Last week found Jeff and I hosting my mom for her first trip to Virginia. Of course, we spent plenty of time playing tourist. As one does.

One of our stops was Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, which is an amazing tour with an equally amazing gift shop. Mom was shopping for souvenirs and I wasn’t really shopping… until I saw this tote bag!

Toile Bag

It’s toile, ya’ll!

Toile is one of my favorite fabric prints  – in fact, if you stop by our shop and leave with something new, your treasure will likely be wrapped in toile paper.

Shopping bag

I’d been thinking I needed a new bag to lug my laptop and receipts bag and forth from the shop. The tote was perfect, except: it was white.White things get dirty. I hate when my bags are dingy.

Luckily, the tote appeared to be cotton, so I decided to just go ahead and tea-stain it.

Tea-staining fabrics is SUPER easy and a good solution if you find a lovely white something or other at a vintage shop that’s just a little stained. It really only works well with natural fibers (cotton, wool, silk, linen) and even then to varying degrees, but it’s worth a shot! I’ve tea-stained table cloths, lace – I’ve even tea-stained ostrich feathers!

Here’s what to do:

Fill a kettle with water – the kettle should be big enough to fit your item + the water + not splash over and scald you.Boil the water, throw in tea bags (I threw five into a 12 quart stock pot.)

Tea and stockpot

Let the water come to a boil and steep until it’s nice and dark. Fish out the tea bags (or else you’ll get splotches on your item.)While the water is boiling get your item all wet (run it under the faucet) then squeeze out. This will help the color go on evenly.

After you fish out the tea bags, stick your item in the pot of tea. Poke it down until all the air bubbles are out and it’s completely submerged.

Let the item soak – start checking after 5 minutes, but expect to go longer than that, closer to 10 or more. Keep checking the color and stirring around so the item soaks evenly.

Fish out the item when it looks ‘done’ – the item WILL dry a bit lighter than it looks wet – actually, quite a bit lighter. You can always dip again and conversely, if you go too dark, I’ve heard bleach and water can back it out, although I’ve never tested that.

Bag soaking in tea

I like to have a nice, big bowl right next to the stove with a colander inside it – the water dripping off the item will be HOT!!Rinse it out well, then fill up the bowl with warm, sudsy water and dunk your item in – the tea can be hard on fibers. Spray/rinse out and wring well.

Soapy water
Voila! A nicely-darkened up bag that won’t show the scuffs that will inevitably come through daily use. I snapped a photo holding a piece of copy paper in front of it so you get a sense of the color difference.
Comparing shades

If you’ll be washing the item you may want to take one step further and set the color by soaking in a solution of water and vinegar. I’ve never done this myself, and the internet is FULL of suggestions from two parts vinegar/one part water to two tablespoons of vinegar in a bucket. In any case, even if you set the dye using vinegar, if you plan on washing the item in the washing machine the color will likely wash out over time – so this isn’t great for kitchen towels or sheets.One more tip: I use regular Lipton’s black tea for dyeing – I keep a box in my sewing room with my other craft supplies. This method can also be tried with green tea and herbal teas to yield different colors. And coffee also works as a great, mellow dye to get the aged look.

Happy dyeing! If you decide to experiment, send us pictures!


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