TEA-STAIN TUTORIAL! Non-acidifying technique

As promised, here's a pic-by-pic of my tea-staining paper for some leather wrap journals. There are many methods, and I use various myself, but I haven't seen this one about, so I'll show it today. Just some lined notepaper today, for demo purposes, but I use all sorts of paper in this process, watercolour, cotton rag, hand made, smooth... I'll try to answer questions in comments later, then update the tute before putting it in the tutorial section of the website.

  • paper - any type and size that will fit into/between your trays
  • teabags - cheaper the better, as you don't have to drink it! I used 20 doubles for this lot.
  • Bi-carb soda - this is to tone down the acidity of the resulting tea-water (paper doesnt like low pH)
  • Perforated trays - from a 'cheap-shop'; as many as you want; a once-off cost
  • Tub - that will fit all trays to submerge the paper ( stople this one from my son!)
  • Jug - not specific, but handy, especially if the resulting tub of tea is too heavy to move
  • old towel/rag (not pictured) - to put trays on from out of the tea... learned this the hard way
  • [bookpress or bookboard and weights - for flattening paper at the end]

Add bi-carb and stir. Amount is not exact, but I put about half a cup. If you are really keen,  test the water if you have a pH kit and work the amounts to suit - more bi-carb means less acidic.
Note that this technique does produce fairly pH neutral effects in the short term, but I certainly wouldn't call it archival.

Put teabags into the warm/hot water in the tub. Don't be shy - add heaps as you'll use this water for a fews days for many sheets in one go - it's the best way.  As the tea ages, the colour gets richer and the effects more random - yippee. Let it steep for an hour or so. it's worth the wait.

Put one sheet of paper into each tray and stack the trays. Leave the top tray without paper, since it'd just float around and be a nuisance.

Gather teabags in the tub to one side and put the tray stack into the tea. Go slow - it'll burble as the tea flows between the trays. You might like to let each tray separate a little as you do this, to make sure no airbubbles are trapped (which would leave an unstained white blotch on your paper). Put the tea bags into the tray on top. As time goes on, more tea comes out of the leaves and 'settles' between the trays - more randomness - Yippee.

 After a couple of hours in the tea bath, carefully take tray stack out, draining as you go, onto the old towel. Take it outside and separate the trays to dry in the air (no pic of this.. forgot.. oops.. I'll upload one later).

When the papers are dry (depending on the weather/temp), take paper from trays and 'reload' trays with more paper to stain and return to the tea bath.

Your tea-stained paper will have many different effects, depending on the strength of tea, how long they were in, the temp when drying, the pattern on your trays (flat bottom trays without holes are fine, but take ages to dry), the paper grain you started with....  I had some Eucalyptus leaves fall off into the trays as they dried, which left imprints... love that.

Now it just has to go into the bookpress for a while to straight out the kinks and let the paper fibres rest (makes the paper not so stiff to work with)

I get chills every time the paper comes out - just never know what you are going to get.

I'm keen to answer questions and get feedback, so I can clean up the tutorial before I put it on the permanent page.

So, what do you think?


  1. Deb Ramsey2:54 AM GMT+11

    Love the effect in that second last photo. What do you suppose caused that? Were they lower in the stack?

  2. Not lower, exactly Deb, but it is caused by the sediment I think. I only get this after using the tea solution a few days in a row, and only if i use the performated trays. I agree, it's great.

  3. Hello Sago. I am not a book person, but I do love to write letters and this effect is a lovely one to use. it's different to others Ive seen. Mostly its great cause you can do lotsnlots of testaining at once. Thanks for showing: Jillian, in Peterborough (UK)

  4. Very interesting way of doing the tea staining, Sonya. It produces really nice effects.

  5. Thanks for sharing this technique. I am excited to try it out!

  6. Brenda Hoff12:46 AM GMT+11

    This looks very interesting. I will try it in the next few weeks and see if I can produce effects as stunning as yours.

  7. I am excited to try this! I am refinishing a table with bible verses designed to somewhat replicate the Dead Sea Scrolls (old paper, torn and blackened edges) and this is the missing piece!


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~Sonya, in the bindery~