Natural Dyeing: Cochineal

A couple of weeks ago I dyed some yarn using cochineal. I did try cochineal a year ago, but I used the powder and this time I used whole dried cochineal bugs.

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I had now idea how to use these so I followed instructions from Riihivilla blog, I bought the cochineal from Leenas web shop and she has written a really comprehensive and detailed blog post about it (read it here) both Finnish and English and I’m not going to repeat it here. In short cochineal is an insect that has been used for centuries in dyeing things red, it originates from South-America. You can get it also in powder form, but as Leena says in her blog post it’s easier to clean up the equipment when you use whole dried ones and after trying both I agree. Cochineal has a lot of pigment in it and with the powder everything tends to get red. Plus I think using the dried bugs is more interesting although maybe also a bit more gross.

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The dried out bugs interest a curious cat who interrupts my photo-shoot session.

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With the whole cochineal bugs you have to let them soak in hot water overnight to  maximize the colour. You can get the exact measurements from Leenas blog. The other thing I found interesting is the fact that when dyeing with cochineal you should actually use quite high temperatures unlike with madder. I usually keep the temperature under 80 °C so the wool yarn will not suffer. This time I forgot to monitor the temperature and the dye bath actually started boiling. The yarn was okay though and before when the temperature was lower the colour of the yarn was definitely more orange. I guess the red pigments fix to the fibers in higher temperatures.

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I used the dye bath for a second time and got a lighter pink colour. After this I could clearly see that I wasn’t going to get anymore colour out of the dye bath. It was very neat and clean, just shift the cochineal bugs away, give the pot a little wash and your done. I took another good advice from Leenas blog and I let the yarns dry first before rinsing them, she says that that way the colour sticks better to the yarn.

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