Sunday, March 02, 2008

Field Trip!!! Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) simplified.

You've probably heard about Cochineal, the red dye developed by native Mexican people from little insects. It's hard to picture the whole process of making that dye, isn't it?

I went to visit Scullyknits today. We were walking out to my car, trying to isolate a particularly fragrant plant, when she suddenly stopped short. "Do you know what this is? It's cochineal," pointing to a webby white little knot on a large, smooth cactus. I looked, and saw several clusters of little white knots. They resembled Kleenex that's been through the dryer and colonized onto your favorite black fleece top.

"The one that's spelled like you'd pronounce it as co-chenille?"

"Yes, that's it."

She grabbed a bit of twig, and smashed one of the little linty white knots. "You have to scrape them all together and use a mordant and everything, but I really want to try dyeing something."

The linty spot burst, and released a brilliant, raspberry goo. I can't wait to try THIS!! We both hope more beetles move in.


Anonymous said...

"We both hope more beetles move in." - but keep an eye on the plants if you care about them, because those buggers can cause a lot of damage.
I used to squash those things in my grandmother's garden, and it was the only time she gladly let me touch her plants...
I'm looking forward to the colors you'll come up with.


smariek said...

Very cool!

junior_goddess said...

I can see your point, Marta, because a heavy infestation could really stress the plant.

sk said...

I learn something today, thank you.

Trish - My Merino Mantra said...

Boy, did I miss the boat. At first I thought you were talking about the inner ear!

Enid said...

I got few acres you could trek trough I'll bet you could find a few out there. ;)
Call me I'll give you the combo to get in or I can meet you out there on a weekend.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful find! I attended a natural dye day once, but hadn't prepared by fiber with a good mordant (alum was suggested, I think) but found out I could dye by stuff in indigo and cochineal baths. I'd love to get my hands on more of those little beetles. What fun!

Anonymous said...

Can't make a casual comment around Bets :)
I've not found these bugs to have much of an effect on the cactus, nor have the spread to other plants in the yard; even the white lantana that grows below the prickly pear picutured. I did have a different type of 'cotton scale' wipe out my favorite red verbena in less than a week.

I haven't figured out how to scrape them off without smashing.