If you've ever spilled coffee on fabric, you know how powerful those stains can be. Harness that strength and use coffee to naturally dye fabric and clothing! You can dye natural fibers in beautiful shades of tan and brown, and you most likely have everything you need at home.
This process is perfect for dyeing clothes that are stained with coffee or as a way to make custom fabrics for quilts, embroidery, or cross stitch.
Some fabrics will accept dyes better than others, and what you start with will affect the end product. For example, 100% wool takes on dye better than cotton which can lose some of its color over time. Starting with white fabric results in a purer tan or brown, while colored material will add some color or muddiness to the final color. There's nothing wrong with any of these things, but they're good to remember as you plan your project.
Now, put on a pot of coffee and get started!
- Fabric or clothing
- Coffee (brewed or instant)
- Large Bowl or container
- Wooden spoon
Prepare Your Fabric and Coffee
It's best to start with clean fabric that's free of any sizing, so if you're working with new fabric or clothing, wash it before you begin. For fabric that's already laundered, soak your material so it's very wet.
Brew the Coffee
Brew a large pot of coffee or mix a pitcher of instant coffee. Stronger coffee or a darker roast will produce darker dye. The amount of time you leave your fabric in the coffee will also affect the color, but the strength and roast really make a difference.
Place the Wet Fabric or Clothing in a Large Bowl for Dyeing
Pour the hot coffee over the fabric and stir it with a wooden spoon. You want the coffee dye to evenly soak through the fabric and stirring helps that happen. This also helps open up the fabric so you don't have areas that cling together.
Consider how dark you want your fabric to end up. The longer you leave your fabric or clothing in the dye, the deeper the color will get.
For a very light tan, a few minutes in the coffee is all you need! For dark tan, let the material soak for 15-30 minutes or even overnight. To achieve a deep brown color, you'll need strong, dark roast coffee for at least several hours.
Lift the fabric out of the coffee dye to check the color. After you rinse and set it, the color will be lighter than what it currently looks like, so be sure to consider that.
Set the Dye
Gently wring out the fabric.
Fill a bowl with hot water and a few tablespoons of vinegar (or more for a large piece of fabric or clothing). Place the dyed fabric in the water to rinse and soak for a few minutes. The vinegar helps set the dye.
After about 10 minutes or so, remove the fabric and thoroughly rinse it under running water to remove any excess coffee dye. When the water runs clear it's all ready for the final step.
Let It Dry for Ironing
To finish setting the color in your fabric, let the fabric dry and iron it. Instead of air-drying, you can also toss it in a dryer on the hottest setting that is safe for your fabric.
More Ways to Dye With Coffee
While this tutorial is all about creating an all-over even dye with coffee, you can use other techniques for different results!
Tie-Dye: Just like typical tie-dyeing where you fold, twist, and tie a shirt or other material, you can follow that same process with coffee dyeing. You will substitute coffee for the dye and let it soak long enough. You could even brew different roasts or strengths to have more than one shade of tan or brown in your project.
Mottling: To create a dyed fabric with varying areas of color, scatter or rub the wet coffee grounds on your wet fabric. Let them sit on the fabric for a while, allowing the color to develop in splotches. Repeat or add more coffee to achieve layers of color.
For each of these, finish by rinsing and setting the color as with the standard dye process.
One of the interesting things about any kind of natural dyeing is that the results can vary. While that can be nerve-wracking, it's also kind of fun, so play with it and experiment to find the mix of coffee and time that works for you.