Whole Cochineal Insects
Cochineal, or cochinilla, are the renowned insects used to produce scarlet, hot pinks, and purples. Native to the Americas, they make their home on cactus pads. After laying eggs, the female insects are harvested by hand, dehydrated, and are ready to be ground for dyeing.
It only takes a small amount of insects to produce dye. For a light pink, use 1-3% weight of fibers. For mediums, 4-7%, and for darkest colors up to 10% (plus an exhaust bath).
To prepare, grind the cochinilla in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Place the powder in a dye pot with a cup or so of water - ideally distilled. Add a tiny pinch of cream of tartar to assist in extraction. Bring to a low boil for 15 minutes, and pour off the liquid into another pot, straining out the pulp. Return the pulp to the pan and add more water, repeating the boiling and straining until no more dye is yielded. The poured-off liquid is your dye.
Add *mordanted* fibers to the cool dye (adding more water as needed). Bring to just below a simmer and hold for 45 minutes, or until you like the color. Rinse as usual.
Cochinilla is highly sensitive to pH changes, so you can play around by adding cream of tartar to get scarlet red, or soda ash for more purple tones. Iron also produces beautiful effects.
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