Let The Great Rust Experiment Begin!

I decided the other day that I wanted to try dyeing fabric with rust so I sent my partner in crime out to the family acreage, always a good place to find rusty bits, on a very important mission to collect various rusted objects from the workshop. What came back to me was a myriad of flotsam and jetsam made up of washers, springs, hooks, and rings.

I still have a few cotton pieces from my last go at indigo dyeing, so I donated a piece from the stash for science. Using some of my precious creamy earl grey tea that I steeped for about 20 minutes in a large metal bowl, and while still warm, I soaked the fabric in it. Laying the fabric out in an aluminum-roasting pan I then proceeded to place the rusted pieces in a way that I thought would make a nice pattern, sprayed the whole thing with the leftover tea, now in a spray bottle, and covered with a plastic bag.

I let this sit for a few days, occasionally spraying it to make sure that everything was still wet, and when I couldn’t stand to wait any longer, removed the cotton piece for a look-see. I loved it!

Before and After

Before and After: On the left is the pre-washed and pre-ironed piece, probably still a bit wet. On the right is after rinsing with a gentle soap, left out to dry, and then ironed.

Because I wasn’t sure, and am still not, what I was going to do with it in the end I decided to give it a rinse with some gentle non toxic soap and, after drying, ironed it with trepidation (I am hoping I didn’t wreck the iron). I can definitely see how I lost detail and colour after rinsing but if I am going to eventually use this in a quilt I need it to be clean.

Rust Details

Details of some of the rust dyed elements on the fabric.

I really like this effect but I have so many questions! How much will this process, and the fact that there is still rust sitting on and in the fibre, continue to degrade the cotton piece? How will this affect other fabrics placed next to it? And how colourfast will this be over time? Fortunately I have a weekend workshop on natural dyeing at ACAD (Alberta College of Art & Design) coming up in a few weeks so I am hoping to pick my instructor’s brain and get a better idea of this process and best use of it for future projects!

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