Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cochineal - The Red That Colored the World

"Throughout art history, a broad red brushstroke has colored the finest art and expressions of daily life. Yet, while most people know red, few know of its most prolific and enduring source: American Cochineal, a tiny scaled insect that produces carminic acid. Fewer still know the story behind its explosive global spread after its first encounter by Spain in 16th century Mexico."  From the  Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art's  website. This month, they will be opening a new show entitled : The Red That Colored the World. See more information about that HERE.

This show got me thinking about doing something different and was my inspiration to weave a collection of wool hatbands, using yarn dyed with cochineal.
I went shopping on the web and found some New Mexico Churro yarn, handspun and hand dyed by volunteers at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas. In nearby Santa Fe, it is a museum dedicated to the history, heritage and culture of 18th and 19th century New Mexico. They have a very active fiber arts program!

 I purchased several shades of cochineal-dyed yarn in red-orange, maroon, pink, and purple. To that, I added some white and yellow. Using this yarn proved to be a challenge as it was all single ply and some was thick and thin.

The results were good, I think. It was fun to challenge myself to make interesting and varied patterns using only 19-25 threads. It is unusual for me to weave such narrow pieces with such thick yarns. I used my Ashford Inklette loom and wove these one at a time.

Some surprising color changes occurred during the rinsing process. The yellow turned to a rich gold color which I find particularly beautiful. The red-orange darkened to maroon. Fun!

After the first few, I started combining these yarns with some from my stash to create more varied color combinations. Mostly, I stuck with other yarns which were made in New Mexico.

After using up all six skeins from that original purchase, I found another source of naturally-dyed  yarns on Etsy. The skeins pictured below were purchased from Heritage Yarn's Etsy shop.
It is a nice two-ply wool. The blue was dyed with indigo, and the gold with onion skins. Her yarn prices are VERY low and it is nice to work with.

Since there is more yardage in these skeins, I didn't feel as though I needed to be as conservative in using them. I am weaving on my Schact loom, and am able to warp it to weave two  hatbands at a time. So far, I'm on my fifth one. Because the two-ply yarn is easier to work with, as is the larger loom, this group is going faster!  

Some of these will soon be listed for sale in my Etsy shop and at other various locations in New Mexico.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of years ago I met and visited Jaime and Joey. They are Zapotec weavers who live in Central California. Jaime is the 8th generation of weavers in his family. The grow cochineal beetles hanging on cactus pads on their front porch. Jaime's father gathered them on a trip to Southern California. The beetles make fuzzy white protective layers over themselves. Periodically Jaime gathers them and dries them. While I was there, he crushed one to show me the red they produce. I have photos of it in the slide show on my website at