Before we get into how to age paper and other things with coffee, let’s start with a little story. It’s about two friends who, at about the same time, decided that they were ready to become home owners. Let’s call them Jill and Lynne – we’re protecting their identities because they’ve come to feel a little silly over how compulsive they both were in their approach to creating their own unique space.
Jill bought an old house, and immediately set to work trying to make it look new, pulling out old fixtures, laying down laminate flooring, and tearing down wallpaper. Lynne, on the other hand, had decided to build a house – but she loved the vintage look of wide plank flooring, 1940s-style bathroom fixtures and yes, wallpaper! She found gold in Lynne’s cast-offs.
The point we’re making here is that for everyone who loves things that are fresh, crisp and modern, there’s someone whose heart longs for a more gentle time, and the belongings that go hand-in-hand with bygone days. If you’re the latter type of person, and a bit of a crafter, this article is for you. We’re going to tell you how to age paper and other things with coffee! You won’t need any fancy supplies – just the coffee you probably already have in your home. You won’t need any special talent, either – these crafts are very easy to do.
How to Age Paper With Coffee
Learning how to age paper with coffee can be accomplished in very little time, and it’s a very gratifying craft if you’re the sort of person who appreciates something that is truly unique. In fact, because of the way the process works, each sheet that you treat is going to look just a little bit different from the others. You can age sheets of paper individually, or by the stack. Knowing how to age paper with coffee opens up a wide range of possibilities for creating one of a kind scrapbooks, documents, greeting cards and more!
There are three different methods for aging paper using coffee. Each will deliver different results.
Method 1: Immersion
This is probably the easiest way to age paper with coffee. You’ll need a couple of basic items that you probably already own – a pan or tray that’s deep enough to allow you to submerge the paper, and if you don’t want to put your fingers in the coffee, a spoon or similar utensil to push the paper toward the bottom of the pan.
You can use almost any type of paper, although a coated (shiny) stock will not give you a satisfactory result. Plain bond is fine, or if you want something really different, you might consider experimenting with a textured stock. Use card stock if your intention is to use the paper to create greeting cards.
Now, brew up a pot of coffee. Or, if you have cold coffee left over, you can use that as well. The results you’ll get will depend on the strength of the coffee. As you might expect, a strong brew will give you a darker finished product. Make sure that you have enough coffee to fill the pan to a depth of about half an inch.
Now, immerse the paper in the coffee. Press down on the paper, using your hands or a spoon. Be gentle – you don’t want to rip the paper! Do this until the paper reaches the bottom of the pan, and then let it sit there for at least five minutes. Keep in mind that the longer the paper is allowed to soak, the richer the color will be. If you want to add a bit of visual interest to your finished product, you can also scatter a few coffee grounds on it – this results in a speckled look which would be ideal if you’re trying to create something like a replica of an old map.
Now, take the paper out of the pan. Make sure that you use both your hands – at this stage, the paper is very fragile and vulnerable to tearing. Hold the paper until the dripping stops.
There are several ways that you can go about drying the paper. You could hang it on a clothesline and let it air dry, but this method should only be used if the size of the sheet of paper is actually bigger than you need – the clothespins will leave marks, so you’ll want to cut off the part of the paper where you attached the clothespins. You can also place the paper on a clean cookie sheet, and put it in the oven. Bake it at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) for five or ten minutes. It’s also fine if you want to blow dry the paper – just put it on a vinyl tablecloth, and get out the hair dryer! Flip it from time to time onto a dry area, and continue the drying process. If you blot the paper with a paper towel before you begin, the process will be somewhat faster.
Unless you are air drying the paper, the next step is to let it cool. Once all the moisture is gone, take the paper out of the oven, or move it to another dry spot on the tablecloth, and leave it until it reaches room temperature – now your pretty, antiqued paper is ready to use!
Method 2: Painting
For this project, you don’t need quite as much coffee as you do with the first method for how to age paper with coffee. Just a cup should be enough to get the job done. You can use leftover brewed coffee, or even instant, but if you plan on using instant coffee you’ll need to make it a bit stronger than you would for drinking – you should use about three tablespoons of coffee granules to approximately 6 ounces of water. If you think it looks too dark, add water until the coffee reaches the desired stage.
