Is it possible to dye fabric with blood?

Is it possible to dye fabric with blood (for a special project)?

I think that what you want to do is basically the opposite of what one is supposed to do for blood stains that you want to wash out. You should cook the blood into the fabric, and then let it age for some time.

Heat will denature protein. The denatured protein loses its shape and tangles around the other molecules of denatured protein. A good way to apply the heat would be to spread the fabric out, as much as possible, and bake it. Perhaps you could air-dry the blood on the fabric, then wrap the fabric around layers of crumpled unprinted newsprint paper, to allow air between the layers, and bake it in the oven, on a very low heat, for several hours.

I would advise you to not wash the fabric any more than you have to. Blood cannot be used as a true dye, but it can stain the fabric very effectively. Repeated washing will cause it to fade and gradually wash out, however. Rinse no more than you need to to get the artwork to look the way you want it to.

It is traditional in Japan to use freshly made soymilk as the binder for hand-painted earth oxides on fabric. The soymilk, of course, like blood, contains mostly protein. (Blood also contains some iron.) Treating your blood like the soymilk in the iron oxide painting recipes would probably be a good idea. Do NOT wash the fabric for several months, if possible. The longer the soymilk ages, the more permanent and washable the fabric designs become, though it should never be machine-washed or used for clothing that must be washed frequently; the same might be true of blood, as well. Check out these two pages:
"Earth Oxides", from Table Rock Llamas Fiber Arts Studio
"Make Your Own Natural Pigment Dyes", by John Marshall [soy milk is discusses towards the bottom of the page]

More information on the chemistry of blood proteins as they relate to this project....


Heating the blood is inevitably going to turn it brown, as the hemoglobin turns into methemoglobin. So will any kind of aging or drying of the blood; you know how blood stains always turns brown when they dry. The only way to avoid this would be to chemically treat it to form a more stably colored protein.

This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
"The iron of hemoglobin is normally in the reduced or ferrous state, in both oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin. If the iron itself becomes oxidized to the ferric state, hemoglobin is changed to methemoglobin, a brown pigment incapable of transporting oxygen."

So, for example, you can treat it with carbon monoxide to turn it a very bright red, as the hemoglobin is converted to carboxyhemoglobin. This is commonly done in marketing dark red tuna steaks, to make them appear to be fresher than they really are, and it's also the reason why the edge of slow-smoked meat is pink inside. (Actually, it's a related protein, myoglobin, that is present in meat, but I think the chemistry is very similar.) Of course, carbon monoxide is very dangerous to work with; if you use a barbecue smoker, you must do so outside, and the methods used for making tuna look fresher, which I imagine used piped-in carbon monoxide, are probably not safe to use outside of a lab.

Another chemical that can be used to retain a reddish color to the protein in blood is sodium nitrite. I've no idea how much you would need; presumably very little, since you would have only a small weight of blood in your fabric. One recipe I saw for making corned beef that calls for 4 pounds of beef specifies 4 tablespoons of "curing salt", which as far as I can tell is a mixture of 6.25% sodium nitrite with salt.

I really have no idea how long you should bake your fabric with dried blood in it, to encourage the protein to bind to the fabric as it denatures. I recommend you use a low heat, ideally below the boiling temperature of water (212°F or 100°C) so that you do not risk scorching your fabric. I'm imagining you might bake it for several hours at this low heat. All of this is guesswork and will require experimentation to see whether it works for you.

I would like to recommend Harold McGee's book "On Food and Cooking", especially page 148 of the 2004 second edition, which talks about the different forms of myoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying molecule in muscle, closely related to the hemoglobin in blood. You can see it online through Google Books.

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Posted: Tuesday - November 18, 2008 at 10:52 PM          

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