Rust Dyeing Shibori Style

In my never ending quest to find new and interesting techniques, I recently stumbled upon rust dyeing. I was intrigued by what I saw so I decided to give it a go!

This is a fairly easy technique and since rust or iron oxide is sometimes used as a mordant in and of itself, no mordant is required (mordants “fix” or make dye permanent). Rust will dye virtually any fiber, however, natural fibers like silk or cotton work best.

First off, I had to get some rusty stuff. Given the fact that I live in sunny (drought stricken) Southern California, I simply didn’t have any rusty stuff laying around. So, option one was to scrounge around my garage for some metal objects and then rust them myself. There are various ways to do this, but the best method seems to be a combo of vinegar and salt and time. I wanted instant rust, so I moved on to option two…buy some rusty junk online. Yes, people actually sell rusty junk online! And people (eh…me) actually pay good money for that rusty junk! Here’s a sample of what I got:


The first technique that I’m going to try involves using rusty screws that are bound to the fabric and then left to sit for a day or two. I saw an example on another blog and I loved how it turned out.

My research also revealed that if you overdye the rust dyed fabric with black tea you get a a darker or “saddened” result. This is largely due to the tannins in the tea which act as modifiers. Modifiers shift the pH levels and subsequently the color palate. Since I prefer blacks and grays to rusty brown, I will be trying this as well. So come along as I venture into two new (to me) techniques!


  • natural fiber – I’m using an 8mm silk Habotai scarf that is 14 x 72 inches
  • vinegar
  • rusty screws
  • artificial sinew, string, or dental floss
  • salt
  • Earl Grey tea (loose leaf) – optional


Step 1: Wet your fabric in a vinegar bath. The vinegar significantly speeds up the rusting process, so don’t skip this step! Next, tie on your rusty screws. I used artificial sinew (available at Dharma Trading) but you could use string or dental floss. I wound the sinew around one screw at each end of the scarf and I spaced three more screws somewhat equally along the length of the scarf. I then gave it another little soak in some vinegar.

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I can already see the rust transferring on the heads of the screws. 🙂

Step 2: Next simply place your rusty bundle in a plastic bag, seal it well and let it sit. From what I have read the “sit time” needs to be a minimum of 24 hours and can be as long as 4 or 5 days. I’m very impatient, so this may be difficult. Basically, you want to wait as long as it takes to achieve whatever color you prefer while bearing in mind that the color looks darker when wet. I prefer deeper more intense colors to pale colors so this may take a while…

IMG_20160203_095603 (2)
It’s been 24 hours. Not ready yet!
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48 hours, looks good!

Step 3: Take your fabric out of the bag and let it sit for another 24 hours to “cure.”

It hasn’t been 24 hours, but I couldn’t wait any longer so I untied the screws and took a look. So pretty!!!

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I love how the fabric formed to the shape of the screws and the print is gorgeous! I promise I won’t touch it again until it hits the 24 hour mark!

Step 4: Iron the fabric to set the color. I used paper towels to protect my ironing board and more paper towels to protect my iron. Right now I’m loving the color so I’m on the fence about tea dyeing.

Step 5: If you decided not to tea dye then you will need to stop the rust from continuing to oxidize your fabric. Mix one gallon of hot water with one tablespoon of salt and soak your fabric for 15-20 minutes. In addition to stopping the rust, this will also help to fix your color.

Step 7: This is optional people! I eventually got off the fence and decided to go for it. Here’s my scarf soaking in a bath of salt and Earl Grey. It’s difficult to see here, but the color appears to have shifted towards the grey tones.


Step 8: Wash your garment in a mild detergent or shampoo (shampoo actually works great on silk because it is a protein fiber just like hair). I generally use a professional textile detergent called Synthrapol (available at Dharma Trading). Hang to dry and iron.

Here’s the finished product. What do you think???

