02 June 2014

surface design with iron and tannin

I got to be a student this past Sunday! Always such a treat for me. I love learning.

Since I have been working textiles into my work more and more this workshop on Direct Application: Patternmaking with Iron at Handcraft Studio School popped out at me and I signed up.

one of my pieces after iron application, before tannin

The workshop was taught by Kenya Miles and she led us through the process of decorating textiles with a liquid solution of iron.

After showing us how to prepare the solution we spent most of the day applying it to our fabric by painting it directly on or painting it on a block that was then stamped on the fabric:

applying the iron solution to fabric

The iron turns this light brown color and has to dry completely before moving on to the next step:

class pieces drying on the line after iron application

After the fabric was dry we were able to "set" it and then dip it in a tannin solution made from oak gall. This was the big "oooooo" and "ahhhhhhh" moment as the tannin turns the iron to different shades of gray and black depending on the concentration of the solution applied:

class pieces on the line after dipping in tannin

This is one of my pieces after applying the iron but before dipping it in tannin:


And, this is the same piece after setting it and dipping it in tannin:

Some of the pieces turned a bit lavender or purple-ish depending on the original color of the fabric. Since I'm not crazy about purple-ish hues I am going to try to over dye them by tea staining  and see if I can get them to look more brown and black.

Very fun day and I look forward to more play with this process!


  1. I wonder what would happen if you reversed the process

  2. I don't know. Would be interesting to try!

  3. hmmm... Ferrous sulphate... a metallic salt that will continue to eat the fabric for years to come
    is there a way to neutralize the corrosive nature of this medium or are you using the destructive effect as part of your work?

    1. I think the corrosion would be slow and yes, I am experimenting with repair of fabric and patching and mending so self-destruction could be interesting.

    2. look forward to seeing where this takes you and thank you for sharing!

  4. Nice work!

    What was the iron solution made from? Was it just iron and water?

    Also, what do you do to "set" it between the iron and tannin?

  5. the iron solution was made up of iron, lime and vinegar. then after drying it goes in the tannin bath and it magically turns black! some of my students recently did something similar in the reverse with leaves: they pounded oak leaves into cloth (releasing the tannin) and then put in a iron solution and the leaf patterns turned black!

    1. Wow, thanks for the info. I just tried this using equal parts lime and vinegar and then added small amounts of iron, laying down a stroke or two on the fabric between adding more amounts of iron. I didn't have much luck unfortunately. Maybe I didn't leave it in the oak gall bath long enough (about 5 mins). I'm going to keep trying though! These are so beautiful.