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Tea Staining Your Art Journal Pages

by aisling d'art ©2006

Have you wanted to add "age" to your art journal pages? You can use tea--loose or in bags--for this project. If you're soaking your pages individually in a tray, you can usually stain two sheets at a time. If you add more pages, they're likely to stick together and tear when you try to separate them.

If you're staining bound pages, you'll need to protect the dry pages and keep wet pages separated, too.


If the tea isn't too hot, you can use sheets of wax paper between your bound art journal pages. Wax paper is inexpensive and sold by the roll in the grocery store, in the same section as foil and plastic (cling) wrap.

If the tea is hot, you may need to use foil, plastic wrap, or some other waterproof, heat resistant materials.


To achieve the color that you want, you'll need to experiment. Different teas--regular (black) and herbal--result in different colors. Heat can be a factor, too, especially with black teas: The higher the heat, the more orange the resulting color.


You can apply the tea to the paper with a brush. A sponge brush is ideal for this.

You can use the tea bag as a brush, if it's not too hot.

Or, if your journal pages are loose, you can submerge each page in a shallow pan of tea. Generally, soak only one or two pages at a time.


If you're using loose tea, you can pour tea over your paper and let the tea leaves dry in place for a mottled or variegated effect.

For an authentic, uneven effect, some artists prefer another approach: Sprinkle wet tea leaves on top of plain newsprint or other unprinted paper. After dyeing your paper, place it on top of the tea leaves and let the paper dry. Both the top layer (dyed) and the plain underneath layer/s of paper will have interesting blotches of darker tea stains.


If you're dyeing fabric, you should definitely rinse the fabric to wash out excess tea and perhaps any tea leaves.

If you're dyeing paper, gently rinse the paper if you'd like it to remain as archival as possible. (See "Archival Issues" below.)

However, remember that wet paper tears very easily. If you have a papermaking kit with a nylon screen, or a "sweater dryer" screen, you may want to place your wet, dyed paper on that before rinsing.


In most cases, your paper will dry considerably lighter than it looked when it was wet. Apply the tea to the color that you'd like, and then dry the paper. Your hair dryer or embossing gun can speed the drying process. However, keep in mind that excess heat can scorch the paper, and concentrated hot air can alter the surface of the paper by making it a bit rougher (more "tooth").

If the color isn't dark enough, repeat the process, or add more tea to the mixture.

Tea generally works just as well the second day, if you let your pages dry overnight. You can use the same batch of tea, perhaps gently warmed to help it penetrate the paper better.


For the simplest possible way to tea stain paper, use instant tea from the grocery store. Use approximately a tablespoon of tea for each cup of water. The water should be just warm enough to dissolve the instant tea easily.

Pour the tea mixture into a shallow tray and let the paper soak in it for at least half an hour.

Check for color, and add more instant tea if necessary.


Regular (not herbal) tea is generally slightly acidic. No one can say how much this will affect the archival quality of paper. How much tea you use, and what kind it is, can be a factor.

In fact, some people have suggested that tea may make paper even more archival.

However, most people agree that tea-dyed paper and fabric may fade, especially if left in the sunlight very much.

Heat-setting may reduce the fading. Simply iron your pages with a medium-hot iron.

Or, for longer-lasting color--especially if you're staining fabric--add a small amount of alum (sold in the baking supplies section of the grocery store, among the spices) to the tea bath at the last minute. Or, add vinegar to the tea, about 1/2 cup to a gallon of tea.


If you like tea dyeing, you may enjoy even darker (and more aromatic) stains using coffee, especially instant coffee. Also, check your public library for information about using plants as fabric dyes; these same dyes and stains can be used on paper.

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