As to supplies, all you really need is a paintbrush – one with soft bristles, or a foam brush is best. You don’t need anything expensive – dollar stores are full of brushes that are perfectly adequate for your purpose. Of course you’ll want to work on a waterproof surface – a vinyl tablecloth is perfect, but you can also work on a countertop or use a couple of baking sheets.
Place the paper on the surface, and use the brush to apply the coffee from side to side. Keep your strokes as even as possible – don’t swirl the brush, and try not to leave any uncoated patches. Be sure to keep the paper wet, but not soggy.
Now, lift the paper up, being careful to make sure it doesn’t rip – this is the point where the paper is very vulnerable to damage. Flip it over onto a dry part of your surface, or if you’re using baking sheets, onto the dry one. Using the same technique, paint the other side of the paper, again making sure that it doesn’t become overly soggy.
Now, move the paper to an area where it won’t be damaged and leave it to dry. You’ll have to be patient, as this part of the process can take several hours. Painted paper is better allowed to dry on its own since the effect will be somewhat less even than with paper that you have immersed and then dried. It’s a very pleasing effect, but it does not respond well to blow drying or oven drying.
Once the paper is fully dry, it is likely to look somewhat wrinkled. This is the part where you whip out your trusty iron and smooth it out. Put the paper between a couple of sheets of fabric – linen tea towels are ideal for this procedure. Set the iron to “wool” and once it’s warmed up, run it gently over the fabric. Make sure not to let the fabric get too hot, because if you do, there’s a danger of scorching the paper. Do this several times, carefully turning the paper each time. Once you’re satisfied that the paper is as wrinkle-free as possible, you can allow it to cool, and then it’s ready to use!
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Method 3: Dabbing
If you’ve experimented with the previous two methods for how to age paper with coffee, you might want to up your game a bit and try dabbing. You’ll get a very interesting effect using this method – it won’t be as even as it would be with the immersion method or with painting. Instead, you’ll get a blotchy appearance, which can either be very pronounced or more subtle, depending on the technique you use.
For this method of aging paper with coffee, you will have to use regular coffee grounds – instant coffee is not going to work. So if you aren’t in the habit of brewing up coffee from scratch, you’re going to have to find a friend who does, and ask if you can have some of their old coffee grounds. You won’t need a lot of grounds – just a tablespoon will get the job done.
Place the coffee on a paper towel. If you don’t have good, strong paper towels, a coffee filter will do, but it has to be the type that can be flattened, not the cone-shaped kind. Again, if you don’t brew coffee, a friend can probably help you out.
Now, make yourself a little “package” by twisting the coffee filter or paper towel around the grounds, and gathering the corners together. What you need to do is make sure that there’s no danger of the grounds falling out once you get to work, and possibly damaging your project. If you like, you can always tie a bit of string around the top of the package, or use a rubber band or twist tie to secure it.
Now, get a cup or a bowl, and fill it about ¾ of the way up with hot water – not too hot, because you don’t want to burn your fingers, and make sure not to over-fill the cup or bowl because when you dip the package into the water, some will become displaced and you don’t want it to slop over.
Make sure that the package is nice and wet, and then gently squeeze out the excess water. With your paper on a clean, dry surface, you are now going to gently “stamp” the paper, transferring the coffee color onto it. The effect you’ll get will depend on how far apart you make your stamps, as well as how often you stamp. More stamping will lead to a darker color.
Resist the temptation to stamp too much, because if you do, you will end up with a very dark effect that will make the paper useless when it comes to using it to draw or write on. If you go overboard with the stamping, you can reduce the effect somewhat by gently brushing the paper with clear water. Doing this can also work to soften any overly harsh lines that you may have inadvertently created.
