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Divine rust, a recipe.

Updated: May 11, 2021

What is rust if not the death of metal, a process of decay that produces a vibrancy of surface textures and organic colours. While some people do everything in their power to stop rust, natural dyers seek the opposite, encouraging rust to make marks on fabric or paper. There are many ways to do this, but I’m going to share with you my instant recipe to create a surface of rust on paper as stash for your own creative projects. There are plenty of recipes out there but this is my favourite for a easy quick fix. Be cautious using this method on silk as the iron tends to break down the fibres, but more sturdier fabrics seem to be OK. And as always, wear gloves and a mask and keep upwind of spray. This recipe is not particularly child friendly either.

Drips are your friend.

First, get yourself 3 separate spray bottles (preferably glass over plastic). The size of the nozzle makes a difference to the result so if you can get adjustable ones you’ll have more flexibility. In the first bottle make up a concentrated solution of black tea, I use regular gumboot as it’s high in tannin. In the second bottle make up a solution of iron using 1 tsp ferrous sulfate crystals to 1 litre of water. In the third bottle mix a weak solution of caustic soda (Draino), about 1 tsp to 1 litre water. These second two ingredients can be purchased from the hardware store. You’ll also need a drying line or rack and some pegs.

Vibrant faux rust texture on paper.

Take a sheet of paper and either lie it flat or peg it on a rack over the lawn or a surface where dripping doesn’t matter. Spray your paper with each of these solutions. Start with the tea first, follow with the ferrous solution and lastly the caustic soda solution. You’ll see instant colour changes. Don't wait for the layers to dry between sprays, drips running down the paper adds to the effect. Drips are your friend. If after the first go your paper isn't quite what you want, then keep going with layers of each solution until you have something gobsmackingly fabulous. Once the paper is dry you can rinse it with plain water to remove the caustic.

Experiment with different weights of papers, those that are coloured or printed give wonderful results too as does canvas. The solutions keep for ever and even get better with age. If you love rust as much as I do, you will be entranced and addicted. Happy decaying!

The variations are only limited by the imagination.


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