Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Black tea, grey hairs and the art of breaking down

I'm starting to go grey. Recently I've progressed from the "a couple of odd hairs" stage to the "oh my God I'm actually getting old phase". I'm a bit of a tree-hugger at heart so when I stumbled across a mention in a blog about black tea as a chemical free alternative to hair dye I was intrigued. I gave it a go and the results were promising enough to make me think this is something that needs further investigation.

But of course tea as dye it makes sense in my profession. As an avid coffee and herbal tea drinker I have literally used black tea as dye more times than I have drunk it. Almost one of the first things you learn as a costume newbie is how to "take down" whites by dip-dying them with tea. The theory is that too much white under the light causes flares for the camera so if you make all your white clothes slightly off white they will appear white on camera but not piss off the Director of Photography. It's particularly important for men's white dress shirts and nurses uniforms. I've also used it to dye stark white laces and trims for a more sympathetic colour for period costumes.

You simply make a really strong tea (soaking five or six tea bags in boiling water in a small Pyrex jug until it starts to look viscous is my standard but there's no rules), add it to warm water in a bath or bucket and soak the offending whites for a while. Then rinse (but not too enthusiastically ) and dry. Then scrub your bath to get rid of the brown marks left by the tea.

It's worth noting that
a) pre washing the items ensure the removal of any protecting coating they might have, but you won't always have time
b) like most dying natural fibres take colour better than synthetics so dying time is completely dependant on fabric and the colour you desire
c) make sure you take the tea bags out before adding the tea to the fabric and stir the items regularly to ensure an even dye.

In the age of digital whites are not as big a problem as they were and less and less DOPs insist on tea dyed clothes. But on certain digital cameras bright red can be a bit of a problem. But there's not much you can do about that except not use bright red or ignore the DOP and use it anyway. You also have to be aware of patterns that strobe. Long a problem of tv it is again less a problem than it was, but small stripes, particularly in contrasting colours can do that "make your eyes go funny" on screen.

So in much the same way that my mother trying to make tablets more palatable by crushing them into a spoon of honey, now means that all honey tastes vaguely of tablets to me, so black tea makes me think of dye and wet calico (a very distinct smell half way between floor cleaner and wet dog). I find the idea of drinking it quite revolting which can be a problem when living in the UK where it is literally a way of life. But sticking it on my hair, that makes much more sense.

NB: for those who are interested in the idea of a cheap, all natural, chemical free dark brown hair dye to cover their greys, I will experiment further and keep you posted .

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