Marie-Claire Springham

Hemacite - Bloody Plastic

Designer Basse Stittgen exhibited his “Blood Plastic” at the Materials District in Rotterdam last week. Made from 100 per cent dried and pressed cow’s blood with no additives, the designer wanted to explore “the interplay between the strong symbolic meaning of blood and its physicality.”


Hemacite Rollerskates - Hemacite was inexpensive, versatile and used for everything from doorknobs, buttons and jewellery, to high quality roller-skates. Touted as “susceptible to a high polish, impervious to heat, moisture, atmospheric changes, and practically indestructible” it only fell out favour with the popularity of new plastics such Bakelite.

Sounds icky? This punk plastic received a lot of attention at the show, but variants of it have actually been around for a long time. Enter Dr W. H Dibble, a 19th century materials specialist from New Jersey and the inventor of “hemacite”, a combination of animal blood and sawdust. What is striking is that this freaky, forgotten material was everywhere.

Due to the expansion of the butchering and slaughtering trade in the 1800s, disposing of copious amounts of blood had become a public concern due to its tendency to attract rats. Banned from dumping blood in sewers and rivers, heating and hydraulically pressing it into a solid building material provided an efficient solution.

So could it make a comeback? 100 years on and we still have a wasteful meat industry and plastic is no longer the miracle product it once was. With the growth of alternative materials and bioplastics, could Stittgen be at the cutting edge of something gruesome, but “bloody brilliant”?