Cochineal bugs in natural dyeing have been used for centuries, in countries such as Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina and the Canary Islands. Currently, the largest producer of Cochineal for natural dyeing is Peru.
Cochineal coloring agent is obtained from the parasitic cochineal insect, which lives on the pads of cactus plants. It provides a coveted crimson red colour.
The dye from Cochineal has been used as a food colouring in such items as raspberry jam, canned cherries, strawberry licorice and red velvet cake!
For centuries, Cochineal insects have also been used to colour textiles and cosmetics.
Traditional harvesting of cochineal insects is a time-consuming process. The bugs are scraped off the pads of prickly pear to be dried and turned into natural dyes. Due to these labour intensive methods, the price of Cochineal is steadily rising.
On my most recent trip to Mexico (February 2023) I visited Teotitlán del Valle, a weavers’ village outside of Oxacaca City. I purchased just under 500 grams of insects.
A small amount yields intensive colour, which is PH sensitive. To make more orange shades, acidic modifiers such as vinegar are added. Colours with modifiers such as soda ash will give purplish tones.
Cochineal & Himalayan Rhubarb dyes with shibori stitch and eco printing on damask linen
Shibori stitching while in Oaxaca City