The C of Red

cochineals01
Red wool, dyed with cochineals and/or madder root.

I’ll be honest, this picture is not an adequate representation of the actual colors, there’s a) my color perception that loves reds, b) the accuracy of my camera and c) the calibration of my screen. Anyway, I did my best, in different lightings and this is the least bad result.

But enough about the quality of my photos, what on there is what is important: dyed fiber!

After reading weird weekends’ post about crushing bugs, I had to go and get me some bugs. Yes, as a vegetarian, who rescues spiders from the kitchen sink, I went to go buy cochineals to dye with.

I left with 10 grams of cochineals, some Allum and Tartaric Acid, and an unreasonable excitement about the future crushing of already dead bugs.

At school, in the module dyeing and binding off of last year, I had the chance of dyeing with cochineals on wool, or at least see my teacher do it. She obtained a bright fuchsia, which isn’t really my color, definitely not on its own. So I classified cochineals as something I would never dye with unless I there was nothing else available. But seeing weird weekends post, I had to change my mind. That red!

That being said, two weeks ago, I had to stay at my parents’ place to babysit their pets. So I packed my bugs, mordants, fiber and got busy. I stayed true to weird weekends’ recipe when it comes to timing and the mordants I used. But I wanted to try dyeing two shades so I used following mordant proportions 30%/20% (Allum/Tartaric Acid) and 40%/10%.

I made four portions of my wool, 2 of them went in the 30%/20% mordant and the other two in the 40%/10% mordant. I put one portion wool prepared with each mordant in the the cochineals dye bath and then put the other two in a dye bath with madder root.

In the picture it is hard to see but the two sachets are 2 different shades of red, one is more burgundy and one a little more orange-red. The 40%/10% and 30%/20% wool in cochineals following recipe I’ve linked when it comes to timing. I did filter the cochineals with a coffee filter before I put the wool in!

Now the top strands are madder root. When those two came out of the dye bath at the same time the cochineal strands did, there was no difference between the two strands although the mordants had been different. They also came out lighter than I intended, so I decided that they simply hadn’t been in the dye bath long enough. Nonetheless, I put them to dry next to the cochineals and went about preserving the dyebath I had made.

Because I hadn’t put in any salt or acid in the dye bath it was good to be used again, so I put the residue from the coffee filter back into each dye bath and canned them. (The word canner makes me think of a tin can, which is not what I used). Now my jars were sealed, I stored them at home in my cupboard, awaiting the arrival of my own canner.

Lo and behold:

Now the canner had arrived and since I still wasn’t very happy with the madder root dyed wool, I grabbed my gloves and got back to it.

Firstly, I made some oxalic acid by boiling the rhubarb leaves. A small part of the acid I mixed with water and put one part of the madder root dyed wool in. That jar, together with the jar with acid I put in the canner for an hour and then left them out on the counter to cool down. The next day, when the wool had dried again (without rinsing), I put it in the cochineals dye bath, the other strand that I had left untouched, I put in a nylon stocking and put it in the madder root dye bath (with the madder root itself still in it). Both dye baths I warmed to 60°C for one hour and then left it until I came back home from work. Then I warmed it again for an hour, again left it to cool and then I pulled the wool out of both baths.

The result are the two strands at the top of my first picture. The strand I dyed with madder root only is the lightest color, but still I obtained a deep orange bordering red. The strand I dyed with cochineals after, became a shade of red lighter than the orange-red I had obtained with the cochineals only, but still darker than the madder root only one.

So, 4 shades of red, ranging from deep orange to burgundy, which I’m very pleased with. Hopefully sometime in the following weeks I’ll find some time to spin it as well :)

The C of Red

7 thoughts on “The C of Red

    1. I love madder root. It is one of those dyes that you can leave for several days if you want. The longer your yarn is in the bath, the darker it’ll get. At least, that’s my experience.

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  1. Reds are notoriously hard to get properly, so well done! I’d never have the courage to buy cochineals, but your results really show why they were used for dyeing as a norm for so long :)

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    1. Thanks! Although, weird weekends gets all of the credit because it is his recipe :)
      To be honest, I tried natural dyes before, with every single one I tried, I didn’t get the result I wanted. It put me off for a while, I explored synthetic dyes next and then came back to it. I find it is easier to dye smaller quantities of fiber when I’m experimenting (I’m dyeing in ~ 1 liter jars meant for preserving food) and I always use a fleece for which I have no other plans than to experiment on, that way it isn’t a huge loss if the fiber doesn’t turn out the way I wanted. The only downside to natural dyes is that I have to travel quite far to buy them.

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      1. Interesting, how you went full circle with the dyes! Will you ever go back to acid dyes? And why do you have to travel far – online shopping not your preference?

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  2. I will never abandon synthetic dyes because those I can buy online from a shop in the Netherlands without much trouble. As for plant-based dyes, I have thusfar not found an online shop in Belgium that sells it. But I also must say that I didn’t look very hard. Online shops also usually have shipping costs and for products that cost only a few euros, the shipping will most likely be more than that. I think it is a waste if the shipping cost is higher or the same amount as the product I’m buying.
    If I buy outside the EU then my package will most likely get held up by customs and even then. I mean, when I lived in France and my mom sent me a packet of green leaf tea, I had to wait for a month to recieve my package only to found it had been opened and searched. So I’m definitely partial to buying things like that online.

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