Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dyeing with rust

I first saw fabric dyed with rust on the cover of Belle Armoire, September/October 2007. (Maureen Cox's stunning aqua-and-rust duster can be seen here.) I've thought about playing with rust over the years, but I finally got around to it last week.

It's a very simple process. Wash the fabric, apply a mixture of vinegar and water, then add your rusty objects and let it dry. Wash the fabric again, dry or iron, and voila! Rusty fabric!

It's usually recommended that you do this process outdoors because of the odor and the mess. However, I thought I'd try dyeing a small batch of fabric in my basement, where I could keep it away from kid and cats.

First step: dig out my rusty object collection. Doesn't everybody have rusty stuff laying around the house?! Oh yes, not everyone is a packrat like me. If you don't have any rusty things around, you can easily create them by soaking iron or steel objects in some vinegar and water for a while, outdoors. Or go on a scavenger hunt into a garage, junk yard, barn, estate sale . . .

Rusty stuff for dyeing

I chose to use bottle caps. I have lots, and I thought I'd make a simple pattern with them. I decided to sew them onto a 9" x 12" piece of white muslin.

Rusty bottlecaps sewn on fabric

I pinned a second piece of muslin on top of the first piece, reasoning that the rusty bottle caps could easily do double duty. I figured the pins would rust, too, adding extra marks. I carefully wet the fabric and wringed it out a little, then placed it in a plastic container and soaked it in white vinegar for a minute. Wringing the fabric out again, I then spread it out in an extra-large ziplock bag, and placed it on a high basement shelf. I didn't seal the bag, wanting the fabric to air-dry slowly.

Rusting fabric in ziplock bag

The rust formed pretty quickly.

Rusting bottlecaps on fabric (in process)

After a day, I took the fabric out of the bag so that it would dry faster. I noticed that some of the bottle caps weren't getting any rust onto the fabric, because the fabric wasn't firmly touching them. I placed some glass jars and plastic containers on top of the fabric, and that seemed to help. (Next time, I'm going to try placing bags of rice or sand on top, to create better contact.)

Once the fabric dried, I pulled out the pins (very tough to do!), then cut the sewing thread and removed the bottle caps. I washed the fabric in hot water and put it in the dryer.

Rusted bottlecap fabric

Each bottle cap left a unique imprint. The fabric was wet enough that the rust migrated, so a lot of the fabric ended up at least a little orange-brown.

Rusted bottlecap fabric (close-up)

I wonder what I'll do with it now?

1 comment:

Lisa Gallup said...

Awesome! That fabric would make fabulous couch pillows I think!