Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mineral Dye: Copper Penny Blue

First a disclaimer: no pennies were harmed in the process of dyeing this fabric. Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens by Nova Scotia dye expert Karen Leigh Casselman is my main dye bible. Most of the dye recipes are for plants found in North America, but Casselman offers two offbeat mineral dye recipes with copper pennies and clay as the dyestuff. This summer I'll try the clay recipe which is very messy. Copper penny blue was manageable in my laundry room. Dawn MacNutt adapted the recipe from a Salish Weaving book and shared it with Casselman. The recipe is simple: combine ammonia, water, pennies, and fabric in a sealed glass jar and let sit for a few weeks. Ammonia is dangerous to work with, so I wore a respirator, safety glasses, a splash shield, a dye apron, and chemical gloves when I handled it. I immersed 417 pennies in a solution of one-third cup of ammonia and two-thirds cup of water, and then added more water and fabric. I let the mixture sit for 3 weeks. The pennies are not harmed in any way and can be used for the usual purposes once they are rinsed at the end of the dye process. The book goes into more detail than what I have given here.

As you can see, the copper penny ammonia dye solution yielded a grey blue on cotton fabric. Next I'll add some pale onion skin dyed fabric to see what shade of green I get.

Pennies are no longer made of 100% copper. Canadian pennies were made of copper until 1996 and U.S. pennies were made of copper before 1982, so I bought $10 worth of pennies from the bank and sorted them. Ten dollars (1000 pennies) yielded 415 copper pennies, less than half.

I haven't yet read India Flint's dye books – I'm planning to get my hands on them this Spring. Casselman's book is extremely informative but lacks pictures. Some of the newer dye books have gorgeous pictures that are beautifully styled but basic information like light-fastness is missing. 


Velma said...

again, visiting, and i have some experience with copper penny dye. what i use are the leavings of copper pipes from plumbing...any plumber will have a couple of i found about 10 inches, put in a glass jar, filled half and half ammonia and water, and covered for three weeks or so, until the dye ran. first there was blue, then green, then a wonderful rusty brown. i dyed wool, linen, porcupine quills, and cotton.

Karen said...

Wow, I wonder where the brown came from? I heard that new copper pipes are coated and that getting colour from them would take a long time. Did you use new or old pipes? Velma, thanks for the info and for visiting!

hitokoo said...

Wonderful! I'll have to experiment with this technique one day. I like how you use your right hand is for chopsticks even though your left handed :)

Izumba said...

I wonder if you could use this dye as a wood stain? I am trying the vinegar & steel wool stain technique to get a greyish colour on pine, and later on oak. Different types of wood yield different colour tones using this technique but your copper dye yields an interesting blueish tone I'd like to try because I have read that applying my "stain" to pine doesn't give as grey a result as I'm looking for. I'm aiming for a barn board look. What are your thoughts?

Karen said...

Hello Izumba,
I'm not sure if this would work since I haven't intentionally stained wood before (I have unintentionally stained raw wood with walnut dye and it is gorgeous in its own way). The only way to see if it works is to test it on scrap wood and then see if the result is stable when exposed to light. Some dyes are fugitive.

On the other hand, ammonia is dangerous and can burn your lungs if not handled properly. The health risk is not worth the effort. For this reason, I only dyed fabric samples with the copper penny blue technique and will not repeat this process with other fabrics.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I'm pinning this.