Thursday, 16 March 2017

For the love of rust

To the unenlightened, rust is nasty stuff, evidence of decay and neglect and to be avoided. These days, items are made from metals chosen because they do not rust, or they are treated to prevent it. Folk are loathe to sit on old garden furniture in their pastel summer finery because the rust will stain and be impossible to remove. But to those of us awakened to the beauty of rust, we see something more. Here is a photo of my  favourite rusty pieces. Some are parts from my old land rover, others are my 'ploughshares' gathered from local fields after the plough has passed, and identified for me by my farmer friend as 'the tine off a bailer' or 'a suspension spring' or 'that's just a rusty ol' bit of iron'.

One woman's trash is another's treasure

My Instagram feed is littered with photos taken by other like-minded souls of rusty pieces found on the beach, in the street, in the fields and we drool and make envious comments. We also share photos of rusty things that we can't take home. Here is an old manhole cover seen on a beach in Wales. It was no longer serving any purpose so was junk. But was way too heavy for me to take. Sadly. So I just took a photo to remind me of its beauty.

If I had been staying longer, I would have wrapped it in cloth and left it a few days
 to take a print but I only found it on our last day
Rusty panel on a beach - too large to carry

Rusty chain and ring at Stackpole Quay, Pembrokeshire

Recently on Instagram, a fellow artist posted a photo of an elaborate rusty drain cover and stated that she had been tempted to lay down on it in her cream wool jumper. Many of us posted that we would have too. She was heartened by our understanding. 'I KNEW you all would get it!' she said.

Pile of my own rust and eco printed work. The piece along the bottom of the photo is called 'Trapped'
 and is a folded length of repurposed flannel sheet with found rusty items stitched into it
 and left hanging in a tree in my garden for several months.

I was first awakened to the beauty of rust by an exhibition at the Festival of Quilts a few years ago by the artist Regina Benson. Beautiful expansive cloths draped, hung and folded in pleats that you could walk among and experience the play of light and shadows through the rust dyed glow. Now I collect it like a magpie collects shiny things. I walk the pavement alert to the telltale browny-orange colour of a bottle top or a nail. I swoop and in my pocket it goes.

I know it doesn't do it for everyone so what is the appeal to those of us who acquire the obsession? Is it merely the beauty of the colours and the textures in the rusty things themselves?

Rusty old plough half-hidden by nettles.
I wrapped a metre of silk around this for a few weeks last summer.

Ploughshares - the piece of silk dyed by the plough
Backed with rust-printed linen and hand stitched

Details of rust-printed silk

Is it the potential that we know exists for transferring those beautiful hues to paper and cloth? Is it the knowledge for those of us addicted to eco-dyeing and printing that the inclusion of a few rusty bits or the addition of some rusty water to a bundle will change the colours, the patterns, give of itself generously and work with the chemicals released by our plant materials?

Rusty bits on paper

The resulting prints

Whatever the reasons, I find it beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Just let me rust....

Rust printed fragment of old linen stitched into a scrap of vintage woolen blanket


  1. For me, there is an allure to the mystical nature of rust dyeing. The slow transition of oxidized particles dancing across the surface of cloth like some drunken wizard, leaving behind telltale signs of his extravagances. It brings out the wondering side of me. The bit that marvels at pattern and form. Bringing with it new ways of seeing the world.

    1. I do like your drunken wizard analogy. And the particles and oxidisation. I KNOW it's science but it FEELS like magic. I imagine you feel the same xx

  2. Beautiful results, I have some pieces waiting transformation in the garden at the moment.

    1. Thank you Debbie, looking forward to seeing your transformations xx

  3. What fascinates me, although I've never eco dyed anything, is the time it takes to leave its mark. A waiting game of mystery and surprise. And then you take it and stitch it to transform the cloth again. It's like watching a bud opening in slow motion, x

    1. Exactly why I love it so much. It truly entices you into the process, the story unfolding under your hands and eyes and relinquishing total control xx

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