Make Your Own Iron Mordant Solution

Put rusty nails to good use by creating an iron mordant solution that can be used for multiple home dyeing projects.
By Sasha Duerr
December 2013
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You can create an easy iron mordant solution, or iron liquor, by soaking rusty found objects, like nails.
Photo courtesy Timber Press

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Home dyeing can be a gamble if you are new to the idea, but even if you are experienced in the art, knowing the different reactions given by plant based fibers and animal fibers can be crucial to proper dye absorption. Using The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes (Timber Press, 2010) Sasha Duerr walks you through using mordants and natural dyes in perfect harmony. Try your hand at making your own Iron Mordant Solution with this excerpt.

Iron Mordant Solution

You can create an easy iron mordant solution, or iron liquor, by soaking rusty found objects like nails. Once you have created your iron liquor, you can keep it stored indefinitely in a lidded jar for your projects. A little can go a long way. Be sure to label the iron liquor jar. Presoak the already dyed fiber for at least 1 hour before mordanting with the iron liquor.

Large glass jar with a tight lid
Rusty nails or other rusty iron objects
White vinegar

In the jar, place the rusty iron objects. Add 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar to the jar, filling the jar to cover the iron objects. Put the lid on the jar and seal tight. The water will turn to a rusty-orange color in 1 to 2 weeks. You can let your iron mordant liquor sit for as long as you like.

The iron liquor can be used as a mordant by adding it to a stainless steel dye pot, and adding enough water to cover your fibers.

Put the dye pot on the stove. Add presoaked dyed fiber, bring the iron bath to a simmer, 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius), and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the dye pot from the heat, and let the fiber cool. Remove the fiber from the pot, and squeeze excess iron solution back into the dye bath, which can be stored as iron mordant for later.

Thoroughly wash the fiber with pH-neutral soap, and rinse until the water runs clear to remove all iron particles. Hang the fiber to dry.

Use mordants and aftermordants for your home dyeing projects. Read Using Mordants With Natural Plant Dyes for more recipes and tips from Sasha Duerr.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft With Organic Colors From Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee and Other Everyday Ingredients, published by Timber Press, 2010.

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