How to Tea Dye a Denim Jacket

Denim jackets are everywhere right now, and since they are also practical and versatile, I decided to get on the band wagon. So like the good socially-conscious-fashion advocate I am, I went searching around my favorite ethical brands that have denim and found what I thought might be the perfect denim jacket. For about $150. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend that much. So I decided maybe the "other side" of ethical fashion (a.k.a. second hand) was the way to go.

I like the idea of thrifting, but it just isn't a small-child-friendly activity like online-shopping-during-naptime is. So I went to Etsy, where I quickly discovered several options that were my size. However, I also realized the vintage denim jackets I was looking at were considerably brighter in color than most of the new ones currently available, and definitely more so than the one I had picked. Time to get my DIY skills out and dye over a vintage denim jacket to get closer to the color I wanted. I high school, I did a huge project dying yarn with plants I grew myself (home schooled 4-H kid here), so I was pretty confident I could tackle dying a garment with tea from the grocery store.


I selected a jacket from Goat Vintage on Etsy. The shop has quite a few denim jackets and a ton of other vintage goodness! A few tips on shopping for vintage denim: To take dye well, the fabric needs to be natural fiber, in this case, 100% cotton. With most vintage jackets this won't be an issue, but be sure to check, especially with newer garments! Also, consider how much wear you're okay with. Especially look at the collar, cuff edges, and center front opening edges. One place I didn't think to look is also right above the cuffs. The previous owner of my jacket must have always worn the cuffs folded up once, and there is a lot of fraying where the fabric was folded. No big deal, just something I wasn't expecting. I also find that online product photos often appear a bit lighter and brighter than the item in real life, so keep that in mind when shopping.

I picked up a box of 6 oz. box plain black tea bags at the grocery store and was ready to start! I presoaked the jacket in water in a plastic dishpan. This gave me chance to gauge if it fit in and see how much water the dishpan would hold. I wear about a medium, and my jacket barely fit in a large dishpan. Make sure the fabric all fits down in whatever you plan to use! Using my largest saucepan, I boiled water to make the dye. Once it was boiling, I added the whole box of tea bags (strings and tags cut off), and let it steep for about 15 min. After that, I fished them out with a slotted spoon.

Then I stuck the jacket in the sink, dumped part of the water out of the dishpan, and added the tea from the pan. I left some water in the dishpan for two reasons: 1- I knew my saucepan didn't hold enough water to cover the jacket. 2- I was afraid the plastic dishpan would melt if I poured too-hot water into it. Then I put the jacket into the dye, and added enough more water to cover it. Fabric has a tendancy to float, so I used a plate to hold the jacket down in the dye overnight.

The next day, I rinsed the jacket a few times in the sink, then ran it through the washer and dryer with a couple dark towels. Towels to help it tumble better, dark colored just in case any tea came out of the jacket.

After the jacket was dry, I decided I'd like a little more of the tan color from the tea, so I soaked it in the sink and put it in the dye in the dishpan overnight again. This time, I just rinsed the jacket once, then hung it to dry to maybe give it a chance to absorb more dye and so I wouldn't have to take the time to finish it right then. (Note that denim holds a LOT of water. I ended up with a nice tea puddle on the laundry room floor where it was hanging.) I wasn't worried about it turning out too dark at this point, but WAS concerned that my dye would turn into a gross mess if I left it sitting around any longer!

L-R: Original color, first dying, and final color


Later (a few days? a week? I lost track.), I went back and hand-rinsed the jacket a few times in a sinkful of cold water, same as before. Then sent it through the washer with just a tiny bit of soap to help remove any excess dye and then threw it in the dryer.

Success! A vintage jacket with a modern finish. I love that the jacket still has a good amount of blue color, but it's just more muted than before. I did notice that the dye doesn't seem to be perfectly even; some areas look a bit browner than others, which I think just adds more interest and depth. I'm looking forward to wearing this jacket more once the weather cools off! I'll definitely be keeping this in mind for future projects; I have a couple white cotton t-shirts, and I know it's only a matter of time until some spill won't wash out. Maybe I'll use tea dying to extend their useful life! Have you tried dying fabric with tea?

Copyright 2019 by Elizabeth Morse