Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you search - you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for in a preowned version. So, you break down and go to the local craft store, order on Amazon or hit up one of my favorites - the Dollar Tree. But sometimes that shiny new version isn’t exactly what you’re looking for either. It’s too white, too bright, too stiff - just too new. 

With 4th of July coming up, I suddenly had an urge to put up a flag. I used to have the perfect vintage American flag that I decorated with for Memorial Day, Flag Day and 4th of July, but like so many of my things, I eventually got tired of it and sold it. Fast forward two years later and I was seriously regretting that decision. Further justification to never get rid of anything ever again. #HOARDER

I looked online to find a preowned flag that would have just the perfect weathered look , but 4th of July was in less than a week and I had no time for shipping. I also didn’t have time to try and run around and look in all my usual antique or thrift stores. I checked local estate sale and garage sale listings, but found none that indicated they would have a flag. Facebook marketplace, LetGo and good ol’ Craigslist searches yielded no results. At this point, I was out of options and even more obsessed with having a flag proudly displayed in the next 24 hours. 

I had 30 minutes to run out over lunch and find my flag. Michael’s is the closest store that I was positive would have flags, so off I went. When I got to Michael’s I was immediately greeted at the front door with a display of inexpensive flags. Suddenly, my plans shifted. Why have one flag when I can buy a bunch of flags for only 2 dollars a piece?!?!?! AND I have a coupon!!!!

I scooped up some flags and headed back to the office, completely satisfied with myself. As soon as I pulled in the driveway that evening, I took one of the flags out to my rusty wheelbarrow full of flowers and stuck it in. And was immediately disappointed. The stars and stripes were so white! I know I only paid $2, but I was shocked at how CHEAP the flag looked.

American flag in a rust wheelbarrow

But, I don’t give up on a dream that easy. I channeled the attitude of our founding forefathers and pushed ahead. I went in the house and made tea - a strong, dark tea - and soaked my bright, white flags overnight. The next day, I pulled them out of their tea bath and laid them on an old towel to dry. DON'T RINSE! You want to give the stain some time to really set in.

Pot of tea for tea staining

Ah…the power of tea stain. I love how a good tea stain just subtly takes away the stark brightness, but doesn’t leave the fabric looking dirty.  

American flags

Now, these flags looked perfect with my Army footlocker, but the one for my wheelbarrow needed just a little darker stain. P.S. I found this foot locker at an estate sale for only $12! It makes a great front porch decoration for Memorial Day and 4th of July, but we also used it as a fun blanket chest in Todd's man cave.

Army foot locker

To get a darker stain, I turned to coffee.  

Now, I don’t drink coffee and I can honestly say I have never brewed a pot in my life. I wouldn’t even know where to start, but I didn’t need this coffee to taste good, I just needed to bathe a flag in it. I found some coffee in the pantry and mixed it in hot water. Once I had a nice, dark liquid, I dismantled the coffee pot and pulled out the little strainer basket thing. I poured my coffee through it and let my flag soak overnight. 

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Even though I don't drink coffee, I love the smell of it and I crave coffee flavored sweets! As a child, I used to eat Brach's Coffee Candy like it was going out of style. Unfortunately, Brach's no longer makes coffee candy (feel free to join me in sending letters and emails to urge them to bring it back.) Instead, I rely on coffee flavored ice cream when I get a hankering. Luckily, I had some in the freezer, so I took a little ice cream break.

Breyers coffee ice cream

The next morning, I let my flag dry (remember - no rinsing) and it came out perfect! Just a little bit darker than the original tea stain and just right for my rusty crusty wheelbarrow. 

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And now we're ready to celebrate our independence with some new flags that don't stick out like a sore thumb.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Fourth of July! I’m looking forward to running around when everyone is leaving the firework show and picking up all the abandoned handheld flags to stash them away for the next year!

Making new look old: Tea and coffee staining 101

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