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Rust never sleeps

Updated: May 11, 2021

Yes, I'm a Neil Young fan.

Rust dyeing is an eco friendly form of dyeing that creates unique surface patterns using scavenged objects of rusted iron. As a dye source, the oxidised iron yields permanent, gorgeous, deep orange tones on fabric and paper. It’s a fabulous way to up-cycle a garment into a stunning piece for your autumn wardrobe, or perhaps dye paper that can be used for future art projects. I love the spectacular effects that can be achieved in a relatively short space of time using inexpensive things you hopefully have around your home.

Gather up the following things:

· Fabric, preferably natural fibres. Light colours work well but don’t be afraid to experiment with patterned or dark coloured materials.

· If dyeing paper, try anything without a shiny surface. Pages torn from an op-shop book, sheet music, paper towels, doilies, etc.

· Vinegar.

· A bowl or spray bottle.

· A large tray or dish, something you don’t use for food preparation.

· A heavy object, e.g. brick, bottle of water.

· Plastic bag, recycled of course.

· Gloves.

· Salt.

Scavenge for rusty objects like safety pins, wire mesh, old tools, nails, etc. Carparks can be great sources of rusted bottle tops. Take care with sharp items and wear a mask if working with powdery rust.

The objective of the process is to create good contact between the rusty objects and the surface to be dyed. To do this first wet your fabric in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. Place your fabric in the tray and, while wearing gloves, wrap, fold and bind the rusty objects in the fabric however you like. For the print to be defined, the surface will need to be kept flat, but I like the interesting textural effects that come from being random. Cover with the plastic but not so it’s airtight as we need oxygen to speed up the process. Weight it down with your brick or similar. It will take one to two days until you have the desired colour intensity. Check occasionally and spray on more vinegar solution to keep the fabric from drying out but be aware that iron will eventually corrode the fabric if left too long. After unbundling, rinse in a weak salty solution to neutralise the rusting process. It’s best to do this outside so as not to rust your plumbing! Then wash fabric as normal, dry and admire. Rusty objects can be stored for dyeing again and again, and I’m sure you will add to the collection. Know you can never get this wrong and the results will always be different each time which, I think, is to be embraced.

Please share your results with me on Instagram @nukutextiles #rustneversleeps


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