Saturday, July 13, 2013

Corrosion, objects, and family ties-- an experiment in dyeing fabric with rust

Fabric left to rust

in an old iron pot

that my great-grandmother used for boiling her laundry

over a fire in this fireplace,  just outside our back door....

and 15 feet from where I do laundry indoors today-- no iron pots, hauling water, building a fire, or boiling involved-- my life in the same place, is so different.

                 Strange to think how many people in my family, some I knew,  some I never knew, touched the handle of this pot.
Exposed to the weather for 100 + years, the laundry pots, once used for washing clothes, now stain fabric with a century's accumulation of rust.
Hard to miss the irony in that.

Another rust experiment-- embossed writing on the back of an old enamel tray

a steel plate from the railroad tracks

and irregular stains from an old plant stand.

I've been thinking for awhile now about creating dye-stains with rusty "heirlooms".  I like the ideas of familial connection, decay, transformation, and particularly the idea of infusing fabric with iron ore, which for me carries all kinds of historical, literary, metaphorical and even personal references.

Humans have used iron ore as a pigment for thousands of years --  the red clay pottery of ancient Athens was prized for it's distinctive color, a result of iron ore deposits in the local clay.

In mythology, there's Vulcan, Roman god of fire and metal working.


and the amazing work of the American blacksmith  Samuel Yellin , whose work I encountered on a daily basis when I lived in New Haven, and whose original Philadelphia workshop I visited just before it closed in the early 90's.

Having said that,  the process of cultivating the rust has been pretty messy
-- the fabric gets crusty and has to be rinsed well outside and put out to dry before bringing it into the house.
I wouldn't say that I've  particularly enjoyed the process, or that I love the results so much that I feel the trouble is worth the effort.  I think I'm more enthralled by the poetic and metaphorical aspects of the idea, than by the reality of making it happen... as much an experiment in learning about what I do and don't like to do, as one of dyeing fabric.


Jose 813 said...

Please make sure your tetanus shots are up to date! :)

KD said...

Ha! Good point. I wore gloves, but still, yet another reason to perhaps abandon the idea.