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Monday, October 26, 2009

Why the Goose went up the Hill: Rust dying

So, perhaps some of you have been wondering why I struggled up the hill to get old rusty bits. Lately, the quilting world has been doing a lot with rust dyeing.

Basically, you take rusty pieces of iron and wrap it in fabric which has been dampened then either sprayed or dumped into common vinegar. The fabric wrapped item is then placed inside a bag or wrapped in plastic wrap and left to oxidize for at least 24 hours.

Like any other chemical reaction, heat accelerates the process. After leaving it for a bit, the package is opened and the fabric unwrapped. The iron oxides have dyed the fabric with a transfer print of whatever it was that you wrapped. You can also use steel wool.

You must neutralize the acid in the vinegar. You can do this by using a baking soda solution, soda ash, or in my case, I used ammonia (ammonia is a harsher solution).

Then, the fabric is rinsed and it is best if you use a solution of Synthrapol (a surfactant) .

Let the fabric dry, iron it and voila...neat surface patterns. I just used common muslin here, but you can use prepared for dyeing fabric or over dye commercial printed fabric.

You can also use a tea solution or teabags which has a reaction with the iron oxide and makes it sort of a grayish with lavender overtones.

Here are some pieces I did when I was in Connecticut. The circles are from the base of an early 20th century cast-iron stove grate. The star like pattern is from an old cultivator disk.

I need to do some more work with the pieces from Montana. I used sections of an electric train set and some horseshoes along with a mixture of chain and other items. I brought the train tracks home so I could do it again.

Several of us in the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network were doing this at the same time. Lori Gravley did it as a presentation for a sub-group who get together to learn new techniques once a month. She did a fantastic PowerPoint presentation. She blogs as Laughing Girl and you can find her rust-dyeing blogs here, here, here and here

Here's one good website on rust-dyeing by Kimberly Baxter Packwood



One thing you have to remember about rust-dyeing is that over time, it will cause the fabric to decompose. If you have ever seen 19th. century cotton fabrics which have elements of the print eaten out of them....almost like a bug has been after just one part of the print, then chances are that particular portion of the print was done with an iron oxide based dye.....

As long as you are aware of the impermanence of the piece, it's fine to work with. In fact, I have two ideas I want to do using rust dyed fabric just for this very reason. Hopefully, in the near future I'll be able to show some completed pieces using this fabric....

Oh yes, and if you decide to do this, please wear rubber or latex gloves. If you do too much of it, you can get iron poisoning as your skin absorbs some of the iron. In addition, your hands get stained with this...trust me...I looked pretty awful for a while and I just handled it a little bit without gloves.

6 comments:

Sunita said...

I had no idea a bit of rust can look so pretty! The star-pattern almost looks like batik.

Shady Character said...

That does look batik-ish! I used to do a lot of dyeing but never used this technique. Could you use copper to get blue-greens?

Michigoose said...

Yes, Sunita, it does look like batik. Some people incorporate resists with the rust dyeing like batik. It is sort of fun as there's an element of "what will this turn out like." Quite often though, what you think will be fantastic turns out ho-hum and what you think is going to be ho-hum turns out fantastic.

Shady, I haven't used copper, but others have. I'm trying to find the results from the rust-dyer's Yahoo group....When I find it, I'll post the results.

Michigoose said...

Whoohoo! Janet Hartje on the Yahoo rustdyers group has a photo up. Yes! It does transfer green. Hopefully, you'll be able to cut and past this, if not, go to Yahoo groups and click on photos and look for Janet's album.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rustdyeing/photos/album/906490013/pic/1740012563/view?picmode=&mode=tn&order=ordinal&start=1&count=20&dir=asc

Vivien said...

I always love the way rust dyed fabric looks. I have GOT to try this!

Michigoose said...

I just heard back from Lois Jarvis who has a blog on blogger on rust dyeing. She had this to say about copper: "I find that copper doesn't transfer to cloth unless the fabric is rust dyed
first. How Janet got that image to stick is part of the fun of rust dyeing. It is unpredictable."

Here's her blog if I didn't put it up already:

http://rust-tex.blogspot.com