Natural Dyes – Cochineal

Cochineal is a natural dye substance that comes from the crushed bodies of insects, Dactylopius coccus, found on prickly pear cacti. Cochineal can be used with or without mordants and produces reds, pinks and purples.

Weigh out the amount of cochineal that you need.
Crush and grind the cochineal into a fine powder.
Place the ground cochineal into a small glass jar and cover with water.
Let the cochineal mixture sit overnight.
The following day, fill a dyepot with hot water, sufficient to cover the fibre completely.
Bring the water to a boil and add the cochineal mixture.
Boil for 15 minutes, and skim off the froth and cochineal that has risen to the surface.
The cochineal can be dried and reused.
Add the clean, wet fibre or yarn to the dyebath.
Let the dyebath simmer for 35 – 40 minutes.
Remove the fibre/yarn, rinse in warm water and dry.

– Cochineal with no mordant gives pinks/magenta.
– Cochineal with tin mordant yields reds/oranges.
– An ammonia afterbath will result in purples.

Wool dyed with Cochineal
Alum Mordant

Cochineal Dye Concentrate
The above is a dye recipe that I have used for many years. Using this method, I found it difficult to remove the bits of cochineal from the yarn. I have since revised my methods of extracting the dye from the cochineal to make a dye concentrate and to filter out the bits of dye material before I add the yarn or fibre.

I measured out approx 10 grams of dried cochineal and put it into a coffee grinder.

Cochineal Dye Process
Cochineal Dye Process

After grinding the cochineal I placed it into a small stainless steel pot.
Cochineal Dye Process
Cochineal Dye Process

I added approx 200 ml of water and simmered the dye concentrate on the stove for about 30 min.
Cochineal Dye Process
Cochineal Dye Process

After simmering the dye concentrate, I let it cool and then poured it through a coffee filter.
Coffee Filter for Dye Extraction
Coffee Filter for Dye Extraction

Depending on how finely you have ground the cochineal, it may plug up the filter of the coffee press. If so, pour the filtered dye concentrate into the dyepot, and replace the filter with a new one. Be sure to wear gloves, to avoid staining your hands with the red dye.
Filter the remaining dye concentrate.

Do not throw out the Cochineal as the dye can be reused until all the dye has been exhausted.
Add more water and reheat the dye mixture to extract more colour.

Cochineal dye is pH sensitive.
To reduce pH <5 add some Cream of Tartar (tartaric acid), vinegar or Citric acid. This will give you bright orange/reds. To increase the pH add some ammonia, Calcium carbonate or Soda ash. This will give you darker red/purples. Peruvian Women Demonstrate Cochineal Dyeing – You Tube

Natural Dye Recipes
Madder Dye Recipe
Sandalwood Dye
Osage Orange Dye
Logwood Dye
Mushroom Dyes
Brazilwood dye
tin Mordant
Rhubarb Leaf Mordant
Alum Mordant

Natural Dye Books
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes
Botanical Colour at your Fingertips
The Modern Natural Dyer: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen and Cotton at Home
A Weaver’s Garden: Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers

The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer’s Field Guide
Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes
A Heritage of Colour: Natural Dyes Past and Present by Jenny Dean (2014-06-10)
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes
The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use