More Natural Dyeing with Cochineal

More Natural Dyeing with Cochineal

This is the last of my summer experiments with natural dyeing.  Cochineal are those little scale insects that are picked off of cacti.


I’ve seen some really nice results using cochineal such as Nada’s experience she posted on the forum this summer.

As with my previous experiments, I used small amounts of silk habatoi, silk gauze, silk mulberry, wool yarn, and merino and corriedale rovings.  They were pre-mordanted.

The cochineal had to be ground.  I used a wooden mortar and pestle, then put them in a blender, then made it into a paste before adding boiling water.

The mixture was then left overnight before adding to the pot. (This was divided into three parts first to use with different modifiers.)

The first pot I used only cochineal.

20160625_155500The second I modified with cream of tartar.


The last I added iron.


After each batch was removed from the pot, I left it “cure” for two days.  Since I didn’t have both the a lot of room to spread them out I left them bunched up hence the lines. They also dried much lighter as you’ll see.


This was cochineal with cream of tartar.  You can see the little bits of bugs on them.20160628_112634Once they were cured, I rinsed them out and hung them to dry.


Cochineal only.


With cream of tartar modifier. A nice bright pink.


With the iron modifier.


While the results were not exactly what I expected, I believe because the bugs weren’t finely ground I got lighter colors.  I may over dye the first batch when I find an electric grinder.  If I had to order cochineal again, I’d look for powder.

Have you done any natural dyeing lately?




26 thoughts on “More Natural Dyeing with Cochineal

    1. The fibers were mordanted with alum. I’m not a chemist and have no idea what the reaction would be to add vinegar and change the ph at that point, but I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks for stopping by.

    2. Vinegar doesn’t mordant at all, but it can enhance red dyes, as you said by changing the pH. Just as an alkali can enhance some yellows.

  1. You got some very nice results, Marilyn. Also, your method of dyeing was a bit different from the one I used. I didn’t leave the silk to cure. I did use electric grinder though. I collected and dried the residue and will use it again. Cochineal “bleeds” constantly during felting (my hands were all red) but in the end I didn’t have a feeling the colour was any paler on the end product.
    Personally, I don’t like this pinky colour too much but I love the results you got with iron mordant.

    1. Thanks Nada! I thought you achieved some beautiful results. It’s good to know the cochineal bleeds during felting. Thanks for the tip. I’m definitely going to find a grinder for next time. The iron definitely made a difference. I’m glad you like it.

  2. As you know, I love natural dyeing so much that I created a blog about it! You did well with the cochineal. The variety of shades you achieved were worth the effort, in my opinion; however, I highly recommend trying the powder next time. It’s a little more pricey but “time is Money.”

  3. Thanks Cathy for your compliment and guidance! I’ve got a lot of the cochineal left. I’m going to try to find a grinder, but definitely will purchase powder next time. The streaks are growing on me, it may make for some interesting Nuno.

  4. Looks like you got some good results Marilyn. I love the organic lines on the fabric. That’s one of my favorite methods of dyeing. Scrunch it up and let it dry to get lots of “texture”.

  5. Thanks Ruth! I’ve done that with acid dyeing, but i didn’t think about it when I let this dry.

  6. Lovely colors Marilyn!!! I would like to do that also, but the cochenille is expensive. I know that if you use iron it most of the time turn out a bit dark.
    I have painted with peacans, and that turned-out a beautiful brown/green color.
    I painted with tansy (is that the right translation?) and gives a yellow color but not that spectaculair as I wanted to be but better than painting with red clover.

    1. Thanks Viltmaaraan! Yes, the cochineal is expensive. But it does give some nice colors.

      I’ve never heard of painting with pecans, red clover or pansies(??) I’m surprised the red clover gave a yellow color. I guess surprises are half the fun! I’d love to see your paintings. Please show us on the forum.

    1. Thanks Karen! I’m not disappointed with any of them. I love experimenting. But now I have to find something to do with all these small pieces. 🙂

    1. Thanks Ann! I had never heard of Tansy. Thanks for the link. I’m still searching for the coffee grinder. 🙂

  7. Hi Marilyn…great experiment–thanks for showing the different results. Where did you get the cochineal and how much did you use? I’m going to check out Cathy’s blog (luvswool) and see what I can learn. Too bad I didn’t get to meet her before I left Michigan. 🙂

    1. I got the cochineal from the Woolery. My instructions called for one tablespoon of powder which I had to grind. I’d recommend buying powder form. This was for 3 oz of fiber. You can also check out and Share your results if you try it. Have fun!

  8. Thanks Terri! I’ll have to check my notes and get back to you on where and how much. I believe Cathy had a tutorial thru her etsy shop linked to her blog.

  9. Interesting results, Marilyn! I thought one would only get pinks and reds from cochineal, but mordanting really does change things 🙂

    1. Thanks Leonor! It was the addition of the cream of tartar and iron that made the big changes, they were all mordanted with alum. I always feel like a mad scientist while I’m doing this, but enjoy the surprise when I see the final results.

  10. Wow! Another wonderfully informative post about a process I know so little about. Such a difference between using a mordant vs. no mordant – and the resultant colour changes. So much to learn … so little time!😀

    1. Thanks Cath! Always time to learn. It’s fun! Thanks for stopping by!

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