Rust dyeing – multiple pieces, multiple materials, magical results

Book cover made with experimental rust-dyed paper - Lyn Belisle

Book cover made with experimental rust-dyed paper – Lyn Belisle

Ever since I learned that I’ll be teaching dyeing and surface design at Vivi Magoo art retreat, I’ve had little else on my mind. Did you see the newsletter about this event? If not, click here – it’s going to be SO much fun, and it’s coming up in just a month, November 3-5.

One of the techniques I’m teaching with Michelle Belto is dyeing with rust. I’ve done a bit of that, but wanted to tackle it on a Big Scale. And it worked! I dyed a yard of linen (thanks for that old white linen skirt, Gloria), some scrap cotton pieces, and two types of watercolor paper – a heavy 300# cold press and a lighter #140 hot press. I did it all at one time with the same process just to see how the different materials would take the rust. All were slightly different but all turned out beautifully.

Here’s a short version of how I did it. I collected some rusty objects in a plastic bucket and poured a solution of bleach and vinegar over them to sit overnight. Do this outside! I got this recipe from the Internet (there are many rust-making solutions if you want to test other ones). There was about two inches of yucky rusty foamy gunk in the bottom of he bucket the next morning. Stinky yucky. But rusty.

I spread a plastic drop-cloth in the yard (away from plants) and put a layer of fabric and watercolor paper on the plastic – some of it overlapped a bit, but I wasn’t concerned, I just wanted to see what happened on the different materials. The whole area was about three by four feet. I dumped the contents of the bucket over the whole thing and spread it out, wearing gloves. . .very very random. Then I covered it with black plastic and weighted it down with some old outdoor cushions and some flower pots to keep good contact – also to keep Dudley the Tortoise out of the pile of stuff.

It sat covered in the sun for about six hours, then I took of the cushions and peeled back the black plastic – zowee! What great rust colors! It was exciting – take a look at the pictures below, and then I’ll tell you my observations. (If you can’t see the pictures, click this link)

Here are my observations and caveats – first, I haven’t washed the fabric thoroughly so I’m not sure how color fast the rust is, but since I won’t be wearing it, just using it for fiber art, that doesn’t concern me. You may want to try a small piece and see how it works for you if you’re going to make a garment.

Secondly, I wish I had dampened the 300# watercolor paper because it’s very thick and I think it would have taken the rust better if it had been wet. The thinner 140# watercolor paper was the most successful of the four materials. It had strong prints from the objects and lots of color variations.

After the process was done, it occurred to me that the formula that I got from the Internet included bleach, but that didn’t seem to affect the fabric – it still dyed a rich rust. Next time I’ll try it with salt and vinegar just to see. But whatever method you use, research it and try it on a small sample first. That’s what I did before I mixed up this huge batch. Work outside, wear gloves, keep your tortoises away from it!

In the Viva Magoo all-day class, we will be doing a version of this that uses lighter fabrics and papers and we’ll include some over-dyeing using the Shibori method (yep, you can do Shibori on paper as well as fabric) – I hope you’ll consider signing up for one of the workshops. If it’s half as interesting as this rusty experiment was today, it’ll be worth the price of admission!

3 thoughts on “Rust dyeing – multiple pieces, multiple materials, magical results

  1. Hi, your results are gorgeous. I have been rusting fabric for several years and find it a wonderful process. I have used both immersion and simply placing specific objects on fabric soaked with vinegar water — the resulting designs are quite amazing. Wrapping fabric around re-bar also gives interesting and changeable patterns. On a hot, sunny day, a few hours is enough. I would suggest rinsing fabric in a bath of water and baking soda to stop the rust action. Then rinse thoroughly. Rust doesn’t wash out of fabric. I have never used paper. If you don’t stop the process, it will continue and eventually the fabric (paper, too, probably) will rust all the way through. This can also be a lovely and organic process.

Leave a Reply to Sunny Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.