Cochineal and Indigo Dyeing

Cochineal and Indigo Dyeing

Yesterday my friend Linda and I did some natural dying with cochineal and indigo.  She had purchased a kit with several kinds of natural dye stuffs and instructions. We decided on cochineal and indigo so we could get fuchsia, blue and purple. cochineal is easy enough to prepare you boil it strain it and then reboil what’s left  and strain 4 times to get you dye solution. It was a lovely deep pink. you have to mordant your things to use cochineal. For cotton you have to first soaking in  tannin and in then in alum. For wool you just use alum.

mordenting for dyeing

Here are a couple of the pieces after they came out of the cochineal

cochineal dyed stuff.

The indigo is a little more involved to get ready and it stinks. first you make up a concentrate using the powder and chemicals. Indigo is used in an alkaline solution. You stir it together and then have to let the purple solution turn yellow/green.

indgo solution Then you have to carefully, under the alkaline water in your bucket, pour the solution in. You do not want to add any oxygen to the dye bath. Then you have to wait another 1/2 hour or so for it all to goes completely yellow again.


When you add your wet articles to dye you have to carefully lower them into the bucket so as not to add any oxygen to the solution.

putin bundles in indigo The magic happens when you take things out of the indigo. Even after just a couple of min in the bucket things will start to go blue when pulled out.

start to change when you take them out after 30 to 40 min you get much better colour. Here is some cotton that was tied in knots so parts would resist the dye.

out of the indigo untieing the clothThe pieces that were in the cochineal where a disappointment. when we added them to the indigo all the red disappeared and only the blue took.  We discovered after doing some research that we were supposed to used the mordent for 24 hours. That would be  2 days of soaking for cotton and one for wool before you can start to dye.  a couple of the cotton gauze pieces did keep a little pink

cotton gauze here are the rest

dryingThese have all been in the indigo once

and these twice. The very dark ones are a natural dark gray Norwegian wool.

multiple dippings

The other thing I tried was my hair it has gotten long enough that it is becoming hard to handle so I am going to get it trimmed soon. So I thought why not have some fun with it first. I stuck it in the cochineal and then in the indigo.

and in cochiniel ann in the indigo

Unfortunately the cochineal washed right out in the indigo and the indigo did not take at all. In the end Linda had some stuff called panic manic that she used to give me the purple I was looking for.

hair dye anns hair

This was a fun day but I think I will go back to my acid and fiber reactive dyes, so much simpler to use and predictable results. If anyone knows why the indigo didn’t work on my hair I would like to know. I though with hair being a protein fiber it should work.

24 thoughts on “Cochineal and Indigo Dyeing

  1. Indigo will dye both protein and plant fibers. Your hair was probably too oily or heavily conditioned for it to cling – it’s a mechanical process not a chemical one. I think your indigo vat looked very weak and by the time you got to your hair, there wasn’t much left in there. You’re probably better off though because indigo-dyed hair would be crocking blue off onto your clothes and upholstery. Remember wearing new blue jeans over white underwear?
    Purple hair is good. 🙂

  2. Perhaps the indigo didn’t work on your hair due to the natural oils. I know that is why you scour cotton and wool before natural dyeing, to remove oils, waxes and such.

  3. Very cool experiment Ann, especially on your hair! I have some indigo mix sitting here. I guess I should try it before end of summer outside if it stinks that bad. 🙂

    1. Thanks Marilyn. Yes you want to do it outside. It really stinks. a stinky swamp would be the politest thing I can think to call it.

  4. Thanks for sharing. This will convince me even more to use only acid dyes, if nothing else, everything goes very quickly and as you observed, the results are more predictable.
    Ha, ha, you must have had fun dyeing your hair in indigo.

    1. Nada, Its fun to experiment with friends, and we will do some others later and this time, maybe, be more prepared. Defiantly not what you want to do if you want to know what you will end up with. all the wool we di ended up felted to one degree or another. It was just to much handling. I will recard it all into batts.

  5. Very interesting post Ann but I think I’ll stick to the little pots of acid dyes!

    The gauze that did retain some cochineal has turned out beautifully and the rest are very pretty shades of blue.

    It looks as though you had fun though so a good day overall.

  6. I especially liked the hair experiment, Ann, since I’ve often wondered what would happen if I did the same! 😀 I’m quite impressed with how Manic Panic ended up working on your hair though, I though you’d need to bleach it to get a really bright result.

    Loved the indigo! It looked really nice on the dark wool, too. I’m not keen on cochineal because it’s animal-based, so I can’t really say anything about it 🙂

    1. Thanks Leonor. The hair experiment was fun. I thin for you r hair to show the colour it has to be light coloured. Dark haired people have to bleach it first. the gray works just fine. This is supposed to wash out gradually but gray hair often doesn’t do that. I didn’t want to put a streak from the top for that reason. Yes the cochineal is little bugs that live on a cactus plant so not vegan.

    2. I was surprised because they say all hair needs bleaching! Good to know that’s not necessarily true.
      I’m not vegan, but using insects for dye just… makes me feel sorry for them! Haha

  7. Looks like you learned a lot from your experiments. I do agree that acid dyes are easier and you get a result that is expected (most of the time) and stable. But it is fun to try new things even if it isn’t something you will repeat often. I guess I wouldn’t have any trouble dyeing my hair purple either since I have so much grey now 🙂

    1. It was a learning experience. and I would try it with some other natural dyes. I do worry about them rubbing off like indigo does. wouldn’t want complaints about people getting ring around the head after buying a hat. 🙂 So what colour are you doing yours Ruth?

  8. You got some really lovely colors on the Indigo. I have asthma, so I would not try this. I would give the hair a 8 on the scale of 1 to 10. Nice color, but kind of creepy.

    1. The indigo is a really nice colour. It did work best on the cottons. Thanks Judy Maybe if its a little creepy people will be a little scared. I find its best if they are a little scared of you. 🙂
      I like to play with hair because it can always be cut and it always grows back. No permanent damage done.

  9. It sounds like a really fun day of natural dyeing, something I would love to try someday, but I will probably opt for a workshop with someone knowledgeable running the vats. You did achieve some beautiful colors!

  10. It’s fun to experiment and you achieved some nice results on the wool and cotton. I’ll reserve judgement on the hair! 🙂

    1. Thanks Koffi, well just turned 50 so it is a good time to do something silly and it is better than a tattoo. Although If I could afford it I would have one…probably a good thing I have better things to spend my money one.

  11. You are so right, Ann! And so yesterday, as I thought about your experience, I clipped half of the leaves off my indigo plant (or so the nursery said it was…) and boiled the leaves then added a small amount of white wool fibers and a tiny piece of white handmade pre-felt. I am not much of a gardener, but leaves were fresh and I really expected blue, but got pale yellow instead. Turns out, the indigo plant is what is called “false indigo.” But never mind, I plan to try this again with other plants. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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