Rust Printing on Fabric – Tutorial

Turns out rusty metal is good for something other than reminding you to update your tetanus vaccine!  (Ehh…maybe not the best opening line  🙂 )**

But….rusty metal is an inexpensive and very interesting way to print your fabric.  Over the weekend, I rusted metal—or as I like to call it, “performed metal aging magic”—and made some very unique fabric.  Before we get started with the how, let’s answer the what.

What do to do with rust printed fabric?  Well, it would make a beautiful background for an art quilt or other artistic endeavors.  Also, a very cool bag or pillow. Ooo….how about a scarf?  The possibilities are endless.  I am using mine to make a zip pouch. Posting more about that next week.

But first, back to the beginning.  Let’s make some printed fabric!

(**All joking aside, rust alone (and this tutorial) will NOT give you tetanus, )


  • Cotton Fabric
  • Non-galvanized metal – I went to Lowes and picks up a selection of washers, nuts, bolts, and nails that were steel, but not galvanized steel (galvanized steel will not rust). Or make things easier and find some rusty metal to use!
  • Vinegar
  • Plastic container
  • Salt
  • Plastic bags (not pictured)
  • Old towels (also not pictured)

Skill Level:

Low.  If you can pour and wait, you can rust metal.  Same pretty much goes for the rust printing on fabric.  🙂

Time and Location:

Waiting is the key here.  You need a couple of days for the metal to rust and at least a day for the printing.  The actual working time is less than an hour, but with all the waiting, plan on 3-4 days.

Do this project somewhere that it will not be disturbed.  An old card table? or a board that can be moved out of the way?  I set up my fabric rusting on a folding table in my basement.

Rusting the Metal

How does Rust Happen?

If you like chemistry, that takes place with iron and oxygen are combined with a weak acid (such as vinegar or even water).  If this makes your eyes cross a bit, just know that iron needs to be exposed to air in the right conditions to rust.  We are making those conditions by adding vinegar!

Step 1

Put your metal in a plastic container (or a contain lined with a plastic garbage bag) and pour a bit of vinegar on the metal.

Step 2

Let it sit until rusty, moving the metal around a bit, so that all sides are exposed to the air.  The picture below is 1 hour after pouring on the vinegar.

Here is 24 hours later:

Nice and rusty!  After 24 hours, I rinsed the metal to get all the extra rust crystals off and set it in a plastic container for a couple of days.  What a change!

Rusting the Fabric

Step 1

Set up a printing surface.  Lay a couple of towels or a few layers of felt under a plastic tarp or plastic trash bag.  You want your printing surface to had a bit of give so you can press the rusty nails and such into your fabric.  The rust needs to make contact with the fabric to leave a rusty imprint.

Step 2

Wet the fabric with 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 water solution.  Lightly wring out the fabric and lay it flat on your printing surface.

Step 3

Place your metal on the fabric.

For a defined pattern:

Lay out your washers, nails and other metal items in a pattern of your liking on your fabric.

Lay another plastic bag or plastic sheet loosely on top.  You want the fabric to stay wet for at least 24 hours, but you also want air flow under the plastic.  It is the oxygen reacting with the metal in the right conditions that causes the rust to occur.  If your fabric starts to dry out, just spritz it a bit with the vinegar and water.

For a random, more organic pattern:

Randomly place the rusty metal on the fabric.  Roll up the fabric and loosely cover with plastic.

Step 4

Now the hard part….waiting.  You need to wait long enough for the metal to react and leave a rust imprint.  I left my fabric for about 24 hours.  Check on your fabric every so often and see how things are going. Be careful that you don’t leave it too long.  After a few days, the fabric will start to harden and get brittle from so much rust transfer.

Step 5

Remove the metal and check out your cool patterns!

Or unroll and check out your mottled effect:

Step 6

Rinse  in a salt water solution to stop the rusting process and neutralize the fabric.  Give it a good wash with a bit of detergent when done.

Step 7

Time to iron and admire…..

Stay tuned… I am turning some of this lovely fabric into a zipper pouch next week.

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