What kind of dye should be used to dye bone rings?

Name: Luke
Message: Hi there.  This may sound like a strange question but I have bought a large quantity of bone rings and was wanting to dye some of them in various colour to sell at markets.  Having the various colours would really boost the plain bone colour and I was just wondering if you could suggest how to do that.  Maybe a high temperature fabric dye would suffice but is there anything purpose built for this kind of thing?

You're right, that is an interesting question. I have never tried to dye bone.

I would guess that it is not at all difficult to do. Bone, like eggshell, is of course largely composed of calcium, with some proteins. An easy thing to try would be Easter egg dye. At this season you will not find the special Easter egg coloring kits in stores, but the food coloring available in little bottles (often in small boxed sets of four colors) on the baking aisle in the grocery store is the same kind of dye. To dye eggshells, you soak them in water mixed with vinegar and food coloring. Hotter water works better than cooler water; use less water for more intense colors.

Jacquard recommends the use of their Wood & Reed dye on bone. ("All you need is a container large enough to hold your material, hot water, and Jacquard Wood and Reed dye.") I believe that this dye is of the class called Basic dye; it should not be used in your kitchen, should not be used in any food-use container, and should be used with care to avoid any skin exposure to the dye or any breathing of the dye powder. All dyes other than food coloring should be used with similar precautions and care, of course, but I feel that it is particularly important to avoid direct exposure to basic dyes. Bone will be far easier to dye than acrylic, but the page "Dyeing Acrylic with Basic Dye" includes a discussion of this type of dye. (Here is a direct link to purchase Jacquard Wood & Reed Dye at Fiber-arts.com.)

Some very old recipes for the natural dyeing of bone and other materials appear in a historical document called the Allerley Mackel, which has been translated by Drea Leed; it says, "Any wood, bone, or horn you want to dye must lie for half a day in alum water, and then be allowed once more to dry. Then it should be dyed as follows", followed by recipes involving copper verdigris, brazilwood (an expensive natural dye), apple tree bark, or nut galls. For example: "To dye yellow: Take the bark of apple trees, scrape the outer rough skin from it, keep the middle layer and cut it into small pieces. Pour water thereon, lay the wood, bone or horn therein, also put alum therein and let it boil well together." Alum is a commonly used mordant for natural dyes, serving to attach them more permanently to the material being dyed.

All dyed items must be rinsed with cool water until no more dye comes out into the rinse water, or else coated when dry with a clear shellac or polyurethane coating, to prevent dye rub-off. Also note that you will find it very difficult to dye an item on a later occasion to exactly match an item dyed earlier; all matching items should be dyed at the same time, in the same dyebath.

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Posted: Friday - December 16, 2005 at 06:41 AM          

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