Buzzings from a quilter who bumbles her way through life!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Using Tea or Coffee to Create Flesh Toned Fabrics

Many of my patterns have characters on them such as the children on this quilt. Because good skin tones are hard to find in fabric, I often have to dye my own.  In this quilt, I've used fabric dyed by either coffee or tea. You will notice that each child has a different color skin.  Coffee gives a more brown beige and tea gives a warmer beige.

 In this tutorial, I'm going to show the easy process of tea or coffee dying.

1. Materials: You will need  fabric (unbleached muslin, cream cotton, very light peach cotton, or light tan cotton are good choices) and very hot tea or coffee. Use about 2 tea bags to each 8 oz. of water. This should be a very strong tea. You will need enough to submerge your fabric. Keep in mind that you don't really need a large amount of fabric to make a face, hands and legs. A fat quarter will do at least a couple of figures. But be aware that it is very difficult to match a tea or coffee dyed color. Dye all you need for one quilt at one time. You need a container large enough to hold the liquid and the fabric. .You need 1/2 cup plain vinegar to set the dye. (Not pictured here.)

2. Add your unfolded fabric to the liquid and be sure it is completely submerged. Swish it around a little to be sure the liquid permeates the entire piece.

3. Let the fabric sit.The longer it sits, the darker it will become (up to a certain point.) At least an hour or more is needed. (In the photo I am leaving the spatula on top of the fabric to hold it under the surface of the water.) The fabric will look darker when wet thank it will when it is dry.. Rinse well under running water.( If you find that it isn't dark enough, put it back in the tea or coffee and leave it longer.)

4. Soak the fabric again, after rinsing, in 4 cups of water and 1/2 cup vinegar. This will help set the dye.
   Let it sit about 15 minutes, then rinse again.

5.Roll it up in a towel to absorb excess water and then dry it either naturally or in your dryer.

6. Press well. If the fabric is not dark enough to suit you, repeat the process. (If it is too dark, you can bleach it out.)

That's all there is to it! You might want to get some unbleached muslin and experiment a little. See how many skin tones you can make. Human skin comes in hundreds of colors.
Have fun and save all your "experiments". You never know when you might need just a little bit of flesh color.


  1. What a cute little quilt! The faces look just perfect. Thanks for showing us how you dye your fabrics.

  2. It is a great quilt! I love this one.
    And the over-dying is a great method to get that just right skin tone for all the the different colors that we are.

    Not just an idea for quilting but also, for anyone. I use the coffee/tea dying on different papers sometimes to age the paper and sometimes as an over-painting to tie colors together easily when a transparency is needed and paint would not give that effect.

  3. Thanks for this post! Very cute quilt. :)

  4. Flesh tones can be so hard to find. I definitely think unbleached muslin shall go on my shopping list!

  5. I never read about setting the dye before with vinegar. I have tried tea dying before but got so so results...maybe the vinegar would have helped. I came buzzing over from Humble quilter.

  6. Thanks for the tutorial - I often search and search for skin tone so I'll certainly try my own! blessings, marlene

  7. Great site and tutorial! I was sent here by Humble Quilts - thank you so much for offering a give-away!

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I'm looking forward to trying it myself!

  9. Linda I want to thank you so very much for posting this tip. I learned something new today. Very good blog and fabulous photos.

  10. This is the best how to I've come across. I'm wanting to make dolls with different ethnicities and so far you're the only one who has addressed this! Thanks so much.

  11. What would happen if I used bleached white muslin? Thanks


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