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Hmmmmm, well it definitely turned grey but the rusty brown stayed sort of rusty?! I wish the deep brown that was there when I untied the screws had stayed put. Otherwise, I think it’s really beautiful. Unfortunately, I noticed two very small holes at the center of two of the circles (where the heads of the screws were). I’m not sure why this happened since there was nothing sharp in these areas. Perhaps the rust actually ate little holes in the fabric? I think I may take another swing at this one at some point soon. Thanks for taking this journey with me! Please feel free to comment!





53 thoughts on “Rust Dyeing Shibori Style”

  1. What a lovely result!! I have done rust dyeing also but I have a big iron rusty plate which is a little difficult to work with. I don’t get the shibori effect you did with the screws. One blog I read suggested buying dollar store cooking pans and rusting those out … you could add texture by pounding nails through it or other metal objects into it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your blog and experiments!!


    1. Thanks Loretta! By shibori I was simply referring to the way in which the screws were bound to the fabric in order to create a resist. I saw the blog post about using the dollar store cookie sheets…and I actually went to the dollar store to get some but they were all out. I still have some rusty washers and metal fragments to play with so I will definitely be doing another post on rust dyeing. Stay tuned! 🙂


  2. I ran across this on Pinterest. Holy cow that is great! Could you use wire and wrap the fabric with the wire? Also, how would you us the cookie sheets? Do you just let you fabric sit in or under the sheet?


    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment! Yes, you could use wire but it would need to be something non-corrosive like copper. I know that copper is often used as a mordant and/or color modifier in eco dyeing. My guess is that it would darken your colors, which could be really beautiful. The cookie sheets need to be a cheap metal that will corrode. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are great corrosive agents. Once your cookie sheets are nice and rusty, place them on top of some vinegar soaked fabric and put something heavy on top of that to insure good contact. I tried to link the article that I saw on this but it’s not working?! You can find it on Pinterest or by Googling “How to Make Rusting Plates.” 🙂


  3. I think your scarf results are beautiful! I dye scarves with plant material and natural dyes. I have rust dyed cotton as well as watercolor paper but no scarves yet. It’s so much fun playing! 🙂


    1. Thanks Diane! I have been itching to do more rust dyeing…and I love eco dyeing but I still have so much to learn. I just checked out your blog, I really enjoyed the post on transfer dyeing with silk neck ties. I tried it a while back with Easter eggs and I didn’t love my results, but your scarves are lovely! I may have to try it out!


  4. Your results are breathtaking. My husband and I have ben gathering supplies and anxious to try rust dyeing……BUT have read a number of precautions about safety. What do you think……is it safe as long as one wears gloves.? Scardy Cat


    1. Thank you! Yes, it’s totally safe as long as you wear gloves and you’re mindful about what you’re doing. I have read about two risks associated with rust dyeing. First, some people warn about inhalation of rust particles. However, this could only happen if you were working with an iron oxide powder or if you were sanding or somehow aerating the rust. The methods I used would eliminate this risk. The only other reference I have seen to safety concerns was a mention that a lot of direct contact with rust might impact your hemoglobin levels over time. I tried to research this further and the only hits I got had to do with the health effects of ingesting rust through well water. So, I really think that the risk is very minimal. However, wearing gloves is always advisable when you’re doing any sort of dyeing. I appreciate your question and I hope that you give it a try!!!


      1. I am part way through a test piece of fabric of this method of dyeing, just about to do the tea. You mention rust can affect haemoglobin; is that an increase or decrease in haemoglobin? I am strict about using gloves for anything metallic, or otherwise nasty. But I have a blood issue which means I have to take folate to try and improve it. Assuming the test piece works, I be using the technique on a pair of trouser which I made in white poplin as a toile, but it fits really well.


        1. Hi Liz, I’m really not certain about how the rust interacts with hemoglobin. From what I read the impacts were from direct contact over time. I would definitely consult with your doctor if you are concerned. Very glad to know that you are wearing gloves. I hope that your test turns out well!


