Dyeing with Rust on Fabric

Rust on linen and photo transfer by Flora Doehler.
I’ve been experimenting with dying rusty objects onto fabric. Fabric artist friend of mine, Marilyn Preus, used this technique in one of her beautiful wall–hangings and I had to try it out for myself!
The key ingredient for this is to find rusty objects and we still have quite a few of those in our barn. Thank goodness I didn’t throw everything out when we moved in last year.
Suddenly all those funny bits of nails and who–knows–what seemed like a pirate’s booty and I was so glad that we haven’t quite got to sorting things out in the barn.  I was also glad that we saved so many of the handmade nails that came out of our house during renovation. They have all rusted at this point and could be used for my project.

 Iron nails that are more than 100 years old.

 Rusty nails, hooks and buckles.
 Rust dyeing works best on natural fabrics so I used cotton canvas,  linen, and silk for my experiment.  I also tried dyeing a piece of polyester-cotton but the results were very poor.

After placing my pieces on the fabric, I squirted the entire pieces with vinegar until the cloth was saturated.
 Rusted pieces laid out on poly cotton and silk.
 I slipped the plastic board that held the fabric into a large plastic bag and let everything sit for 48 hours.
 Vinegar dissolves rust.
 My art room smelled like a fish and chips store for a few days!
 I wanted to use a ribbed pattern to dye the cotton canvas  and I found just the thing in an old wood stove pipe that is resting in the backyard.

 Thankfully this old stove of ours missed the dumpster.

 I brought the stove pipe into the house, and wrapped the cotton canvas around it. Then I poured vinegar all over it and place it in a bag where it sat for 48 hours.

I loved the result when I unwrapped the cloth but unfortunately I washed it before it had a chance to really set so I had to redo my steps again. I learned to rinse in cold water and then let the cloth dry and sit for another 2 days before attempting to wash with soapy water.

The shapes that the ribbing in the stove pipe made are reminiscent of a birds wing. I am now looking for donations of rusted rebar because I think that would be very cool.
 Rust dyed canvas from rusted stove pipe.

Why this experimentation with rust dying?  I am working on a piece for a show here called “Pirates and Outcasts”. This art show will be part of a Bear River Winter Carnival event. Both are wonderful opportunities to have fun in February.

I have been working with an image transfer as well. It’s an abstracted photo of young men sailing to this new world in the early 1930s. These men were in their 20s and are probably all dead now.  One of them was my father although this isn’t a portrait of him per se.  In the piece I create, I want to suggest the impermanence of all our situations as well as suggesting that immigrants are both casting out and are outcasts.

 I have ideas floating around in my head,  but there are still the technical details to master!

This piece was on linen and although I liked the placement of the metal pieces, for some reason I had difficulty getting enough rust on the cloth.

After a couple of attempts I decided to roll up the cloth with those rusty pieces and spray the heck out of it and shove it in a bag for three days!

 When it was finished it certainly had a lot of rust marks on it! The shapes weren’t as controlled as I would’ve liked them to be and in retrospect I wish now that the photo image transfer had been larger.

I also rusted a piece of silk and discovered that the most interesting results happened in rusting this piece. Look at the detail in this piece of fabric, especially where the spring was placed.

It is back to the drawing board for me or to the rust heap!  I am also experimenting with the image of my young men with paint on a canvas which I may show you next… and there is also the landscapes  that I continue to work on… plus I just dug out my weaving books and am considering threading the loom again….  so much to do–lucky me!
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Painting Winter Fields

Charcoal sketch of field patterns.

It’s absolutely gorgeous outside right now. There is a thick blanket of snow covering the fields, and the  hills. With all the leaves gone it is really easy to see through the trees to the hills on the other side of the river.  What I see is long stripes of trees that border fields, slashed diagonally by roads that wind their way down the hills.

Looking from the Annapolis side towards Riverview Road.

The colors now are so muted that it is a challenge for a color-loving painter like me to actually paint that scene in a monochromatic way.  in fact it would be easier for me to use brilliant colors to depict the snow scenes around me–but I want to try an abstracted approach using muted colors.

Acrylic on canvas.

I start with charcoal drawings to get a sense of the shapes in the distance.

Charcoal sketch of snow scene.
Larry is immersed in creating a pendant and is listening with me to a podcast from This American Life about the fictitiousness of money, starring the Federal Reserve.
I discovered, quite by accident, that if I put my paper on top of the hot wood stove, and draw on it with crayon that the wax melts instantly and leaves a very dramatic line.This must be what encaustic painters experience!
Melted crayon on paper and charcoal.
I chose for my palette:
  • anthraquinone (blue )
  • burnt sienna (rust)
  • raw umber (brown)
  • titanium white
  • carbon black
These canvases are 16″ x 16″. I’m using fluid acrylics mixed with matt medium. This one was my favorite as far as the intensity of colour.