Now, put the paper on a dry surface and allow it to dry. As with the painting method of aging paper with coffee, air drying is the best course of action. Once the paper is dry, examine the results of your efforts. If the paper is too light for your tastes, you can repeat the process. However, doing so could lead to harsher lines than you would like, so it’s best to try to get it right the first time around. Also, with this method, if the effect ends up too dark, it won’t be possible to lighten it once it’s dried.
Keep in mind, though, that if the result isn’t pleasing to you, it’s fine to just throw the paper away and start again – or give it to a friend who does like the effect. It’s only paper, and coffee grounds that would otherwise have been thrown away. Consider your first effort a learning experience, and try again.
Allow the paper to dry. Once the paper is colored to your liking, transfer it to someplace where it won’t get disturbed, and allow it to dry. This can take around 10 to 15 minutes.
Now that you know how to age paper with coffee, are you ready to try something a little more ambitious? Keep reading to learn how to do another fun craft!
How to Age Metal With Coffee Grounds
Why would you want to take brand new metal and make it look like it’s been around for a century or so? Probably for the same reason that people take a new piece of furniture, and then set about sanding off some of the paint or otherwise “distressing” the finish – because it creates something that hearkens back to days gone by and creates a wonderful, homey feel that simply isn’t possible with a brand new piece.
There are a lot of ways to create an antiqued look on metal, some of which involve using corrosive chemicals. If you’re not comfortable handling such chemicals, you can always use the coffee approach. Keep in mind, though, that this will only work on stainless steel – if you attempt to use this method on copper or silver plate, the results will be at best unsatisfactory. At worst, you could ruin the piece you’re working on.
To age metal using coffee, you will need to apply heat to the piece, and you’ll need to be careful. It’s best to approach this type of project wearing fire-resistant gloves and safety goggles. You’ll also need to handle the object carefully, using tongs, pliers or a vice – the last thing you want to do is handle hot metal with your fingers, even if you are wearing safety gloves!
Get a container and fill it with damp, warm coffee grounds. Make sure that you have enough of the grounds to cover each side of the object that you’re antiquing. If you’re antiquing something like nails or screws, you can probably manage with just a small cup or bowl.
Now why, you’re asking, would anyone want to go to the trouble of antiquing nails and screws? To go with that piece of furniture that you’re distressing, of course!
For larger pieces, you’ll need something like a shallow tray.
Now, whip out your trusty lighter if you’re working on a small piece. If it’s a larger piece, you’ll more likely to want to use something like a small propane torch – trying to heat a large piece using a lighter is going to be very time-consuming, and also you’ll have to let the lighter cool down regularly. At the same time, the areas that you have already heated will begin to cool down, and for the process to work most effectively, the entire piece should be hot. Of course, with large items, this may not be possible, so just do the best you can, and try to work quickly.
You want the temperature on the steel to get high enough to cause the metal to darken. Once that happens, put the entire piece (if possible) in the coffee grounds and hold it there for anywhere from fifteen seconds to half a minute. For large pieces, do it for fifteen seconds, then turn the piece and hold for another fifteen seconds – repeat as needed. If you have to, you can always re-heat the piece and place it in the coffee grounds again – you’ll get better results this way than if the metal is allowed to cool too much before being turned.
Once dipped in the coffee grounds, the metal will cool quickly. You should still be careful when touching it, though. The cooling process will fix the color in the metal, delivering an antiqued appearance.
In addition to cooling off the metal, the coffee should dye the stainless steel, giving it the appearance of antiqued metal. Now you can polish the piece, buffing away the coffee grounds. This will also remove some of the dye, so if you find that the piece isn’t dark enough to suit you, you can always repeat the process. In fact, you can do this over and over without having to worry about damaging the metal.
At this point, there’s just one last thing you’ll want to do. Show your friends and family the results of your labor! There’s a lot of gratification to be had from being able to say “Hey, Mom, look at this beautiful metal bud vase – would you believe I got it at the dollar store?”
Now, let’s explore another project – dyeing fabric using coffee!
How to Age Fabric With Coffee
There are three ways to age fabric using coffee. All are easy to do, and not all that time-consuming. For the best results, you should use natural fabrics, like linen, cotton or wool. Synthetics are not ideal for this sort of project, as they do not hold dye very well – mostly, when you try to dye a synthetic, the dye will primarily sit on the surface of the fabric and not penetrate effectively.
