Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Simply Red: Another Dye Day for the Tour de Fleece 2014

It's a hot, sunny, breezy day here.  I thought I'd take advantage of the warm weather to start the next dye pot. I've finished my black walnut husk bath, from which I extracted two rich browns (no mordant except for the tannin in the husks) and a steel grey, from the exhaust bath cooked out in a cast iron pot:

White Corriedale fleece dyed in exhaust bath (iron pot): Note the vegetable matter in the wool.  I have some prepping to do!

I've decided to go for something brighter again, using one of my favourite dyes-cochineal. Cochineal, grown and harvested in Mexico, where the insect is raised on cactus pads, gives beautifully rich reds to luxurious purples, depending on the mordants used and whether the bath is acid or alkaline.  (I shift the pH of the bath by adding lemon juice or vinegar to make it acidic, or baking soda, if I want to move to purples. Cochineal is a substantive dye, requiring no mordants; however, adding different metallic salts will extend my range of colours.)  There are few natural dyes which give true reds; unfortunately for vegetarians or vegans, most of them are animal based, and the dyes are obtained by crushing and boiling the insect to release the dye.  Because of this and the fact that cochineal, lac and kermes are expensive, I limit my red dyeing to once or twice yearly and I use every bit of the bug to full advantage.  I honour what has been sacrificed so that I can experience Red.

I begin by weighing out a small amount of the dried insects.  (As little as 1% of cochineal to WOF (Weight of Fibre) can colour the fibres.)  I'm using 25 grams of insects, which I grind to a powder, using mortar and pestle.  A coffee grinder works well, too, but the one I used for grinding dyes bit the dust just before I left for Olds and I haven't yet replaced it. Besides, careful grinding with these old tools adds to the alchemic feel of the process.  

You wouldn't think that something which looks like this would do much to colour anything:

Place the powder in a section of pantyhose and soak it in a pot of warm water which has been left to stand overnight (to release the chlorine and other chemicals which can weaken the dye) and magic begins:

That rich colour appeared within five minutes of the cochineal hitting the water.  I'll allow it to stand covered in the hot sun for a day or two before I begin dyeing fibres.  You can read more about the process of raising, processing and using cochineal as dyes by clicking here, but be prepared to learn more than you might care to discover: cochineal extracts are often used to colour foods and drinks. That vegan-friendly consumable may not be as animal free as you think.

The cotton spinning is progressing, but my bobbin looks much the same as it did in my last post, so I'll spare you photos of that.  This afternoon, I'll be walking over to the studio to teach Renew for Cancer yoga.  Given the heat, I may arrive with a red tinge of my own!  (Not really-I'm that woman you see wandering the streets covered head to toe in hat, long-sleeved shirt, pants and a wrap around my neck.  "My Woman of Mystery Look," as Scott, one of the instructors at Bodhi Tree Yoga, referred to me when he saw me arrive in my garb. I cling desperately to the image that phrase planted in my mind.)


1 comment:

  1. I knew that cochineal was red, but that was the limit of my knowledge. Thank you, I enjoyed reading about your yearly foray into red!!