Coffee does more than just taste good, it’s a fantastic dyestuff too.
If there is one thing that I believe truly reconnects me with Mother Nature, it is watching all of the incredible ways that her creations become the foundation for artistic expression. Oftentimes I will make use of flowers and leaves to naturally dye materials. But my most recent endeavour involves one of my favourite pastimes – coffee.
Yes, dyeing with coffee is totally a thing.
Historically, the act of brewing a fresh cup of coffee has always been a cathartic process where you carefully steep the coffee, allow its complex flavours to infuse with the water and then savour its decadent taste. However, the immersive experience that coffee has to offer does not start and end with its consumption.
Coffee has artistic properties too, as it offers a beautifully rich layered look that lends itself perfectly to your natural dyeing process. It also offers you a deliciously unique, inexpensive and non-toxic way to play with altering your fabrics.
Besides, it smells incredible too!
Which fabrics take best to coffee?
I would never use brand-new coffee grounds, unless the coffee has gone stale, so it’s time to use up that old coffee bag that has been sitting in the back of your cupboard for months! Or save the grounds from coffee that you’ve already extracted once to prepare a drink so that you can begin dyeing fabric with coffee.
Since synthetic fibres can’t be naturally dyed, I highly recommend using natural materials. This means opting for fabrics that are made from either plant fibres or animal hair. Here are a few examples of the best fabrics to use:
As a general rule of thumb, if you aren’t sure if a specific type of fabric will work, try a test patch first!
How long does coffee dye last?
It is important to remember that even when having thoroughly dyed your fabric, an important aspect in their longevity is washing them properly. To maintain the vibrancy of the dye, you need to ensure that you only wash these fabrics with cold water, in the mildest cycle or by hand and using gentle detergents. You need to also ensure that you do not wash any white items of clothing with your coffee-dyed fabrics, as the coffee may stain the other white items.
Doing this will make the clothes last longer!
Can you use tea instead of coffee?
Don’t panic if you aren’t much of a coffee lover, because all of you wonderful tea enthusiasts have an opportunity to use tea leaves to help dye your favourite fabrics too. You will just replace the coffee with tea bags, steep the tea in hot water and follow the same process!
Coffee gives a paler shade of creamy brown, while tea tends to give a slightly darker colour. In general, they’re both quite light, so I recommend dyeing protein fibres like silk or wool if you want to get slightly darker hues.
So, let’s get into the process of how to dye with coffee!
How to begin dyeing with coffee
- Your natural fabrics
- Coffee (or even tea)
- A dedicated dye pot
- A container
- Stainless steel or wooden spoon
- Kitchen scale
Step 1: Get measuring
Before we can get into the process of dyeing with coffee, you will first need to get out your trusty kitchen scale and do some serious weighing up.
First, make sure to weigh the fabrics that you will be dyeing. Use 150% of the weight of the fibre (so, 150g of coffee or tea for 100g of fibre) instead of the usual 100% that I recommend
Step 2: Wash out your fabrics
This step seems to surprise most people, but you actually need to wash the fabrics (even if they are new) before dyeing with coffee. The reason is that you need to remove any additive finish that might have been applied to the fabric.
Make sure to use a gentle laundry detergent to wash the clothes and –just this once– use the hottest setting that your fibres will take. This will help remove all oils and waxes so the dye can properly penetrate the fibres of the clothing items.
Keep the wet fabrics aside – you will need them later on.
Keep in mind that if you are wanting to go for a darker hue, you can pre-mordant or post-modify your textiles with an iron. I go over these processes in my Living Colour with the Five Elements workshop.
Step 3: Brew that coffee
In order to create your natural dye, you are going to need to brew a strong pot of coffee – but not your regular espresso or French press! Place your coffee grounds in your dye pot, cover with water and simmer for an hour to extract as much colour as possible. Make sure your dye pot can hold all of your fabrics.
Step 4: Soak and submerge
Do you remember how we mentioned that you would need those washed, wet fabrics earlier? Well, this is their moment to shine.
When dyeing with coffee, you will need to simmer all of those wet fabrics in your coffee dye bath for a good ‘soak and submerge’ session. Make sure that all of the fabrics are completely covered by the coffee – so that you get an even dye.
Step 5: Test out the colour progress
When I am dyeing with coffee, I generally recommend leaving the clothes in for a minimum of one hour to get a nice light brown hue. That being said, if you are looking for a darker shade, then you should leave the fabrics in the coffee longer.
Step 6: Air it out and enjoy
Once you have achieved your desired look, you can remove the fabrics from the coffee dye, rinse them under running water and hang them to dry away from direct sunlight.. Once the fabrics have dried up, you can enjoy them!
Serve yourself a cup of coffee with the leftovers and join our community!
If you are looking to meet like-minded individuals who revel in moments of artistic expression through natural dyeing, like dyeing clothes with coffee, then you should consider joining my Living Colour with the Five Elements online natural dyeing workshop.
And speaking of coffee, if you find value in the content I share, you can buy me a coffee too!
This is a collaborative space where I share my knowledge and look to learn and grow alongside all of you in this beautiful community.