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..


As the long hot summer days continue into September, 
so does my fascination with the rust dyeing…

More rusty objects and interesting shapes have turned up on my doorstep, 
including lots more tools, and even a rusted sculpture... 

 Previously I’d been using vinegar + water to wet cloth, but on-line research
led me to discover alternatives such as teas, fruit drinks and even red wine!  
They are all organic + acidic, but the dyed results are more subtle compared with 
the rich orange/brown tones achieved with vinegar. 

All these liquids not only wet fabric but their mild acidity reacts with iron 
and helps speed up the rusting process.

Salt can also be used as a wetting agent and living a stone’s throw 
from the sea I thought I’d try sea water. 

Up to now I’ve been dyeing fabric so I decided to experiment with paper, 
taking a range of qualities (some thick water colour paper + fine tissue)
down to the Bay to soak in the sea…

Instead of wrapping & binding the rusty pieces I placed them directly 
on top of this damp paper, hoping they would leave impressions…   

Keeping everything damp with sea water these 
dramatic results were produced in a day

In complete contrast 
these soft ‘ghostly’ prints were made in exactly the 
same way but using tea as the wetting agent...

I was curious to see whether the rusted metal sculpture would give up any colour?
It was made by our dear friend & neighbour Eric Geddes
and had been sitting in his studio for many years.

I draped it with damp cloth + tissue paper wetted with vinegar,

 left it for just a day, and this amazing colour developed...

I was careful not to disturb the process, letting 
 the cloth + paper completely dry out

... before slowly peeling them apart…

The rusting not only dyed the cloth with this wonderful patterning 
but it produced a brilliant new patina on the surface of the sculpture 
which I hope will remain...  I think Eric would approve!

At times during these past weeks I could have done 
with a “printers’ devil”...
A term remembered from art school days - used to describe a 
long-suffering friend with clean hands, who manipulated paper for you 
during a print-run when your hands were covered with ink… 
thus avoiding all those inky finger prints!

No such luck here in the shed—hence grubby finger marks everywhere!!! 

But now I do have a fantastic collection of rust prints 

both on paper and fabric

to stitch, and make into books and collage...

And how does all of this fit in with my felt making…
Well the next posting will show how, as the rust experiments continue...


After the rust dyeing experiments of the past weeks I was really curious to see 
how the techniques could be applied to felt, especially working in 3D...

Rust dyes react well to natural fibres. It seemed like a natural progression
 of ideas to combine two natural processes….
 1) with moisture, friction + warmth wool WILL FELT 
and 2) with moisture + time iron metal WILL RUST

Like ALL natural processes, once all the right conditions are set in place, 
they are inevitable, unstoppable and irreversible . 
So combining these two should produce some interesting results?

I felted simple bowls using pure white merino and natural BFL. 
The surface of the merino bowl was covered with patches of wire wool, 
kept in place with crepe bandage and soaked with a water/vinegar solution. 
After a couple of days a rich rust stain had developed...

The stronger BFL bowl was deliberately made thicker to support nuts + bolts, 
pierced through the felt, and rusted washers sewn onto the surface. 

This bowl was taken down to the Bay and soaked in seawater to act as
 the wetting agent and help accelerate the rusting process.

I also wanted to repeat the previous fabric dyeing experiments using felt. 
This time I wrapped the rusted shapes with strips of pre-felt 
using similar shibori-style techniques - 
stitching, wrapping and pleating the felt around the pieces….

 then wetting with sea water and leaving to dry for several 
days before unwrapping …

Some pieces were easier to unwrap than others!
 In places the nuts + bolts and safety pin fasteners had completely 
rusted and were impossible to undo….

And amazingly... with the more tightly bound bundles the fine wool fibres 
had actually ‘felted’ into the rusting metal. 
Fused together the metal + fibre were almost impossible to prise apart!

Where I could unravel the strips the rust stains had left some 
wonderful fuzzy impressions, more characteristic of felt and totally different
 to the previous woven fabric experiments—as might be expected!

I’m so fortunate to live by the sea, and like all coastal locations when you 
start to look closely you notice rust everywhere, permanently staining 
stone defences and eating away metal stairs and handrails!

 Evidence of man’s constant battle against the elements—but providing
some brilliant backdrops for the rust dyeing when the pieces 
were bought back to the Bay to photograph….

The pure white Merino bowl developed the mottled rich rusty colour 
from the wire wool in a couple of days.
The rust stains from the nuts + bolts on the BFL bowl took longer
to develop over a couple of weeks, but the dramatic effect was worth the wait!

 I’ve got more ideas for 3-D feltwork incorporating metal shapes and 
I hope these will come together soon...

Meantime some more photos taken on a beautiful late October 
afternoon at Freshwater Bay which you can click on to enlarge

And you can catch-up on my summer of rust dyeing 
Experiments #1 and Experiments #2 by following these links
or scrolling down to the previous posts...


With the end of November approaching fast it’s time to bring the rust dyeing
 experiments to a conclusion. This final piece of work sums up the past 
months of experimentation...

I would like to dedicate it to our very dear friend and neighbour 
Eric Geddes, 
who died last year on this day.

Eric was a sculptor and artist who for many decades, 
made the beaches of West Wight his studio.
He worked with materials found on the shoreline, 
constructing huge monumental structures from driftwood 
and smaller forms 
from clays, seaweed and stone.

COMPTON BAY : 1982 - 83

FORT VICTORIA : 1993 - 1998

ISHIGOROKO : mind of the stone
Compton Bay 1993 

Eric has been a great inspiration, especially over these past months, when I've 
been following a new experimental path that finally led
to me taking the feltwork and fabrics back to the beach to be photographed.

'ISHIGOROKO' was the inspiration behind my final piece.
Wrapping a stone with the rust-stained fabric, 
dyed from contact with Eric's welded metal sculpture, 
then placing it back in the sea at Freshwater Bay.

Hoping Eric would approve?

In memory of 
1st November 1928 - 28th November 2016

All EG images reproduced with kind permission of June Geddes 2017

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