Vegetable Ivory

July 12, 2008

I would like to try some carving with vegetable ivory.

Used from the 19th century in Europe and America to make buttons, figurines, toys etc. it’s a sustainable alternative to elephant tusk ivory made from the South American tagua nut. Harvesting and carving tagua provides an alternative source of income to cutting down rainforests.

The tagua nut is an extremely hard palm nut so I gather that it’s very difficult to carve by hand, but I think it could be used to make a nice cameo.

UK-based LeJu uses tagua nuts and other tropical seeds to make cool and colourful jewellery.

LeJu necklace - Tigre

LeJu necklace - Tigre


with examples from Etsy

  • Heating copper unevenly with a torch can create interesting patterns of oxidisation (marbled orange, black, brown).
    • Don’t pickle!
    • The surface can be protected, for example, with a rouge polish.

(from thenoisyplume at Etsy)

  • Leaf, powders, and foils can be applied to create a more precious and/or more colourful appearance.
    • Apply Japanese gold size to the desired area and allow it to dry before applying the leaf or powder.
    • To apply leaf rub a sable brush against your cheek to generate static electricity and use the brush to break and lift pieces of leaf.
    • This finish is quite delicate and works best when inset, for example, in a domed or textured surface.

(from willaburke at Etsy)

  • Enamelling is a great way to apply vivid colours to metal. Enamels may be translucent or opaque and can be used in conjunction with foils, cloisonné wire etc.

(from Studio94 at Etsy)

  • A copper plating may be obtained by placing metal in a pickle that has had copper in it.
  • You can use a variety of store bought (such as antiquing solutions) or hand mixed chemicals to create various patinas on metals. Liver of Sulphur (Potassium Sulfide) can be used to darken metal and an ammonium chloride solution can be used to create a characteristic green patina on copper. A number of patina recipes can be found in ‘The Complete Metalsmith’.

(from AntiGenre at Etsy)