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Dyeing with Cochineal

Dyeing with Cochineal

Cochineal bugs (Dactylopius coccus) give the most amazing red colour. They are a scale insect and grow on cactus. Surprisingly, they are also an FDA-approved food colouring. Here is a brief documenting of my dyeing of Merino wool scarves in my back yard using cochineal as a dye. I used Merino wool in a knit fabric which is very soft and allows for amazing colours. 

The botanical drawing on the left by José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez (1737 – 1799). (Newberry Library: Vault Ayer MS 1031) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  

The photo to the right is one of my dyed Merino wool scarves that shows this amazing colour. Very vivid, indeed.

My dyeing begins with 'blank' Merino wool fabric.

Before I dye the scarves, I must weigh each one. Here are the small bundles ready for weighing. 


The scarves are dyed in small batches in the stainless steel (very large) pot.  


Here is the cochineal dye vat in action.


Scarves drying on the rack and clothes line. Both dark and light shades. The lighter shade is achieved with adding cream of tartar to push the pH towards a brighter red.


A sampling of the final dye project - a very fine Merino wool scarf. 


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