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Cochineal ~ Getting Started

Natural Dyeing with Cochineal

Cochineal, a magical magenta natural dye and creator of the colors of life itself -- bold reds, fiery pinks, luscious magentas and moody purples.


Cochineal is a natural dye that is a tiny parasitic scale insect that lives on the pads of the prickly pear cacti, which are found growing in much of the sub-tropic and tropics of the Americas.

It can be purchased whole or crushed as a powder, but either way, the color it graciously gives is as deep and rich as its history of use over the past few thousands of years.


If using whole, I recommend wrapping your Cochineal in a loosely-woven (e.g. cheesecloth) pouch. It will keep the individual cochineal from sticking to everything that enters the dye pot while allowing you to easily press it against the sides of the pot to release more color continuously throughout the process.

I have been known to use my dye for 3-4 times before fully exhausting the dyebath of all color.


You've probably heard of carmine even if you haven't heard of Cochineal itself. It's used a lot in products sold as "natural" and is an incredibly rich source of bright, safe color. If you check your labels, it is most often found in ice creams, juices, yogurts, and candy, but also in cosmetics (think: eye shadows, rouge, lipsticks).


Cochineal has been used for thousands of years. As simple as crushing a bug, it likely wasn't too hard for humans to discover this source of bright and brilliant color. And from body paint, to decorating daily goods, humans learned that to create a long-lasting color, this adjective dye requires a mordant additive to create especially durable, rinse-resistant and light-fast color on textiles.