Monday 21 August 2017


RUST dyeing has fascinated me for a long time, and although I have experimented with natural dyes over the years I haven’t been brave enough to try rust,
 so with plenty of long hot summer days ahead now seemed a perfect time.

All the basic materials were easily found around the house & garden. 
Old rusty tools, files & rasps, bolts & nails, iron filings, wire wool, even an old 
horse shoe. Anything made of iron that has seen better days - 
the older, the rustier, the better…

I also found lots of fabric scraps to dye, different weights of natural materials,
cotton, canvas & linen, cotton thread and wool…

Wrapping the rusty pieces with strips of damp cloth, then tying with strong thread 
was similar to the Shibori techniques I’ve been using recently when felting textures.

The tight binding secures the damp fabric around the rusted shapes and this 
close contact allows the rust to permanently dye the cloth with colour & pattern. 

Spraying with a mix of 50% water + vinegar keeps things 
moist and speeds up the process.

Oxidation soon sets in and I was surprised to find really strong colour
 had stained some pieces after just 24 hours,

 but not all... 

and these were left for another day.
 Unwrapping the bundles was really exciting -  
as with all dyeing, alchemy (or just chemistry) was at work here…

By the way I would recommend wearing rubber gloves, 
but it does make snipping threads & unravelling cloth tricky, 
especially when trying to photograph 
these amazing colours... 

(And you can click on the photos to enlarge) 

The rusting process can be stopped by neutralising the fabric. 
Soaking in a mild saline solution of 1 tbs salt/1 gallon water 
will help to set the colour.

 But rust does damage fabric. 
The minute particles remain on the fibre surface and continue to 
react and oxidize with moisture in the atmosphere, 
so fabric will disintegrate, often in a short space of time... 

It’s early days with these tests, but I have been warned!
Some of the results are SO dramatic that it would be a shame to lose them

Rust on iron tools and implements marks the passage of time. 

Many of my ’found’ objects had been left un-used for years... 

I experimented with lots of different rusty shapes...
the old hand tools found inside sheds + cupboards gave really strong
 intense colour quickly, whereas outside objects exposed to 
daily weathering, like this garden roller 
and drain gratings although rusty, didn’t work as well…

So this is just the start of my rust dyeing this summer … 

Word has got around and more rusty bits & pieces keep turning up… 

It’s been good fun so far, there will be more to follow...

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