I rarely use burnt umber and I never use black. In fact I hardly ever use white either. So all of these choices amount to a complete departure for me. But I was determined to give it a try.
This was my favorite of the 3 canvases as far as paint texture goes.
I will work on them tomorrow with the objective to create a more harmonious look and feel to the 3 canvasses. Although I really like the intensity of the colour, it is more than I intended. But, a reduced colour seems to go against my very nature. I may try to mute things anyway. Stay tuned!
Canvases drying on my new cushioned mats. (I stand when I paint).
This is a good exercise to work on while winter is upon us!
The studio is like a giant playroom for Larry and me.

Painting sunflowers


This is my favorite small painting in my sunflowers series.


Sunflowers are so cheerful looking and their energy truly radiates. I knew when we moved here that they would be part of my vegetable garden, but I wasn’t counting on the birds to do the planting for me!

I couldn’t get over the multiple seed-heads – neither could the birds 😉


This past summer was our second year of gardening in this location. (Read our other blog “Our Bear River Adventure” for the saga of moving to Bear River and finding our dream-come-true house.)  Last spring as I was preparing the beds for planting, I noticed little sunflower seedlings sprouting up. I had left the previous year’s sunflowers standing in the ground so the birds could finish off the seeds.

Painting Detail.


A few of those seeds wintered over and the resulting sunflowers were either 15 feet tall, or short and squat with multiple flowers on them….they didn’t look like the parent plants. Maybe some bird seed got into the mix too?  When they were at their peak last summer, I brought some into the studio to paint.

Detail of Sunflower painting on canvas by Flora Doehler.


I painted these on canvas using Golden fluid acrylics and matte medium. I paint with brushes and I use a scraping method called sgraffito.


“Reaching”. Acrylic on canvas by Flora Doehler.
Painting by Flora Doehler.

Intentions for 2011 at Green Willow Studio

Our Green Willow tree,  Cordelia, has finally dropped her leaves. A Cherry tree stands to the right and produces tasty cherries that drip down your chin in the summertime.  Mostly the birds get the bounty as the limbs are too high for us to reach. Our studio is the red building. The other two ‘public sides’ are painted periwinkle blue. We heat it with a wood stove and a small space heater.

2010 was the ‘birthing’ year for our Green Willow Studio. We started with an uninsulated garage and transformed it into a warm, walled and electrified studio! It took us some time to get everything arranged so that a silversmith and a painter could work in the same space. Together, yet apart.

Most of the time it works. We listen to music or to podcasts. We break for tea or coffee and either talk about our work or we go for a walk around the garden to get a different perspective.

It is a thrill for us both to have the luxury of such a well lit room (there are windows on all four walls!) and to be surrounded by garden and a wild field where pheasants live.

As part of the Bear River working artists studio tour it was essential for us to have our studio ready for the beginning of the tourist season in May. We set up a display area in the studio where people can buy our work.  We have met some wonderful people that way and have sold some pieces.

Tulips. Acrylic on canvas by Flora Doehler. SOLD


My painting sales this year at the Flight of Fancy, at Paint the Town and in the studio were motivating and rewarding.  A series of one-on-one art coaching and tutoring in painting has helped me to share my painting techniques and to practice teaching. Attending the Bear River Artists and Farmers Market nudged me to develop affordable art as well as gave people a chance to see my work.



Larry received jewellery commissions and is showing sculptural pieces at Art and Jules Gallery in Halifax.


“Growth Spurt” hammered copper vessel by Larry Knox, 2010.
Now 2011 lies before us like a blank canvas or like a shiny sheet of copper waiting to be formed.
The possibilities are infinite; the ideas are many and there are decisions to be made about content, about intention, about the best way to express one’s creativity.
Blooming summer flowers were a constant inspiration.
 I will spend more time posting to this blog and sharing step-by-step, the creative discoveries and techniques that I am using in my work and that Larry is using in his work. Up until now my blogging focus has been on our day to day lives in our adopted village of Bear River. After three years there are over 100,000 hits on that Blog and it has even brought visitors to Bear River. It’s time for me to shift some of the energy spent in promoting Bear River into sharing our artistic life and promoting our work to the world!
Commissioned copper and silver bracelet by Larry Knox.
Copper pieces.


Larry and I are excited about these developments and we look forward to sharing our creative journey with you in this coming year.  Thanks for your virtual visit!
Happy New Year and may you experience many creative moments in 2011 and may some of them be inspired by our creative journey.
Painting outside in the summer.