Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I am mainly a tea drinker. In recent years, I've noticed that tea bags come in many sizes and shapes. Some are pyramids, some are four-sided, some harken back to the original tea bag concept and are small muslin sacks that are hand-tied. Tea bags are now made of silk, cotton, paper, and silken nylon, to name a few of the materials. Many tea companies boast that their bags are biodegradable and are not processed with harmful chemicals.

Today, when I got together with my dear friend, M, who is on assignment in Capetown, South Africa, my eyes were opened to a unique use for tea bags.

She greeted me with a Holiday gift of tea bag art!

It is a wooden box whose top is decorated with a painted tea bag.

Inside are six beautiful glass coasters, each enclosing a different work of tea bag art.

She packaged my gift in a red paper gift bag, decorated with yet another tea bag art work.

My gift comes from T-Bag Designs, a company started in 2000 by an English primary school art teacher, Jill Heyes, who had moved to South Africa with her family. What started as a small side business to showcase the work of some local women who wanted to learn a craft, has blossomed into a full time business which sells its art work throughout the world.

What T-Bag Designs is all about is painting designs on used tea bags. The company receives its tea bags from around the world. Good Earth Tea in Santa Cruz, California, is a supporter of T-Bag Designs. Jill has told me that the tea bags come from all parts of the world, often without explanation.

What her artists do is empty the tea bags, wash them, press them, and then create a small work of art on them. Each of the artists paints unique designs on her/his tea bags. Each tea bag is an original work of art!!! Initially, the tea bag art was used to make greeting cards. Today, the painted tea bags are incorporated in a variety of products which include greeting cards, stationery, coasters, boxes, trays, and much more. When an anonymous American donor sent thousands of large tea bags to T-Bag Designs, they were turned into hundreds of angels.

M told me that T-Bag Designs not only creates the tea bag art but also does the processing to transform unpainted boxes, such as the one that holds my coasters, or blank note cards or journals into finished products.

The employees of T-Bag Designs are residents of Imizamo Yethu, an informal settlement, in Hout Bay, South Africa. Not only has T-Bag Designs provided them with employment, it has provided them with a craft, a dependable income, and a sense of accomplishment.

If you find yourself in Cape Town, T-Bag Designs has a shop in the Blue Shed on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Visitors are welcome to tour their production facility in Hout Bay and to even rest awhile there while enjoying a cup of tea.

T-Bag Designs has marketing representatives in Canada, New Zealand, Germany, the United States, UK, Holland, and Switzerland. Check their web site to find out where to purchase their Tea Bag Art.

The web site of the American T-Bag Designs Representative features a wide variety of T-Bag Designs for sale online. These include coasters, boxes, cards, placemats, and even earrings...all unique works of art; all made from recycled tea bags. The web site also includes photographs and biographies of many of the artists and lists numerous retail outlets in the United States. Looking through the list of retail outlets, their are listings in about 30 states and in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC.

If you or one of your community or corporate organizations wish to collect tea bags or to provide other support to keep T-Bag Designs going, the American address to send such is

Original TBag Designs
PO Box 7673
Ewing, NJ 08628

As I write this, I am thinking that I may have seen some T-Bag Designs pieces at the Baksheesh shop in Sonoma, California, but, not knowing the background of this amazing project, probably just admired them as another craft item in a store filled with hand crafts. With my newfound knowledge, I know I will be purchasing T-Bag Designs in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The T-bag art is so unique and beautiful. Truly works of art and a great idea for gifts and very useful to purchase for ourselves. Thanks for the info, Barbara