Shibori rust dyeing

Long-term readers of this blog may remember that a couple of years ago our house was really badly flooded when the water tank in the loft overflowed while we were on holiday. 😦 We came back to a ghastly mess, but since then the house has been redecorated and we’ve got on with our lives.

Most of the water ended up in the cellar, and although we cleared out the items worst affected, most of the other stuff remained. This included some plastic drawers for storing nails and screws. ESP inherited these from my dad when he died, but as he doesn’t practise much DIY these days they see little use. 😉

As you can see, the rust on these is fairly spectacular (my dad would be turning in his grave if he could read this!). So I thought I’d use the screws to try out some rust dye shibori.

I dipped a silk scarf in vinegar and laboriously tied rusty screws of different sizes into the scarf. I left it on the windowsill outside for 24 hours, by which time it was a good rust colour, with the parts tied around the screws very dark brown.

It was equally laborious to untie the screws. Because I have to bind fabric very tightly when using the indigo vat to prevent the dye from penetrating the fabric, I used a similar technique here, but it was probably unnecessary. However, the results were pretty special.

This is what it looked like immediately after untying.

rust shibori kumo1 rust shibori kumo2

The wonderful peaks created a great shape, but sadly I couldn’t retain these. After leaving it to dry I pressed the scarf to set the colour, then soaked it in bicarbonate of soda, washed it in shampoo and rinsed it. Interestingly, more colour came out this time than with my previous scarf – maybe I should have left it to cure for longer?

rust shbori kumo6 rust shibori kumo3 rust shibori kumo4 rust shibori kumo5 rust shibori kumo7 rust shibori kumo8

The reason I didn’t want to leave it any longer before neutralising was because there were a few tiny holes in the silk this time (unlike last time). This may have been because some of the rusty screws had quite sharp edges, or because I accidentally made holes when removing the binding. But it could have been due to the rust actually eating through the cloth.

I can’t sell this scarf with holes in it, so I will need to do further experimentation to see if this is a viable commercial technique. Maybe with a less delicate fabric, or leaving it for less time.

But it gives me an excuse to keep it for myself! I wonder what dad would say. 😉



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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

25 thoughts on “Shibori rust dyeing”

  1. Beautiful results! Is it worth retying and steaming to get the peaks back? Also wonder if stitching around the holes either by hand or machine to make them part of the design would be a good idea. Either way, I am inspired to try one!

    1. Nancy – I’m not sure if I went to the trouble of retying and steaming whether I would get the peaks back. Silk doesn’t retain shapes like that too well in my experience. But I might try it with some synthetic fibre, as that heat sets quite well (and it might be tougher, so I could avoid the holes!).

      The silk is very fine and the holes are very small – at the moment (wouldn’t know they were there unless you specifically look for them). So I’m happy to wear it as it is for the time being – I might try stitching if more holes develop or if they get bigger.

      Let me know if you decide to try it yourself!

      1. When I eco dyed a silk scarf blank with rose leaves I ended up with a tiny thorn hole in the scarf which made it unsellable. However, I solved the problem by using a incense stick to poke a hole through this spot and then continued on with a pattern of tiny holes. It looked great as a design feature and happily camoflogued (sp) the hole. Light the stick, blow out and place in an upright position somehow. Slowly lower the silk downward while holding tight. Down and up motion.

  2. Isn’t it great what those little rusty bits create? The scarf is gorgeous – I love the patterning you got. I found that the rust did have a tendency to eat away at the fabric if left too long. Too bad you have to keep it 😉

    1. Hi Joy,

      I’m worried that if I wrap the nail in cheesecloth the rust won’t get through to the silk to make the mark. I think I’ll just have to be more careful when wrapping / unwrapping!.

  3. Hi, such an inspiring post. i am combining indigo dye with rust printing, can you suggest me what to do first, either indigo dye or rust printing? looking forward for your response 🙂

    1. When I have combined rust printing and indigo dyeing I have usually printed with rust before dyeing. But why don’t you try both ways? You might get some interesting results – and you will learn much more by experimenting yourself. 🙂

  4. That’s a very clever thing to do and what dramatic effects it gives. My husband has some long bolts in the shed that I might try twisting the fabric in to indigo dye. Ones with large bolt heads which unlike screws shouldn’t damage the fabric.

  5. I love this, but then for some strange reason I have always love rust, and rusty things. ps, I think you’re dad would say “Well done, girl !”

  6. This is stunning. Wow!!! May I ask a favor, please. I’ll be doing a round up of projects that use rusty nails in May. Would you mind if I use one of your images with full credit and link back to your tutorial?

  7. I have rust dyed silk scarves with any number of rusty objects. Also with steel wool “teased” out into abstract shapes and put between the layers of the vinegar soaked scarf folded over. I like to use the metallic Jaquard paints to add some stenciled or silk screened elements to the finished washed scarf.
    Carolyn Mann

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