Winter DIY: Make Your Own Tea Bags - Leafcutter Designs

DIY / HOW TO / CRAFT

Winter DIY: Make Your Own Hand Stitched Tea Bags

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I love making these hand-stitched tea bags because they take only a few minutes each but always turn out looking so precious. Most importantly, they’re intended to be dunked in boiling water and used up – poof! I’ve always appreciated works of art that exist for a time and then are gone forever. I guess they are a sort of piñata for tea drinkers. A very tiny piñata!

Just three of these “make your own” tea bags wrapped up in a special box makes for a memorable gift, and they’ll only cost you a few pennies for materials. Your recipient might have a hard time bringing himself to use them as intended, so be prepared to give frequent encouragement.  You might have to keep bugging him to make sure he hasn’t put them up on some silly pedestal for endless admiring. Tell him that only he can put the finishing touch on these tiny works of art by lowering them into a teacup and sipping away.

What You’ll Need To Make Your Own Tea Bags

Here’s a quick snapshot of the key tools and materials you’ll need. You probably have many of these on hand already, and anything you don’t have is likely to come in handy with plenty of other projects down the road.

See below for list of tools and materials.

See below for list of tools and materials, where to buy, and possible substitutions.

Clockwise from upper left:
– 1-inch circle punch (Fiskars makes a good one)
– Scissors
– Card stock or sturdy paper
– Colorful thread
– Herbs, spices, dried flowers, etc. (your choice!)
– Screw punch (or an awl, or a 1/8″ hole punch)
– Fine tip pen (or your favorite writing instrument!)
– Sealable food safe tea bags (we like the 2.5 x 2.75″ ones, SF Herb Co., ID 255)

Steps 1 & 2: Loading and Folding

Load an empty tea bag about halfway full with teas, herbs, spices, dried flowers, or a custom blend of your own making. Fold the tea bag over to enclose the open end and leave yourself a good half inch or so for stitching.

tea-bags-steps-1-2
Steps 3 & 4: Thread and First Stitch

Each tea bag will have three colors–three sections of decorative stitching. Choose the first color of thread, cut a 40-inch length piece, and thread the needle. Double over the entire length of thread, and then tie a knot in the far end to keep it from slipping through the tea bag. In fact, depending on exactly how thick your thread is and also how wide your needles is, you might need to tie another knot right on top of this one, so the final knot is large enough to not slip through. Your thread should now measure about 20 inches long. You might end up with extra, but starting with a nice long piece guarantees that you won’t run short even if you do lots of fancy patterning.

Start stitching some spontaneous designs at one end of the folded part of the tea bag. It’s best to start towards the inside edge of the fold (closer to the tea ingredients) and work your way down the length of the fold. I don’t have formal embroidery skills, so I just make it up along the way. I will admit that my fronts look much better than the backs!

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Steps 4 & 5: Finish Color #1 and Start #2

Stitch all the way to the other end of the fold and then leave the excess hanging off the end of the tea bag. No need for a knot at this point. Start again at the top with your next color. I suggest varying the pattern but it’s totally up to you! Even just simple stripes look great. Stitch all the way to the end again.

tea-bags-steps-4-5
Step 6: Add Color #3

Now work in a third and final color in the same manner. Your tea bag should now be looking colorful and unique! It’s okay to have a bit of thread hanging at the top (we’ll clean that up later), and you’ll want to be sure you’ve got plenty of thread in each color left over at the bottom (about 5 inches).

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Step 7: Braid the Threads

Draw all three colors of thread through one of the top stitches on the reverse side of the tea bag. This is just to tidy things up. Now that all the threads are together in one place, braid the three colors together for about 4 inches and tie a knot in the end to hold the braid in place. You’ll find the braiding will go smoother if you put something heavy on the tea bag to hold it in place for you. Design note: this lovely tricolor braid is the reason I do three separate designs down the edge of the tea bag.

tea-bags-step-7
Step 8: Make a Custom Hang Tag

Punch out a perfect 1-inch circle from the card stock, or cut any shape you like with a pair of scissors. Then make a 1/8″ hole near the edge. Write the flavor of tea on the tag, or any other sweet little custom note! Tie the tag onto the end of the braided cord. Lastly, trim all loose threads 1/8″ away from knots.

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tea-bag-mint-finished

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Keep making tea bags until you run out of thread, ideas, or ingredients!

I first taught how to make hand stitched tea bags at The Edible Schoolyard almost ten years ago. The middle schoolers handpicked fresh herbs like lemon verbena and lavender off the bushes in the garden. To dry the fresh herbs, we festively hung the finished tea bags in the trees for a couple days!

tea-bags-in-trees

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Lea Redmond is always looking for the poem hiding inside things: a salt shaker, a clothes tag, a hand gesture, a cloud. She is infinitely intrigued by the way experiences can slip from the ordinary to the extraordinary and she endeavors to design things that hold this possibility. Leafcutter Designs, her creative studio in Berkeley, CA, makes the world more playful and peaceful one little experience at a time.

4 Comments

  1. TexasDeb

    November 9, 2013 at 6:39 am

    I love this idea but have a quick question: Is there any concern that some dyes might leach out of the threads used once the tea bags are immersed in hot water and be harmful? Is there any best way to determine if threads are hot-water safe ahead of using?

    • Lea Redmond

      November 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Hi TexasDeb,
      Good question! If you are concerned about this, I have a few ideas for you:
      1) Boil the threads after you prepare them on your needle, just in case any dye might come out. Get it all out before you begin!
      2) Buy undyed natural cotton thread and dye it yourself with cabbage or other natural dyes that do not require mordants or other chemicals that might be harmful to consume! Stick to vegetables and juices, etc. Perhaps nice red beets? In fact, since these are not going to be washed and used again, like clothes are, it really doesn’t matter too much if the coloring lasts forever, is wash-fast, etc. I love this idea and might try it myself! I imagine cabbage and red beets would make lovely shades to stitch with. (And I doubt they’ll make the tea taste too much like vegetables!)
      I’d love to hear how it goes!
      -Lea

  2. laura reyes

    November 8, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    i love the idea of ephemera art.
    the post by Shirley Loflin is so poignant to me.
    this seems like a huge rite of passage for a maker.
    thank you for sharing.

  3. Shirley Loflin

    November 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I am in the process of moving to an all level of care place and cleaning out a home of 43 years worth of collecting and hobby things. This means passing on most of my supplies to other creative minds and it is so difficult deciding what I can keep in the small apartment that will be my new home but finding this clever little idea of making tea bags as gifts is a blessing. Since I am a tea drinker it really struck a cord and I shall look forward to making some this winter. Thank you for all of your lovely, and different designs. In the past I made the dachshund scarf and the knit along year scarf. Both turned out lovely.

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