Dip-dyed Tea Towels

Spring is coming! The weather here in the PNW played dirty tricks.  It was sunny and gorgeous for most of the week and yesterday…until today there’s lots of wind, rain and even some hail.  Let me tell you, the chickens do NOT like it.  Even though they know to go to sleep in their coop when it gets dark, they still don’t realize they can go in there to stay dry in the inclement weather.  But they do know they can go in when it’s too sunny for their taste… go figure.

To bring cheer to this otherwise gloomy day, I thought my next post would be about these brightly-colored tea towels that I made for my mom and mother-in-laws’ birthdays (their birthdays are the day after each other, so they often enjoy the same gift!) I know they don’t mind one bit 🙂

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My idea for this post came from A Beautiful Mess via Brit + Co’s post on DIY Table Linens.

The white tea towels are room essentials “Flour Sack Kitchen Towels” from Target. Four towels for $3.99 – they are awesome! When I picked them up, the cashier told me they sell out all the time. So order them online for in-store pickup if you don’t want to waste a trip!


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  • linens of choice
  • fabric dye in multiple colors (if desired)
  • salt (most dye brands recommend salt for dying cotton)
  • color stay treatment (optional, but as a high-wear item I decided to use it)
  • laundry detergent (required for post-dye wash, and Rit has you add it to the dye bath)
  • large soup pot (I used a canning pot)
  • heat resistant measuring cup/bowl
  • plastic spoon
  • gloves


  1. Pre-wash your linens.  Do not use fabric softener.  If you wash it immediately before starting the dying process, you do not need to dry them.
  2. Prepare your dye bath. The specific process will vary for the number of linens you’re dying, and the brand of dye. As these towels are light weight and only half of the length is being dyed, I opted to use only half of the dye packets (based on the dry weight of the linens being dyed).
      • My bath required 24 c water. Heat it on low on the stove. You want it hot but not boiling so it doesn’t splash onto the white part of the linens.
      • Add a splash of dishwashing liquid (I used detergent… whoops!)
      • Add 1/2 c salt (half batch)
      • Stir really well until all the salt is dissolved
  1. In the separate mixing cup/bowl, add 2 cups boiling water. Add the fabric dye and stir well (this is EXTREMELY important for powdered dyes) if there are any solid pieces, they will cause darker streaks/lines to appear on your fabric!

    Add the concentration to your bath and stir again.

  2. Now we’re ready to start dyeing!  Pre-moisten your linens with hot water. I preferred to only get the half wet that I planned on dyeing.
  3. To fit in the pot and rest on the rim, I folded each towel in half and made it as even as possible.  If it’s crooked, the dye/white line across the towel will not be straight.
  4. Submerge half (or your desired colored fraction) into the dye bath, wait 10 seconds, then raise it out of the bath by 1″. This softens the edge with a bleeding look, and kind of occurs anyways because the towel wicks up the water. Pre-soaking it ensures the edge is more even. The dye may wick less if the whole linen is wet first, but I wanted to keep my method consistent from color to color, so I kept half dry for my whole project. Rest the white edge of the linen over the edge of the pot.dye tea towels-031
  5. Add the rest of the linens for that color. My pot’s circumference fit 3 towels. Stir constantly to ensure the dye distributes evenly in the folds of the linens.dye tea towels-017
  6. To get a subtle ombré look (very subtle, depending on the color) set a timer for 5 minutes, and raise the linen out of the water by 1″. Repeat every 5 minutes. The dye called for a total of 30-45 min in the bath, so I aimed to be dyeing the last 1-2 inches during the last 5 minutes.
    I tried both lowering the towel into the dye every 5 min (starting with just the bottom edge submerged) and raising it as described above, and I think I prefer the raising method. You can be very accurate with where your white-to-color transition occurs as you’re not trying to “time” it at the last 5 min of your session and it will be straighter.
    dye tea towels-039
  7. Once finished, carefully remove the towels from the dye bath, and gently squeeze out the excess liquid (or use a drip pan).  Remember, the water is HOT, so if you do not have a heat-resistant glove on underneath your rubber gloves, try to use a drip pan instead.

    Make sure to be careful not to touch the white part to a dyed part of the linen.  The color WILL transfer

  8. Rinse the linens in the sink – the temperature recommended will vary per dye manufacturer.  Make sure to keep the white part towards the tap, otherwise you’ll ruin your work! Rinse well until the water runs clear.  The risk of dye transfer is now lowered.
  9. Treat your linens with the color-staying solution.  I chose the hang and spray method (what a mess! left collateral spray residue all over the floor) but the bath method would have been preferable. dye tea towels-024
  10. Machine wash your fabric in the washing machine with mild detergent.  I did not have any problems washing my orange and yellow towels together, then my green and blue ones. I always use cold water when washing fabrics as they last longer – and this will not fade as quickly.
  11. All done! dye tea towels-053

Though the process is relatively simple, beginning to end does take at least an hour. 4 hours if you’re doing 4 different colors! But the colors are so bright and fun, and really make great gifts.


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1 Comment

  1. These are not only nice looking but they are the best dish drying towels I have had. The towels are very absorbent. They do make great gifts.

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