Method 1: Dye Bath
Begin with clean, freshly washed fabric – any oil or dirt on the fabric will prevent the dye from penetrating properly, creating a blotchy appearance. If you’re using fabric that you’ve just bought, keep in mind that it may have been treated using a “finishing spray,” so with new fabric, washing is even more important. These sprays may interfere with dye penetration.
Now, brew some coffee. You’ll be transferring the coffee to a pot that you’ll place on your stove, so make sure that you have enough to fill the pot to a level that will allow you to completely immerse the fabric that you’re going to dye. Don’t worry if the coffee gets cold as you’re making multiple batches – you’re going to be reheating it anyway.
If you like, you can use instant coffee. However, if you do go this route, you’ll have to use a lot of coffee granules, and that could end up being expensive.
Decide how dark you want the fabric to be. Although you’re never going to get anything approaching a rich, chocolate brown by dyeing fabric using coffee, you should be able to get a pleasing shade. The intensity will vary depending on how much coffee you use, as well as the type of coffee. Dark roast, as you might imagine, will give you a more intense tint than if you use a medium roast or a light roast.
Once the pot is filled with coffee, you’re ready to heat it up and get to work. If you think that the strength of the coffee is a bit much, you can always add some water. Now, bring the liquid to a boil. As soon as it reaches a full, rolling boil, turn off the burner.
Place the fabric in the pot – be careful, though. Remember that the burner is still holding heat, and you don’t want to drag the fabric over the coils of the burner and cause it to ignite. Once the fabric is fully immersed, stir it using a long-handled spoon, pressing down occasionally on the fabric to make sure that you get rid of any air pockets.
At this point, you can sit back and relax – maybe with a cup of coffee? You want to give the fabric enough time in the coffee to achieve the desired shade. In order for the fabric to become color-fast, you will need to leave it in the coffee for at least an hour. Leaving it for longer will intensify and deepen the tint.
Once the fabric is dyed to your satisfaction, remove it from the pot and run it under cold water until the water runs clear. Then wring it out. If this part of the process sounds like a lot of work, it’s also fine if you simply pour off as much of the liquid as you can, and then take the pot containing the fabric to your washing machine, dump the fabric in, and run it through the “gentle” cycle, using cold water, a couple of times. Then put it in the dryer on low, or hang it to dry.
Note that when we used the term “color-fast,” we were speaking loosely. Although the dye will last a long time, there is no such thing as a natural dye that will not fade eventually. In the fullness of time, if you want to maintain the shade that you started with, you will need to repeat the process.
Method 2: Coffee Rub
Again, you will need to begin with clean fabric, washing it to ensure that any oils or dirt are removed. With this method, you will need to brew quite a bit of coffee, as you’re going to want to cover all of the fabric with coffee grounds. This is another of those times when your coffee-loving friends can be of assistance to you, providing you with their damp grounds.
Place the coffee grounds in a container, and allow them to cool if they haven’t already. Add enough water to make a paste – usually about a tablespoon of water to each cup of grounds does the trick. Stir it until it’s well blended. Next, place the clean, dry fabric on a water-proof surface. Cover it entirely with the paste, and rub the paste into the fabric. You can use your hands if you like, or if you prefer, a broad wooden spoon will work.
As you may have already guessed, this is going to be a bit messy, so you should probably undertake this project in an area where clean-up will be easy. You could do it in your garage or shed, or even outdoors, laying newspaper or a plastic sheet on the ground to prevent dirt from getting onto the fabric.
Try to cover the fabric as evenly as possible. Then, leave it (with the grounds still in place) to dry. You can allow it to dry flat, or you can hang it – just resist the temptation to brush off the grounds. It could take a very long time for the fabric to dry, so you’ll have to be patient.
Once the fabric is fully dry, you can remove the grounds by shaking it, or by using a brush or your hands. Evaluate the results to see if the fabric has darkened sufficiently. If it has not, you will need to repeat the process.
