I have a book commission I’ve been working on for some time now, mainly because I haven’t had time to really sink my head into it. It took awhile for me to come up with a design, then I needed to make sure the customer liked it (she’s very easygoing but I still want it to be exactly what she wants), then find some materials (I needed some antique-looking buckles for it) which took a while to come up with, and finally do some last-minute discussions on the text block, etc. Here’s the main design on the front cover:
The customer (the lovely Michelle Schaffer of The Studio at Crow Haven Farm) wants a BIG blank art journal for a particular guild she’s in, the Dark Arts Guild. The cover will have the skull and the name Dark Arts Guild hand carved into the leather (it’s a full-leather binding) with two straps above and below the carved design and old-fashioned looking brass buckles. The straps will be functional (wrapping from the front of the book to the back to keep it closed while buckled). She wants a whopping 400 pages, which is going to make this one thick book. I imagine I’ll be doing some serious reinforcing on the spine to make it sturdy enough for handling such a large book. And she’ll be adding embellishments, pictures and other inserts on many of the pages so I’m going to have to bulk up the spine, make sure there’s some extra swell in there so that the front doesn’t become too bulky as she fills up her journal.
And the pages are being tea-stained. Which what this post is actually about. Now I’m no expert in tea-staining, but I’ve done it a few times so I thought I’d share here how I like to tea stain my paper. It’s amazingly easy and only slightly messy, depending on how you actually do it. There are several methods I can think of. You can make a big batch of tea and immerse the paper in it, which, I imagine, would give you the most even coverage but probably isn’t very practical for large sheets of paper (I mostly use full-sized sheets of paper rather than scrapbook or letter size). You can make a bowl of tea and then simply use a brush to paint it onto the paper, which should also give you pretty even coverage although some areas would be slightly darker from overlap. The painting method is probably the quickest and simplest method I can think of and would work well no matter what size paper you use.
My favorite method is to use the tea bag directly on the paper. I like the uneven look and the streakiness of some of the staining (evident in the picture above). You can also see some areas that look flecked and some with pretty darkened staining on them…I’ll include how I do that here (another very simple trick, as long as you have the proper materials on hand).
The first thing to do is gather your materials, of course. So what materials do we need for tea-staining paper? We need paper, tea bags, a bowl for soaking the tea bags, a towel to protect the table while you w0rk (possibly two depending on how large your paper is), some walnut ink crystals, and some mixed walnut ink (follow the instructions on the jar of walnut ink crystals to mix it up).
As mentioned, I use large sheets for almost all of my paper, normally hand-tearing it to the size I want. The paper I favor is usually in the 19″ x 24″ size range but the Arches Text Wove comes in a sheet that’s a whopping 25.5″ x 40″ and is probably the largest paper I’ll ever use. I actually tear it in half before I start working with it.
Tea bags–doesn’t really matter what brand and, in fact, this last batch of staining I did had me using some leftover Lipton bags and some cheap store-brand bags. The store brand bags had more color to them but the Lipton bags were actually saved from my last round of staining. Meaning, I actually pulled all the bags that I didn’t use when I stained the paper (I soaked quite a few too many last time) and stuck them in the freezer. When I was ready to stain again, I pulled them out of the freezer and stuck them all in a bowl of hot water. They worked just fine, although they were a bit light in staining the paper.
Coffee grounds could conceivably work but I find them a bit harder to work with. Plus, it costs a bit more than tea does making your staining efforts a bit more expensive in the end. And, tea does such a great job, I’ve never felt the urge to do any coffee experiments.
I usually put a towel or two down to protect the table top, followed by overlapping sheets of newsprint, big enough to lay the paper on. I normally start with one stack of paper and tea stain directly on the top page, sliding that page over to a new pile once it’s done and moving onto the next page on the stack. Not only does it take up less space to do it that way, but every time you lay down the tea water on the top page, some of it is bound to get on the edges of the paper underneath, so you get some added unevenness in the stain.
My method is pretty simple although it can be a bit time consuming. I get my tea bags soaking first (by the way, I recommend getting the family size tea bags–it’s the only size I’ve ever used and I can’t imagine how small a regular size tea bag would be) so the water gets nice and dark. Set up my work area with towels, materials, and paper. Once everything’s in place, I just take a tea bag out of the water, gently squeeze it (but not too much because the stain is darker and more uneven if you have a lot in the bag), and then spread it onto the paper. Sometimes I use a circular motion, sometimes I just go in whatever direction covers the paper the best.
I literally use the tea bag almost like a sponge and rub it all over the paper, sometimes dipping in the water again and gently squeezing it out. It’s an interesting balance between pressing the bag hard enough to lay down a good bit of tea water and being gentle enough with it that it will last for more than one side of a sheet. If the paper is rough enough or you press hard enough or you hit the edge of a sheet (paper can slice skin so it can certainly slice tea bag paper at the right angle), then you can break the bag or make holes in it very quickly. My personal challenge is to use a bag as long as possible before it’s too broken to function anymore as a “sponge.” I can sometimes get up to one side on three sheets of paper done before I have to give up the tea bag as a lost cause but I’ve also had them break on me almost as soon as I started using them.
