I am interested in dying some tagua nut slices to use as jewelry.  I want something that is safe to wear next to the skin...nothing toxic!

Name: kim

Message: hello!!

I am interested in dying some tagua nut slices to use as jewelry.  I want something that is safe to wear next to the skin...nothing toxic!!!  Do you have any suggestions or ideas to help me?  Also, once the pieces are colored/dyed, is there anything safe that you might suggest to put over the nut slices to add a shine???  Again, it must be something that's safe.


Procion MX Fiber Reactive Cold Water Dye
Procion MX
Fiber Reactive
Cold Water Dye

How safe do your dyes need to be? Do they need to be food-safe? If so, the best dyes to use would be natural or synthetic food colorings, which have been tested and found to be safe for use in food. However, tagua nuts are said to be composed primarily of cellulose, and most food coloring dyes do not bond permanently to cellulose.

If the nuts are going to be worn against the skin, but not chewed on or sucked on (as a baby might do), then there is no need for the dyes to be food-safe. In this case, fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX or Remazol dyes are safe. The dye is applied at a high pH, using soda ash, and then all excess unattached dye is washed out. Since Procion MX dyes bond well to cellulose under these conditions, they should be suitable for dyeing tagua nuts. Although careless use of fiber reactive dye powders can produce allergies in the dyer, the dye is completely safe for wear once it has bound to cellulose. After fiber reactive dyes have been properly applied and all excess dye washed out, they appear to be less likely to produce allergies in the wearer than other types of dye (such as direct dyes, basic dyes, or disperse dyes), judging from the reports indexed in MedLine, apparently because of the very strong bond between the fiber reactive dye and the cellulose molecule. Both Procion and Remazol dyes have been certified as safe for use in baby products in the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 list [PDF]; however, like most dyes, they have not been approved for safe use in foods.

Earthhues says that you can use their natural dyes to dye tagua nuts, after first mordanting with aluminum acetate, using a weight of aluminum acetate that is equal to 4% of the weight of the nuts. Madder is a natural red dye that works well on tagua nuts, but madder is not safe for food use (it may be carcinogenic when eaten); it is safe to wear, but not to eat. Cochineal, however, is a good dye, whether used on cellulose or protein fibers, and is commonly used in foodstuffs, including red yogurt and other red food items. Cochineal is made from the ground-up bodies of a particular type of cactus-eating insects. It will not work well on cellulose unless you use a mordant such as alum. Beware of mordants other than alum, as they can be quite toxic. Some people prefer to avoid all aluminum-containing materials (including alum) out of the mistaken fear that they cause Alzheimer's disease, which they do not.

There are two food items that can be used to dye cellulose without a mordant, which are turmeric and walnut husks. Turmeric is a spice, ground from roots of the turmeric plant, which dyes a bright yellow. It will fade from light exposure, and must be reapplied after some use, perhaps yearly. Walnut husks can be used to produce a deep brown. If you decide to use natural dyes, I recommend that you get a good book on the subject. Natural dyes are considerably more of a challenge to use than synthetic dyes, so you will need a good recipe and a good understanding of how to use mordants.

As far as producing a shine on the nuts, again, the question is whether the substance you use needs to be safe to be worn against the skin, or whether it has to be safe even when chewed or sucked on. In the latter case, it seems that you must stick to food-safe coatings. If you polish the nuts very well, using fine emory cloth or even a fingernail buffer, they will probably hold a shine. Shellac, a substance made from a kind of insect called the lac beetle, is commonly used in food and is available in food-grade quality; do not use non-food-grade shellac if you want your product to be safe to be put in the mouths of children. Beeswax can also be used to polish and produce a shine; it is easily obtained, is food-safe, and has a wonderful reputation as well for finishing natural wood baby toys. The solid paraffin wax sold in grocery stores for use in jelly-making is refined to the point of being commonly considered as food-safe, but has not been approved by the FDA as a food additive, in spite of generations of use (or misuse) as such.

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Posted: Monday - September 10, 2007 at 07:41 AM          

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