textiles · exploration · misadventure

The Dye That Came in From the Cold



Last weekend, after twenty-four hours in Chico at ninety-seven degrees, we came home to the above.

The above? THAT is San Francisco in the summertime.


That’s 22nd Street and South Van Ness, half a block from our apartment, with a straight visual shot up to Twin Peaks, the tiptop of Sutro Tower sticking out of a fog bank thicker than my Aunt Beryl’s hair gel. It was sixty degrees outside.
01 bark sheet
07 pipe unwrapped (1)
05 handwoven (5)
02 bark sheet re_dyed (24)
05 handwoven (3)
DSCN1772 (2)

We’ve been packing, and I’m pulling in a giant pile of rust dyes I’ve been developing outside for months.

Fabrics are simply cotton and linen, but come from a variety of sources.

There are parts of at least four pillowcases I’ve scrounged from Thrift Town and friends and our bed and other places.

Old cotton eyelets from Scrap.

Hunks of remnant linen from eBay.

A few damask cotton table napkins very kindly just given to me at a caterer’s sale.

Leftover muslin from quilt backing.

I dyed the fabrics using materials I’ve scrounged since I started this blog.

Rusty bits and pieces from San Pablo Flea Market.

A brass pot from eBay. A copper one from an estate sale.

Copper and iron wires and pipes.

Five kinds of salt, given to me, again, at a garage sale.

Vinegar, a huge jug for fifty cents, at the caterer’s sale.

The process has been so organic and so seat-of-my-pants that I don’t have a step-by-step process to explain how I made these, only pictures of mid-process fabrics and results.

I can tell you, though, that they are made by taking your piece of fabric and combing it, willy nilly, with iron, copper, salt, and vinegar.

You can wrap pipes with wire, coated or un-coated, copper, or iron. You can salt or not salt, which can change the color unpredictably.

You can pile things in cast iron pans, pour tannin over them for black marks, add bits and pieces of plants you know can add dye, hope that copper will impart some green.

Once the fabrics and materials are arranged, you keep them moist for four or five days, and magic develops.

Over time, when we have the occasional warm, sunny day, I’ve noticed the greens and blues coming out stronger and more vibrant.

There are a few more not pictured here, but I wanted to get this post up.

Saturday these will be table cloths, albeit small ones, at our moving party. Then I’ll pack them away in a box and send them inland. Where it’s warm.


9 thoughts on “The Dye That Came in From the Cold

  1. This is so cool! Thanks for writing about the process and sharing the pictures. Wow! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These are gorgeous. The colors remind me so much of the Red Rocks of Sedona….colored by the iron content. This is one ‘seat of the pants’ experiment of yours that has resulted in some gorgeous materials. Thank you so much for explaining the process as well as showing the results.
    Great post!🐞

    Liked by 2 people

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