As I complete a page, I set it aside, piling the pages on top of one another as I go. This does a couple of things–again, it saves space and it also does a little double staining for you since the backside of the paper you set on top is going to soak up some of the tea water. I usually leave some pretty big pools of tea sitting on the paper to soak in which gives a bit more color depth in those areas and add to the unevenness.
Regardless of how long a tea bag lasts, don’t just toss it as soon as the grounds start coming out. Keep using that baby and smearing those tea grounds around because it adds some streaking into the mix. If you take slightly damp tea grounds on a piece of paper and rub them into the paper with just your fingers, you can get some delicate streaking on the paper. Perhaps not the best picture, but the darker streaks pretty much in the center of the picture are from hand smearing the damp tea grounds.
Works even better when you’re using a tea bag and rubbing quite a few tea grounds into the paper. The staining frequently gets lighter as it dries but the streaking and unevenness is still quite visible, even after it’s dry.
So, not only is a broken tea bag still good for staining, it’s also great for adding a little extra distressing into the overall antiquing look. As a tea bag gets too weak for me to use it anymore, instead of just tossing it in the trash (or dumping it on the counter to throw away later), I set it on one of the pages that I’ve already stained and leave it there until the paper is just about dry.
After it sits long enough, that one area with the tea bag has a nice, deeply stained area that stands out, no matter how much extra staining you do on the paper. And, if you continue to pile up papers as you get them done, then you get the double staining effect on both the bottom and top pages.
When I first started tea staining my paper, I would do maybe five or ten sheets at a time and, as soon as I’d stained the first side of all the pages and stacked them together, I would flip the stack over and start on the second side. It does work to do it that way, but you definitely can’t get the tea bag spot stains on the paper when you follow that method because the tea bags don’t have enough time to sit and seep into the paper. If you want that added distressing, then you have to let the stack of paper sit for several hours, possibly overnight, for the stain to actually soak into the paper. Otherwise, skip placing the used tea bags because they’ll just be in the way and won’t produce any visible result. It took me about 12 tea bags to stain 25 full-sized pages (19.5″ x 24″) on one side only.
One more fun addition to your distressing is Walnut Ink Crystals. These can be used in both the crystal form and in the liquid form (which you can make from the crystals by following the directions on the package/jar). I use it most in the crystal form but it produces a very intense color so be careful that you don’t overdo it.
To get the spotted look, you need to sprinkle the crystals onto the paper while it’s wet. The wetter the spot, the more the ink crystal will spread. In areas where there’s standing water it will spread pretty heavily, discoloring most of the area. Where it’s more damp than wet, it will only spread a little, leaving a spot of ink stain.
I usually concentrate the crystals in the wetter areas and then sprinkle some of it across the paper. I’m pretty random about how I sprinkle it so it looks more like it just happened rather than being planned.
Your best bet is to add the walnut crystals as you’re staining the paper. That way you don’t have to go back later and re-wet the paper. Plus, as you stack the finished pieces on top of one another, the walnut ink will also bleed onto the back of the page on top of it.
Once the first side is done, let the stack dry as long as you can stand to (I let the paper dry overnight). The stack doesn’t need to be sandwiched or weighted, especially since you don’t have any couching cloths between the pages and, particularly in a place as humid as Texas, you could wind up with mildewed paper if you’re not careful. Once it’s dried for awhile, flip the stack and start the tea-staining process again on the opposite side. Sometimes, I do both sides twice. This round, I actually only did the first side twice because the tea bags I used for that side were the frozen ones and they didn’t leave as much stain on the paper as the fresh stuff.
One last distressing method is the cup ring. This is where the liquid walnut ink comes in handy. I mixed up some pretty dark ink and have a jar of the stuff in my studio (I actually have a dark one and an extra dark one, plus a very light mixture in a small spray bottle). The jar I keep it in is a small 4-oz preserves jar (my hubby makes salsa so we have a bunch of preserve jars in various sizes) that has the perfect size bottom for making a cup ring on paper. I usually slosh the ink just enough for it to dribble over the sides and make a small mess on the counter (the joys of having a ceramic counter).
That way the bottom is covered in ink and ready for “stamping.” I just take the ink jar and press it onto the paper in various locations. I try to do this somewhat sparingly because I think it can be overdone, but it’s a fun addition and sometimes, depending on how you end up tearing your paper, you might lose one or two of the stains.
The only thing you need to be aware of with the cup ring trick is that it doesn’t take to wet paper very well. In fact, just like the crystals, the wetter (or even damper) the paper is, the more it will bleed. Cup rings look much better when they’re sharper with just a bit of fade, bleed or missing spots so try to let the paper dry as much as you can stand before adding these in.
You may have noticed throughout the pictures that the tea grounds are all over the paper. I don’t normally bother to clean them off until the papers dry and I’m ready to start tearing it. It doesn’t hurt anything and, once dry, I can take a large paint brush and dust most of them off. I like doing all of the staining and distressing while the paper is full-sized because it’s fun to see where things will end up once you’ve torn the paper and start folding and organizing it for binding.
Well, that was probably more than anyone could possibly want to know about how I tea stain paper, but hopefully I had some ideas and suggestions that were new for some people. If you end up having questions about anything I’ve done, please leave a comment or contact me directly.