjective. As you can see, the color variation is only really apparent if you’re looking for it, so it only really matters if it matters to you.

Now that we’ve picked out our tea and our paper, we need to set up a factory.

I generally set up as if I’m going to do a bazillion pages of paper for two reasons. 1) I usually end up doing a bazillion pages, and 2) you’ll get a good even coverage if you get into the mindset. I promise.

From left to right I have, an iron and an ironing board (that’s the checkered towel with cardboard underneath it- works pretty well in a pinch) Be ready for your ironing board to get slightly tea dyed itself. Don’t use your fanciest new iron. We’ll come back to that.

Then I have my dye bath set up. Unfortunately, I don’t have a jelly roll pan here, but I would recommend using one of those instead, because there is enough room for the paper to lie flat in the bath without over-saturating half of it. I used an electric kettle to heat the water (and yes, heating is important for tea. It won’t steep in cold water) and I poured the water directly over the teabags into the basin. And mixed it around a bunch. And then removed the tea bags.

PROTIP #2: Failure to remove the tea bags will result in odd circles of concentrated color on your paper.

Also, put your pan on a towel you don’t mind getting slightly tea dyed. Trust me.

The other thing you need is a good drying area, and I’ll be getting back to that.

My process is as follows. Grab a hunk of paper (7-8 pages ish. I’m not being super scientific here). Make sure the pages are staggered as shown.

PROTIP #3: When dying a hunk of paper, make sure you stagger it.

Put them in water. Try not to burn yourself on water that was just boiling. Wet it, moving it around and turning it over several times until it is uniformly wet, and all the same color. You’ll be able to tell when the white is gone. The picture above is a good example of that. Remove your paper from the water. Put it on a second jelly roll tray, hang it over the edge of your basin, whatever. This is a temporary landing point for your paper.

At this point you’ll try to remove the paper piece by piece from the hunk. This is why we staggered the paper earlier. You can gently roll the paper near the edge to help loosen the pages and remove them from each other. If you’ve staggered properly it shouldn’t be too hard to separate each page. Be careful you don’t let the paper bend over and stick to itself- wet paper does that and if you rush and aren’t careful you’ll end up with permanently folded paper or worse (and less reparable) torn paper. The horror.

PROTIP #4: If you can’t get two or three pages to separate from each other take your iron to them.

When you’ve got your paper separated, it should look like this. One piece, wet and shiny, and no blotchy spots of any other color. It’ll be translucent, and that’s  ok. The next step is to iron it.

If you want really wrinkly paper for some reason, iron your paper all the way dry. If you want paper which just looks old and a bit abused, don’t bother with the iron. Lay it out (I’ll discuss that in a second) and let it dry. If you want super flat, barely wrinkly paper, pat-iron it.

Let me explain. Take your iron. Put it on level 2- not your highest setting- and gently, but quickly pat the paper. Lift up and set down your iron until you have covered the surface of your paper. Your paper will still be noticeably wet and translucent, but it will no longer shine. The point is to get rid of the extra water which will just sit there and cause the paper to wrinkle unevenly when drying.

It’s the difference between the top one (not pat-ironed) and the bottom one. And I’m not even done with the drying process yet.

PROTIP #5: Your iron may begin to look like this.

This is the reason you may not want to use your best iron. I have never burned anything with bits of paper stuck to the iron (tea does have some sticky stuff in it). I don’t think it’s a huge hazard, but it will cause your paper to tend to stick to your iron. Easy fix though, just take a clean sponge, wet it down with cold water, and wipe off the paper. Continue as normal.

And now we launch into my drying techniques. First thing you need to know: Know what you’ll be using your paper for. Even if you pat-dry, you can still end up with unevenly wrinkly paper, by drying your paper flat on a solid surface (a table or a desk)

If you want bent or folded paper, hang your paper like this. If you want your paper to have marks where you put the clips, hang them with clips. It just so happens that my totally not for Christmas project uses bent paper, so I was fine with the space I had, but I had the best luck with the paper when it was laid flat (believe it or not the stuff draped over the back of the couch was also bent in the end) on a porous surface. My theory is that the porous surface allows the paper to dry more evenly, not top first. Also, laying it flat stopped the ends from curling.


Say you don’t have a gigantic totally flat couch to dry them on. Use your bed! (If you aren’t planning on sleeping in it for a few hours) If you used your iron at all  it won’t drip enough to dye your bed. Promise.

Leave your paper like this until it is completely dry. May take several hours. I often just leave it over night.

PROTIP #6: Iron your paper after it’s dry.

No seriously. The paper that I pat dried and left on the couch had virtually no wrinkles, and when I ironed it, any irregularity it had was so evened out that it looked like off-white (if slightly green) paper bought in a store. I was flabberghasted, as it’s never worked out quite that well for me before.

It’s worth noting that if there are large wrinkles in your paper, ironing will only do so much, and in some cases will only sharpen or make wrinkles even more irreversible. Getting the paper wet again is *not* the answer. Don’t do that.

And then enjoy your paper! Tea dyed paper can be used for  a ton of things, and it’s actually super fun to just have a stock lying around for when you need it!


4 responses to “A Complete Guide to Tea Dying Paper.

  1. is it possible for the paper to bend and fold after this process?

    • Are you asking if the paper becomes too stiff to bend? It is definitely stiffer, and will definitely crease and fold more easily, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you let me know what you want your final result to be, I can maybe advise you how to get it more specifically.

  2. Pingback: Rolls and Butter | WhipStitchDesigns

  3. Pingback: Silver Jewelry Competition | WhipStitchDesigns

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