crimson from cochineal

cochineal is a scale insect that feeds on a certain cactus


Cochineal insects  (Dactylopius coccus) have long been used to produce crimson-colored dyes, primarily in food coloring. It is a small mealy bug that lives and feeds on the prickly pear cacti’s moisture and nutrients.  Cochineal insects have high concentrations of Carminic acid. It is extracted from the insect and is mixed with alum to make carmine or cochineal dye. They are native to South America and Mexico, and Peru is the largest producer and exporter of cochineal.

An interesting observation that I’ve made with cochineal is the carmine red changed to orange when I’ve added an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to the dye solution.  When I’ve added an alkaline (soda ash), the color shifted to a dark fuchsia and deep violet to purple when iron was added. This demonstrates that cochineal is sensitive to pH.

rose leaf print with crimson color from cochineal dye

close up on rose leaf print

full length of scarf overdyed in cochineal dyebath

splashes of crimson and green from rose leaf

close-up of tie markings

this is how I display this scarf in the gallery

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“A smile is worth a thousand words, live happy, dye happiest”.

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4 Responses to crimson from cochineal

  1. I bought a great book, while in Oaxaca Mexico a couple of years ago. It shows all of the shades you can get from cochineal…… changing the PH. It’s written all in Spanish…. but someday I will sit down and translate the ‘recipes’ and so I can do a thorough exploration of the dye possibilities. Right now, I just play with it….. loving whatever outcomes happen.
    The book is called “Grana Cochinilla” by Ignacio del Rio y Duenas.
    Your scarf is lovely! 🙂


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