Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Surface Design in Plein Air ~ Rusting Fabric with Maggie Vanderweit!

Carol R. Eaton here for post #3 of the Plein Air Series! I'm excited to share a tutorial on rusting fabric! Maggie Vanderweit is our guest artist who was kind enough to allow us a peek into her outdoor space and share her approach! 
You will never look at old rusting objects in quite the same way again! 
Maggie lives in southern Ontario, Canada so her ability to work outside is limited to May through October. Her studio is in a walk-out basement with access to her garden and a covered stone patio. Maggie says when she started with surface design 5 years ago being outside was much safer and more comfortable allowing her to work freely and make a mess! When Maggie works outdoors she is surrounded by the sounds of birds and the smells and sights of the garden. Everyone's outdoor space will be unique; the goal is to bring your supplies outside into an area that inspires you and allows you the freedom to fully engage your creativity. Maggie created an inspiring space while living in a typical town neighborhood so don't feel like you can't work outside if you don't have access to a large space; it just needs to feel good to you. 
Maggie says when rusting fabric or eco dyeing the heat, steam, fumes, and dripping fabric on the drying racks are much easier to manage outside! She has direct access to a hose for rinsing the fabric and filling her pots. For her eco dyeing projects she keeps oven mitts, tongs and sticks on hand to poke, stir and transport the hot wet cloth. Maggie uses a pea gravel section of her space to soak, rinse and dry things flat because it drains easily. She also has access to a long covered deck with concrete tables so she doesn’t worry about the heat of the hotplates or the vinegar/dye stains damaging anything.
When in full "dyeing mode" Maggie will stay outside everyday for hours at a time. 
To get started find some interesting rusted objects. When I began to look for items I was surprised to find many objects are made to prevent them from rusting - but keep searching and you will find some treasures!
You will also need need fabric, salt, a solution of 1-part white vinegar and 1-part water.  
 Soak the fabric in the white vinegar/water solution.
Wrap the rusted objects in fabric and cover with plastic for a minimum of 24 hours. 

TIP: Maggie will sometimes incorporate botanical materials and powdered dyes in her work. These eco dyeing projects require boiling for long periods of time - all done in her outdoor space! 

The rusting oxidation process must be stopped or it will destabilize the fabric.
Unwrap the objects and place the fabric in a solution of 4 gallons warm water and 1/2 cup of salt. 
Soak for 15 minutes.
Squeeze out excess water and rinse until all the salt is gone - hang to dry.

Have fun with your rusted fabric designs!
Work with the natural design elements to see what they will become.
Try Maggie's tip of eco printing in your outdoor space. There are many blogs to learn more about this process.  
Maggie feels each piece of cloth is unique and says the results are unpredictable. Maggie equates unwrapping each bundle to opening a Christmas gift! Her mantra is to create a space where you feel able to spread out and play with abandon! I agree... I'd love to see photos of your outside space... a condo deck... a picnic table in a side yard - what makes you happy? 

Rusting is a lot of fun... please share your results on the blog! If you have any questions feel free to start a dialogue and we can all get in on the conversation. 

Don’t forget to comment on the blog for a chance to win a pack of fat quarters using all the techniques we’ll discuss over the month of June = swoon! 
The winner will be announced June 30th

All photos on the blog were provided by Maggie.

Maggie is a contemporaneity textile artist, author and travel photographer. She recently published, Stone Threads available from her website at the end of this month. 

To follow Maggie go to:

Next week mixed media artist Lori Hancock McCown will join the conversation sharing work inspired by working outdoors!


  1. Fantastic information! I had heard of rust dying but never how to stop the processing so have never tried it. Now I need to!

    1. Awesome! Have fun and feel free to share your results!

  2. I have done some rust dyeing but have a hard time finding objects that actually rust. Have others found reliable objects/sources?

    1. Hopefully other folks will provide some feedback on your question! I too had trouble finding rusted objects. I have a friend who is always on the lookout for items and she seems to literally pick up a lot of stuff off the sidewalks. Another friend also mentioned finding items at yard sales! Keep looking!

  3. Great information! I am going to try this. I went to Maggie's blog and couldn't figure out how to follow her blog. I went to facebook through the link given and got an error. I would really like to follow Maggie.

  4. I sent Maggie a friend request by doing a search for her on Facebook. How does one try to buy her book?

  5. Thanks Carol for posting this and sharing the fun!
    I get rusty objects from my local welder - I dumpster dive with his permission. Once you start looking they start to show up in your path😊
    The book will be available from my website as noted in your blog. I'm organizing it as quickly as I can. I have no idea how to help with following my blog.... I'll look into it when I get home from Quilt Canada. Thanks for your interest.

  6. Wonderful stuff! I am starting to collect my rust items. I love the details that you can get and am now pushing forward to do some rust dyeing.

  7. I rusted some cotton several years ago, but without the vinegar. I left my bundle outside for several weeks, but it looks as though using vinegar would make the whole process a lot faster. Thanks.

    1. Great - give it a try with the white vinegar and see if it helps!

  8. Gosh the leaf and rust pattern is divine!
    I once got great results with some large already rusty nails and shreds of Mahonia bark.
    The Mahonia gives brilliant yellows, shredding the bark into smaller bits gives amazing shapes, almost like ripples on water.

  9. Thank you for the very informative post. I did not know about using salt to stop the rusting process (although I have observed fabric weakened by the process). This series of posts has been an inspiration to me.

  10. I love the look of rust dyed fabric! I must try this!

  11. I have unintentionally gotten rust dyed fabrics when water leaked into my basement. I wonder how well the fabric stands up if it has been rusted at all even if the process has been stopped with the salt bath.


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