Since discovering the fascination of rust dyeing back in 2008, I have been using this method to colour fabric for patchwork, applique and fabric collage. I enjoy the unpredictability of the technique and the range of colours that can be achieved.
My main method is to lay wet cotton fabric in a cat litter tray or shallow dish. Onto this I add various items of rusty iron including spanners, nails, nuts and bolts and other things that I find in the back of the shed. I then cover these items with another piece of cotton fabric and then I pour over either vinegar, lemon juice or sometimes a saline solution, which I make up with hot water and kitchen salt.
The rusting process takes anything from two hours to several weeks and it is impossible to predict which bits will dye first or most successfully. One of the fastest items to rust onto fabric is wire wool. I make a sandwich of the fabric and wire wool, which I chop up with old scissors. Although this gives very good colour coverage, it is very messy to do and after dyeing the wire wool particles are hard to remove from the fabric.
After rusting it is very important to wash out the fabric really well before using it for projects. Another important issue is protecting your sewing machine from the rust. I clean out and oil my machine every time I finish sewing with rusted fabrics.
I have been rusting fabric now for at least twelve years and have never found that the fabric deteriorates where it is rusted. I have used it to make all sorts of work and my most recent body of work has been creating ‘Rusty landscapes’ where I use the strange marks that appear in the rust dyeing to emphasise geographic features in the landscape that I am trying to create.