While cleaning out the basement (o.k., ‘started’ cleaning out the basement) I found this:

rusty nails

A whole mess of old rusty nails and screws and what seem to be vintage tree leaves in a copper bird feeder.

My first inclination was to throw the whole thing out. What would I do with a bunch of rusty screws?

What indeed? I remembered reading about rust dyeing a while ago on the blog of a fiber artist I really admire, her name is Kimberly Baxter Packwood. She is actually the one who got me started experimenting with natural dyes years ago. Her work is very inspiring.

So I thought I’ll give it a try. Anything to avoid cleaning the basement!

I prepared a mix of plain white vinegar and water in an old pot (that I also found in the basement) and put the first few inches  of the silk on the bottom, arranged a few of the rusty screws on top, folded the silk over to cover them, and repeated until the entire length of the silk scarf was folded up in the pot. Then I let it simmer for an hour or so. When I checked, it had turned a not-so-appealing greyish-black instead of the expected rust color. But that was probably from the lack of oxygen. So I let that little package cool down, and then I rolled it up and bound it tightly into something resembling a roulade. An iron-silk roulade. This I left on the counter overnight to see if the color would change.

At this point, let me remind you to always wear gloves when working with stains, natural dyes, berries, metals, anything that has the potential to stain your hands – unless you want your fingers to look like this:

The next morning, the roulade has turned an even darker grey. But after removing the string and rusty pieces and rinsing the silk thoroughly, the beautiful pattern I was hoping for was revealed. The silk needed a short salt bath to stop the process of rusting, and after ironing this is what it looks like:

If you look closely, you can see the outline of the screws

I like the way the colors came out. A very soft warm golden-brown for the background with a hint of rose, and the rust prints have various shades of maroon, bronze, ocre, and mahogany. Will have to try another piece soon!