Cochineal dyeing with Michel Garcia

The official title of this workshop with Michel Garcia at the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca was “Cochineal dyeing in four ways”. It was rather an understatment, as we ended up with 19 different colour swatches from cochineal!

Michel Garcia cochineal demo

Mexico was an appropriate place to do this workshop, given that cochineal is the most popular dye used there. Mexico once had a monopoly on it – it was the second most valuable export after silver – but after the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century cochineal was also produced in Guatemala, north Africa and the Canary Islands.

You can visit cochineal farms around Oaxaca. The cochineal beetle, Dactylopius coccus, lives on Opuntia cactus species. The red colour comes from the carminic acid that makes up around 20% of its body. To make the dye, the dried beetles are ground up in a pestle and mortar and then added to the dye bath.

Michel used three different fabrics – wool, silk and cotton – along with different combinations of mordants and astringents to produce 19 different shades from cochineal, ranging from pink and orange to purple and dark brown. It was an extraordinary demonstration of the variations in colour you can get from one dye.

Cochineal on wool

The fabric Michel used for this was actually a mixture of wool warp and cotton weft, so it was interesting to see the difference between the way the protein and cellulose fibres reacted.

cochineal samples on wool

For two of the swatches in this photo he used a one-bath process – one containing persimmon, citric acid and cochineal, the other containing gallnut, citric acid and cochineal. You can see very clearly how the tufts of wool at the edges have taken up the colour much more strongly than the cotton weft.

The other three swatches were premordanted (with alum or symplocos) before dyeing in a separate cochineal bath.

Cochineal on silk

Michel also compared the one-bath and two-bath processes on silk.

cochineal swatches on silk

In the photo above, two swatches were dyed in one bath, the first one containing unripe persimmon, citric acid and cochineal, the second one cutch, citric acid and cochineal.

The other two swatches were premordanted (one in saturated alum and the other with aluminium tartrate) before dyeing with cochineal.

Cochineal on cotton

For the cotton demonstration Michel used strips of cotton that he had prepared with different combinations of aluminium acetate and ferrous acetate mordants – it’s a great idea if you do lots of testing with natural dyes.

The strip below was dyed with cochineal and pomegranate rind.

cochineal swatches on cotton

The strip below was dyed with cochineal and gallnut extract.

cochineal swatches on cotton

Finally, Michel demonstrated his artistic side, using different combinations of mordants to paint an image onto cloth that didn’t appear until it was submerged in the dye pot. 🙂

Michel garcia cochineal dyeing

All in all, a very intense but stimulating workshop.

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4 thoughts on “Cochineal dyeing with Michel Garcia”

  1. Wow! That looks like a lot of work. But the colors are all great. Would you be interested in writing a few posts about your Mexico experience for The Felting and Fiber Studio blog? Just let me know.

    1. I’d be very happy to do that, Ruth. I’m just planning the content of my next few Mexico posts for this blog, so email me and let me know what you think your readers would be interested in. 🙂

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