What’s rust got to do with it? Two unique methods to dye fabric and paper

Fabric to dye with rust

Finally, finally, finally… it is spring, and I am “dyeing” to get outside!

Over the past three weeks, I’ve turned and primed my garden beds, only to have them frozen over and dusted with snow; I’ve taken the snow tires off the car, only to be greeted with a sheet of black ice in the driveway; I’ve taken a leisurely run wearing shorts on one day, and bundled up the next just so I could sprint to my car. But now I’m hoping that the season has finally changed and I can once again dye fabric and thread my back yard.

What’s on the agenda? Something new this time

My stash of rusted, tea-dyed, and naturally colored fiber is dangerously low. I’m building that selection of fabrics, papers, and thread to use in my take-along hand stitching workbag (read on and I’ll show you my ‘take-it-with-you’ kit!). I’ve wanted to create a “mash-up” series of small collages inspired by artist Rita Summers’ intuitive hand stitching and incorporating fibers with a nod to Libby Williamson’s tea bag art. Rita used rust- and naturally-dyed fabrics in her work, and Libby’s teabags are – naturally – dyed with tea. I’m going to follow suit.

Here’s the plan

First step: Rust dye some fabric.

I like small pieces that begin with lots of character.

  • Gather a pile of vintage or thrifted fabrics to use for natural dyeing. I love handkerchiefs, linens, lace, and even interesting prints.
These vintage lace, linen, and cotton scraps will be great for rust dyeing.

These vintage lace, linen, and cotton scraps will be great for rust dyeing.

  • Search through the pile of rusted objects I’ve set aside for natural dyeing and wrap/scrunch/place the items on the fabrics.
My colleague Tricia Patterson placed rusty objects directly onto the fabric before soaking with water/vinegar and covering them with plastic to create rusted contact prints.

My colleague Tricia Patterson placed rusty objects directly onto the fabric before soaking with water/vinegar and covering them with plastic to create rusted contact prints.

  • Soak the bundles in a vinegar and water solution until they are “cooked” and colored nicely. This can take anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days.
  • Rinse, dry, press, and… voila! Alternatively, I could add in organic materials like leaves for even more natural dye goodness.
 Tricia’s rusted fabric made with her grandchildren last summer… what great results!

Tricia’s rusted fabric made with her grandchildren last summer… what great results!

Next step: Make a cup of tea.

Really? Yes. I drink a lot of tea, and ever since seeing Libby Williamson’s teabag art, I save my teabags. What’s great about incorporating teabags in your artwork? They are already dyed.

Time for tea! My daily brew also nourishes my creative stash.

Time for tea! My daily brew also nourishes my creative stash.

  • Thoroughly dry the teabags. This can be done by just setting each one aside and waiting, or you can arrange a bunch of unopened teabags on a cookie sheet and put them in a warm oven (180 degrees) until they are thoroughly dried.
  • Open the bags and discard the tea. Using a dry paintbrush, remove any remaining organic material.
  • Fuse a thin piece of interfacing to the teabag where you want to embroider (I usually just embroider on the center, so I cut a piece 1 ½” x 4″ and fuse it to the inside center of the paper. That way it is easily re-foldable and holds its shape.)

Now that I have my stash ready to stitch, here’s a quick pic of my take-it-with-me kit. This repurposed candy tin holds enough supplies for a short trip to the beach or an extra long soccer game. I can stash it in my purse, and it is also TSA friendly. I’ll be stitching with these materials all spring and summer long, and share what I’ve created come fall.

This kit will be stashed in my purse for emergency stitching therapy all season long. It contains thread, floss, small scissors, a thimble, several sizes of needles on a handy needle book, and lots of naturally dyed fabrics and papers for embroidery.

This kit will be stashed in my purse for emergency stitching therapy all season long. It contains thread, floss, small scissors, a thimble, several sizes of needles on a handy needle book, and lots of naturally dyed fabrics and papers for embroidery.

Are you looking exciting new ways to explore creative hand stitching, fabric dyeing, mixed media, and more? Check out The Quilting Arts Idea Book. This tome is full of lots of ideas to get those creative juices flowing. You’ll find loads of inspirational techniques from nationally known fiber artists who – like you – enjoy creating both in the studio and on the go. Pick up your copy today, or download the digital version for even more “take-along” creative inspiration!

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