Friday, 9 November 2007

thoughts on rusting fabrics

I had an interesting query from TheeCoyote on flickr on one of the photos I'd posted earlier this year of my rusted fabric:

rusted fabric

She asked if I was able to fix the colour, do the fibers become damaged at all and is it durable?

As so many textile artists are trying their hand at rusting, I thought it might be good to bring up the subject here.

First - the stains appear to be quite permanent, I've washed all pieces in hot soapy water several times and nothing leached out (otherwise rust removal companies would be out of a job VBG)

Rust is the common name for the compound, iron oxide Fe2O3, the rusting is the process of corrosion that occurs when pure iron (steel) oxygen and water get together.
The information I've found on-line seems to indicate that Iron oxide pigment can be used as a textile dye for topical application.
The Prairie Fibers Co
has an information page on rusting - they also advise wearing a mask and gloves when dealing with natural rust: "Iron in this form wants to bind with your hemoglobin blocking all available sites for oxygen, .... You can become gravely ill from too much contact with raw iron products"

The Paula Burch site "All About Hand Dyeing" quotes:

"You can dye cotton fabric with metals alone, and no other dyes, by allowing iron to rust while in contact with the fabric, generally using salt and/or vinegar. A potential problem is that fact that the large amounts of metal ions can actually damage the fabric. Do not expect long wear from fabric prepared in this way. Limiting the exposure of the fiber to the metal can control the amount of damage at an acceptable level. Also note that the metal in the fabric can dull scissors and needles used with it."

Getting back to my pieces - the fibres are in good condition at this stage, however,
it's been really hard to locate much more information on the long term effects of the rust on the fabric - I've searched on conservation sites and they seem mainly concerned with rust removal and the effects of chemicals used in the removal.
They do advise when framing fabrics not to use tacks or staples which could rust and will cause deterioration because of continued contact with the fabric.

So I have no idea how long this fabric will be good for, I personally wouldn't feel comfortable using it in a heirloom quilt which I would hope to pass through generations, but then that could also relate to some acrylic fabrics and threads.

Which brings up the subject of todays 'art' quilts, we are using so many new techniques, paints, chemicals, surely it will be only time that eventually tells us how successful these are...
and if we buy (or worse! sell!) a quilt for big bucks, how long do we (and our customers) expect it to last?

As an artist does it worry you that your work may have a limited life.
Do artists have the right to ask lots of money for a piece of work which may be turn out to be ephemeral in comparison to textile art made using natural materials or in comparison to traditional art (canvas and paint)
(there it is again, the "us and them" textile artists v. paint artists)

just remembering that I also have some iron oxide in the shed from my potting days, (and cobalt and ...and....)
now that could just set off a whole new train of experiments....


arlee said...

That would be an interesting experiment, to see what the potter's materials do to fabric.
Did you get my "runner up" email?

Anonymous said...

Can rust dying be done on clothes to be worn?

Is it safe to do so? (i.e. is there any toxicity? Will the clothes hold up in normal wear? Is there any special care?)

Erica said...

Arlee, thanks I did get your email, have replied, exciting!!

I haven't done any dyeing on clothes but it would be something to try, maybe with cotton Tshirts.

The method I used was perfectly safe, soaked the fabric in water with vinegar then wrapped it in plastic bag with the wet rusted iron.

As I quoted from the sites I found, if you were using powdered iron oxide or dry flaking rust you would have to be careful not to inhale it, but that's normal safety precautions that I'd take with any powdery craft products.

Long term wear - I don't know, as I said, it won't wash out. How the fabric holds up only time will tell, but if you want to have some fun with some Tshirts you'd probably be sick of wearing them before they wear out!

PAMELA said...

Thanks Ercia for sharing this information. I am dabbling with this process and its great to see what you are doing too. Like you, I am considering the longevitity factor, also the health & safety issue - but for small dabbles I think we can just have fun.

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