      1. Just got in my Dharma scarves and hit up a local trailer supply store for some rusty bolts and nuts. I can’t wait to get this started today. Have you tried any other type of tea bath besides Earl Grey? Curious as to how some of the lemon, blueberry and raspberry teas would turn out.


        1. Hi Christina! That’s awesome! I would love to hear how it goes! As far as tea is concerned, I have only used black tea (Earl grey and Lipton) so I’m not certain how a fruit based tea would work…happy dyeing!!!


          1. I forgot to ask, how many tea bags in the gallon of water? I bought a box of 50 bags and how long do you let it soak in the tea and salt?


            1. I used several generous tablespoons of loose leaf tea for one scarf…you definitely want a strong brew, so for one scarf I would use at least 5 or 6 tea bags and one tablespoon of salt. I soaked mine for about 30 minutes. The silk picked up the color quickly. I would keep an eye on it but bear in mind that it will look several shades darker when wet. So if you’re looking for a medium to dark scarf you will want your scarf to look very dark in the tea bath. Please let me know how it turns out! 😊


  5. Thanks so much for the informative post! The scarf came out beautifully, but like you I thought it looked great before the tea bath. I’m new to the whole dying thing, I’m so excited to give it a try!


  6. I think I would re-rust your products and try it again; this time; without the last “tea,” bath. The first photo of the scarf with the rust showing is magnificent and I would iron it to set the rust and leave it like that. Nice tutorial and thank you for sharing it with others. GiGi


  7. I love it – I think it’s so cool how the material was twisted around the rusty screws left a rust print that looks just like a wood ring . . .almost like you printed with a wood ring. I’m thinking of trying this with some big rusty bolts & lag screws on muslin then stretch the finished peice over a board for a wall hanging – or maybe quilting it for a wall hanging.

    Thank you for sharing!!


    1. Thank so much! That sounds amazing! I think quilting would be gorgeous! I tried this technique on cotton sheeting material once and the rust didn’t transfer cleanly so the fabric just ended up looking dirty to me. Hopefully you’ll have much better luck with muslin…but you may want to do some test swatches. I would love to hear how things work out! 😊


      1. I had dirty black bits of rust on my sample piece, I literally used water and shampoos and rinsed the off, it didnt affects the rust dyed bits at all.


  8. Hi, love this project, am at the first 24 hour in the bag stage,
    Can I ask if I decided to not do the rust but just the tea, would I need to soak in vinegar and could I used other fruit teas with bits in ?


    1. Hi Christine! If you’re doing rust only then you don’t have to do the vinegar soak. As for the tea, it’s the tanins in black tea that act as a dye…I have not tried using fruit tea but I suspect they don’t contain much in way of tanins? Although fruit itself can sometimes be a dye so it would definitely be worth experimenting with it! I hope that you get a great result! 😊


    1. Definitely darker but I like it, thanks for the tutorial, it’s great and I will experiment more with the teas !


        1. No I went to a car boot sale and got some rusty drill bits, I did amuse the stall holder when I said what I was going to do and he gave me one free because I amused him so much , they were 50p each – bargin


  9. Hiya, me again , can I ask another question, can I use pickled beetroot juice from homemade pickled beetroot in a jar ? Would you heat it up or use it cold ?


    1. Hey there! Hmmm, I haven’t tried that but here are my thoughts. I’m guessing that your beetroot juice contains vinegar, which is often used in a presoak for natual dyes to help fix them to the fiber…so that should be fine. You need to use a natural fiber and I’m guessing that you will have better results with a protein fiber like silk or wool. I would definitely heat it up, wet your fabric and then put your fabric into your dye bath at a low simmer for several hours. I would then just let it sit for another 12-24 hours. After rinsing your fabric you can let it air dry and then heat set it with an iron or you could throw it in the dryer (but I would only do this if you are working with cotton or linen). All of that said, beet dye is known to be extremely “fugitive” meaning that it is very likely to fade with exposure to sunlight and washing. In fact, this article says not to dye with beets at all for this reason: Soooo, although you can’t expect lasting results it might still be fun to experiment!


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