How much color will 4 grams of Cochineal give?

31 Dec

Since it is too dry to collect lichen I’ve been pulling cochineal off of our opuntia cactus.

Cochineal web

Cochineal on Opuntia

Cochineal on Opuntia

We have prickly pear cactus.  I can’t be specific about the cactus, there are several kinds here in Blanco county, no thorns, thick thorns, long thorns.  I need to stare at the cactus more but here’s a link to all the types of cactus.  The Hibbitt’s family has given a good start on cactus id.

Meanwhile back to the cochineal….I’ve tried to leave cochineal on the cactus so I have some next year.  The first harvest yielded about 7 grams.  Figuring out how to harvest was quite amusing.   I went thru several tools.  Harley was very patient during his catwalks, while I scraped cactus, he sniffed for birds.

After collecting a small amount I was curious as to how much was “not enough”  so I started with 7 grams of fresh cochineal and web for 100 grams of substrate.  I used Lana D’Oro Cascade Yarn which in this case is 50% superfine alpaca and 50% wool.  Yike, .07% dyestuff for the yarn, would it work?  AND would the superfine alpaca portion hold up to the dye pot?  Well, first I needed to extract the color.  After reading thru some references and listening to suggestions to blog readers I went with my basic path of least resistance and did it the easy way.  Dump the dyestuff into my rainwater and simmer away.  I did about 3 extractions after simmering and sitting and filtering.

I went with two skeins so I could see how they deep a color they struck.  They were premordanted with alum sulfate.  Within 5 minutes I had a nice bright fuschia tone.  Wanting to see if I could push it to a different red I added cream of tarter to one of the skeins and it went towards a deeper rose.  Now this is impressive  for just 7 grams of color.  I don’t particularly like pastels so next time I’ll try more fresh cochineal and try a light iron dip to push it darker.   I can always muddy these skeins with iron also.  Stay tuned!  Ah!  And the alpaca/wool mix held up well to a dye pot.  Live is Good!

11 Responses to “How much color will 4 grams of Cochineal give?”

  1. Snowcatcher December 31, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    What a spectacular experiment! Thank you for the helpful how-tos. The color is just wonderful!


  2. rsmalbin December 31, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Paint the town Red! Happy New Year! Beautiful colors!


  3. Sandra Rude January 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    They’re powerful little bugs, so I’m not surprised that you got lots of color from a small amount. Happy New Year to you! Is this the year you want to come weave on the jacquard?


    • debmcclintock January 1, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      These are about 1/3 the size of the commercial bugs you can buy. I was close to 1% of the dye but was still amazed at the amount of color. No wonder cochineal was high on the list of business espionage in the early days. Hmmmmm, I am coming to the west coast in Sept for the TSA conference, maybe I can combine the trips…..tempting!


      • mazzaus January 7, 2014 at 5:45 am #

        Amazing to get such colour from such a tiny amount of dyestuff!


  4. Recombinant DNA January 9, 2014 at 1:21 am #

    Just stumbled on your blog. How beautiful! I’m living in San Antonio at the moment and I’m amazed by the colors you have created drawing on the colors of the Hill Country. This is inspiring me to see the landscape in a totally different way!


  5. Sandy O January 10, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Happy New Year. I am a new wool/alpaca spinner/dyer/weaver/knitter living in Southeastern Arizona. Thanks for sharing your experiments. I will go out and search for the cochineal today!


  6. Michelle Brass March 13, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    I found your site while researching a science project to try with my son. We live in Phoenix and have several heavily infested cacti around the neighborhood. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough cochineal for our dye but I’m thinking now that we’ll have more than enough to give our dying experiments a try. Thank you so much!


    • debmcclintock March 13, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

      Happy to help. I did collect my bugs over a couple of weeks. Kept in a pudding cup in a sealed mason jar until I had enough. Weigh the pudding cup first and mark it that way you’ll know how much you have without fiddling with bugs/cup as you collect. Good luck!


      • Michelle Brass March 14, 2014 at 12:54 am #

        No worries! I just gathered 24 grams from one large cactus a few blocks from my house. There were whole pads completely covered in bugs and webs. My kids think we saved the poor cactus, but there were still tons more after we filled our little jar. Fingers crossed that our dye experiments go as well as our bug collecting 🙂 Thanks again.


      • debmcclintock March 14, 2014 at 12:58 am #

        Wow, that’s way more than I’ve had access to! Enjoy the color!


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