Monday, 03 July 2017 17:02

Dyeing with Tea

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The play is called The Comedy of Errors by Willian Shakespeare, and it’s being presented by the Lethbridge Shakespeare Performers Society. Besides other wardrobe, this project required 2 white pinafores and 5 pairs of white bloomers.

Often, the whiteness of a costume can often look out of balance with the other colours and require a dipping down or an over-dye; otherwise, audience members could be squinting at the performers, due to such brightness.

So, I haven’t dyed with tea bags for a few years now and although I still remember how, I’ll consult with The Costumer’s Notebook, Chapter 5 – Costume Arts, just to make sure I don’t miss an important detail.

To me, this is a working book and I keep this particular copy in my kit.  I  added sticky tabs so that I could find the information I needed, quickly.  

What You’ll Need...

15- 20 tea bags

vessel to dye

vessel to set and rinse

hot water



cold water

dryer or drying rack

rinsed or wetted items

Decide where you’ll dip the garments...

It’s safe to use your washing machine; set the water temperature to HOT and fill until there is enough water to easily cover the items being dyed. Add the wet items to the dye, one at a time, and stir or otherwise move around in the dye. Use a pair of tongs to grasp the fabric to check the intensity of the dye.

Tea dye appears darker when wet, so when the garment has steeped sufficiently, remove from the tea dye and immediately plunge into cold water to which two parts vinegar and two tablespoons of salt have been added. If the colour is pleasing, squeeze out the excess water and hang to dry or dry in the dryer.

Once you’ve finished dyeing all the items, fill the machine with detergent and a bit of bleach and wash the inside of the machine and the agitator to remove any tea stains. Or, you may find it easier to use the kitchen sink for dyeing small bits; in fact, a double sink proves to be very handy - the second sink can hold the bath of cold rinse water, vinegar and salt.

Regular steeped tea has such a nice rich colour; but remember that different fabrics may soak up the colour differently, and if the garment is left too long in the tea, it may dry with a pinkish tinge. If that happens, just rinse the garment in a weak bleach bath, and begin again.

The pinafores needed to be dipped so the colour would match …

Not all whites or light colours are dipped down; it depends on the Costume Designer. But, if you’re sewing a lot of white items or you see lots of whites in the wardrobe inventory, it may be a natural assumption. However, always make sure to ask your supervisor before leaping in.

Next time you watch a play or your favourite show on TV, take a look at the whites; have they been dipped down? Or are they bright, brilliant, white hiding behind a camera filter …



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The Costumer's Notebook,

The book The Costumer's Notebook is a 295 page comprehensive handbook for Costumers for stage and film including a full Glossary of stage and film industry terms. Sections include methods and tricks for laundry, dyeing, breakdown, Dresser guidelines and protocols for Stage or Film and various size charts for men and women from shoes to gloves. Other Sections include diagrams showing How to Iron A Shirt, How to Tie a Tie and How to Tie a Bow Tie. Costume fittings, costume lay out and costume storage are also discussed.