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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.


Cochineal, like so many Natural Dyes, will show color differently on different fiber and fabric types. However, the fiber type being dyed matters substantially less than the pH and additives incorporated into the cochineal dye process.

For bright, bold, long-lasting color, always pre-mordant with Alum. For brighter red hues, add Cream of Tartar. For brighter orange-red hues, add an acid (e.g. lemon, vinegar, etc.). For deeper fuschia hues, add an alkaline (e.g. baking soda, soda ash, etc.).   For deep purples, add Iron.


Cochineal needs a pre-mordant for long-lasting results (wash fastness and light fastness). Alum or Alum in combination with a Tannin work well for this purpose.

In addition, the use of Iron, before dyeing or afterward, shifts Cochineal to a gorgeous, brilliant magenta-purple color.


Cochineal is a very potent dyestuff. 20 grams will dye a varied quantity of items, dependent on the weight of those items and what shade of color you are looking for (dark, medium, lighter tones).

To achieve a rich, dark color, use approximately 5-10% the weight of the dry fabric.


Want to see what kind of results Cochineal give on different fibers (wool, silk, cotton, bamboo, etc.) and with different mordants? Check out the results here.


Coming soon.... Subscribe today for updates on future tutorials, posts and sales!


For more information on Natural Dyes and each step of the Natural Dye process, check out "Intro to Natural Dye," ANINI Designs' 48-page eBook.

I cover everything I teach in my 4-hour in-person Intro to Natural Dye Workshops, in addition to offering eco-friendly adaptions to the process.


Subscribe today for more posts on fiber arts, weaving, natural dye and the intersection of each of these with the #mindfulmaking and #slowcraft movements. Cheers! - Jeanine


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