Now you can put the fabric in your washer and launder it in cold water (no soap!) on the gentle cycle. Hang to dry, or use the low setting on your dryer. If you’re going to hang it to dry, don’t do it on a sunny day – exposure to the sun will lead to fading.
Now all you need to do is iron the fabric to remove wrinkles, and it’s ready to use!
Method 3: Tie Dyeing
Who doesn’t love tie dyed fabric, with its bursts of brilliant color? You can tie dye fabric using coffee, too, for a wonderfully different result that will have your friends exclaiming “Wherever did you get that?”
As with the other two methods for dyeing fabric with coffee, you’ll need to begin with perfect cleanliness. It’s fine if you want to wash the fabric or garment that you’re going to be tie dyeing in with the rest of your laundry, and then hang dry or machine dry.
Brew some coffee, bearing in mind again that the intensity of the tint on the finished product will be directly related to the strength of the coffee. A darker tint requires more coffee, and ideally a dark roast, whereas a lighter tint can be achieved by using less coffee and a medium or light roast.
You can also use instant coffee for this project, but as noted previously, you could incur quite a bit of expense this way. If you’re not a coffee drinker, you could also buy brewed coffee from a coffee shop, but again, that could prove quite expensive.
Once the coffee is brewed, allow it to cool. If you’re in a rush, you can always put it in the refrigerator or freezer in order to speed up the process.
Now, you’re going to need a squeeze bottle. If you’re experimenting with different brews on the same project (lighter roast combined with dark roast, for instance), you’ll need more than one bottle. You can find squeeze bottles in dollar stores, or you can simply rinse out that empty ketchup or mustard bottle that you were planning on throwing away. The reason for using squeeze bottles is that you’re going to want to pour out the dye onto different sections of the fabric or garment, without getting any onto other sections.
Section the fabric by grabbing some in your hands and twisting it tightly. Using rubber bands, secure the sectioned off areas so that they don’t come loose. Do this as many times as you need to until all of the fabric has been divided into sections. You’ll want to leave some sections un-dyed in order to create visual impact.
Place the fabric, spreading it out as much as possible, on a clean, dry surface. Transfer the coffee to the squeeze bottles, making sure to keep the dark roast separate from the light. For a truly dramatic effect, you might want to add some water to some of the light roast in one of the squeeze bottles, adding yet another tint to your project.
Obviously, the fabric is going to be uneven and lumpy on the work surface. This is fine, since you’re going to be flipping it over in order to dye all the sections. Using the squeeze bottles, apply the coffee to the sectioned areas as desired. Once you’re satisfied with the treatment you’ve done on the top, flip the fabric over and do the bottom.
The next step of the project is to allow the dye to “cure.” To do this, you’ll need a container that you can seal in order to keep the air out. For small items, a zip-lock bag will do just fine. For larger items, you may need a plastic shoebox or other type of container that has a locking lid. Put the container in a warm place, and leave it for 24 hours.
Once the dye has cured, you can remove the fabric and rinse it. You can do this by hand in the sink or bathtub, or again, by using cold water and the gentle cycle on your washing machine. Next, hang to dry or use the low cycle on your dryer.
Now you’re ready to make something fabulous with your fabric, or if you’ve tie dyed a garment, wear it and show it off to your friends and family!
Next, we’re going to tell you how to stain wood without having to resort to commercial, chemical products.
How to Stain Wood With Coffee
Who knew you could stain wood using coffee? You can, and you can achieve a wonderfully distinctive, mellow finish with just a few basic items that you probably already have in your home. This method works equally well on small or large pieces, and is so easy to do that even if you’ve never finished a piece of wood before, you’ll get results that are sure to please.
You’ll need a cup of coffee grounds (dark roast is best), about a cup and a quarter of boiling water, a coffee filter, a strainer made from fine mesh, some sandpaper (fine grit),a soft bristled paintbrush, and a rag or an old towel.
