How to Tea Stain or Coffee Dye Fabric for Primitive Dolls

Primitive folk art dolls get their aged, antiqued look by tea staining or coffee dying the fabric they are made with. I prefer to work with undyed muslin fabric when making primitive dolls because it already has a bit of a primitive texture and color to it, and it absorbs the tea or coffee nicely. The muslin can either be dyed before or after you start making the doll. I find that doing my dying after the doll has already been constructed is easier, so that is the method I am doing to describe.

Tea staining is the less extreme of the two methods – it will give you lightly stained, yellowish-brown areas on your fabric. I create my tea dye by adding 1 tea bag to half a cup of water and letting it brew for about 10 minutes. Then using an old sponge, I soak up some of the tea dye and blot it onto the doll. The more tea dye you use, the darker the stain will be. This process gets the doll fairly wet, so I bake it in the oven at about 200 degrees for a few minutes to dry it afterwards. Reapply additional coats of tea dye as necessary.

I prefer using coffee dye for my primitive dolls because it creates a darker, richer stain color that makes the dolls look more old than tea dying does. I create my coffee dye by mixing 5 tablespoons of instant coffee crystals in half a cup of hot water. Add a few drops of vanilla extract to for a great scent. To stain my dolls with the coffee dye, I use the same method described above for the tea dye – sponge-blotting the dye on and then baking the doll in the oven. You can also spray tea or coffee dye on with a spray bottle, or dry your dolls outside in the sun on a warm day.