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:

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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!

Materials:

  • 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

Tutorial

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…

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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.

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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!