Begin by putting the coffee grounds in a heat-proof container, and pouring the boiling water over them. Allow the mixture to sit for about half an hour to allow it to cool. Then take the coffee filter and place it in the strainer. Slowly and carefully, pour the coffee mixture through the filter-lined strainer and let it flow into another container (ideally one that will not tip easily and that will be wide enough to allow you to insert your paintbrush). Congratulations, you have just made an all-natural wood stain!
This is going to be a bit messy, so it’s best if you work in a garage or other area where dripping and splashing isn’t going to be problematic. On a nice day, you can also do this outdoors, making sure that you place your project on something that will keep the dirt out. A plastic sheet is best. You could use newspaper, but if it dries on the bottom of your project it could be difficult to peel off – plastic does not present that kind of problem.
Now you’re ready to stain. Dip your brush into the coffee solution, allowing the excess to drip off. Using careful, even strokes, brush the stain onto the wood, covering thoroughly. Don’t allow the stain to pool, but don’t feel that you have to wipe it off – unlike with commercial, oil-based stains, it’s actually better to allow the coffee stain to soak in. Let the stain dry, and if the effect isn’t as dark as you would like, simply repeat the process as often as you need to until the desired effect is achieved.
Is there a down side to staining wood using coffee? There is if you want a really dark effect. No matter how many times you repeat the process, you will never get anything resembling, say, walnut, or mahogany. A light teak effect is probably as close as you’re going to get. A very dark shade is only going to be possible with a commercial stain.
Staining wood with coffee is a great idea, though, if you want to “go natural,” if you’re not thrilled with the idea of accidentally getting stain that can’t be removed onto something you didn’t intend to stain, or if you’re sensitive to the fumes that go hand in hand with commercial stain. So brew up some coffee, and have fun with your project!
Ten Quick Questions and Answers
Now that you know how to create interesting effects on various materials using coffee, let’s do a quick Q&A.
1. Is coffee stain permanent?
If you stain wood using coffee, and finish with a coat or two of varnish, the effect will be permanent. On metal, it’s semi-permanent, but the finish will lighten a bit each time the metal is polished. Dyed fabric will fade with repeated washings and will need to be re-dyed periodically.
2. Can I re-dye a tie dyed project?
No. You will never achieve the same effect you had originally, and will most likely just create a blotchy mess. It’s best to let tie dyed projects age gracefully.
3. Can I use tea instead of coffee?
Yes, you can. The effect will be much the same, and again, you can achieve different results depending on the type and strength of the tea.
4. If I use a lot of coffee, will it harm my septic system when I dump it?
No. We hope that you would never consider pouring commercial wood stain down your drain, and commercial fabric dyes might not be a great idea either. However, you can pour out as much coffee as you need to and not have to worry about damage to your septic system.
5. Does aging paper with coffee cause it to become fragile?
Any time you do anything to paper that involves getting it wet and then letting it dry, it will become somewhat more fragile than it was originally. Handled with reasonable care, though, your paper should hold up.
6. Is a coffee dyed metal item food safe?
Yes. There is nothing in the dyeing process that would lead to harmful effects if the item is used for serving food.
7. Can I wash my coffee dyed garments with my other clothes?
Because the dye is not fully color-fast, it would be best not to launder a coffee dyed item with white articles.
8. Can I dye yarn using coffee?
You can, although we wouldn’t advise trying to dye an entire ball at once, because the dye probably won’t penetrate evenly through all of the strands. Also, you will not get good results with synthetic yarns, so it’s best to go with cotton or wool.
9. I want to dye a doggie sweater – will it be safe for my dog to wear?
Again, make sure to use natural fibers in order to get a good result. And although it’s never a good idea to give coffee to your dog, wearing fabric dyed with coffee will not cause him any harm.
10. Is coffee dyeing a safe craft for children?
With the exception of dyeing metal, which involves the use of lighters or torches, coffee dyeing is a perfectly safe craft for kids.
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The Final Word
Coffee dyeing is a fun, inexpensive craft. Anyone can do it, and it’s very inexpensive because most of the time all you need is coffee, and a few items that you probably already own. So get brewing and start dyeing!