Some more samples to share from my Fibre Arts with Natural Dyes class – this time, red. To achieve these shades of red, we used cochineal from Maiwa Supply in Vancouver. Cochineal is unique among the natural dyes we’ve been using in class in that it isn’t a plant but an insect. The bodies of female insects of the species Dactylopius, which live on the prickly pear cactus native to Mexico, Central and South America and the Canary Islands, are ground using a mortar and pestle or dedicated spice/coffee grinder. Cochineal is also widely used in food, cosmetics and drugs – you may remember some of the press Starbucks got lately, which resulted in the company promising to phase out use of the insect. This article from Scientific American is a good read if you’re interested in learning more.
It’s a tough one for me to personally take a stance on. There’s the argument of synthetic red colourings vs. natural, insect-based colour, and the environmental and health impacts of both. I’m interested in exploring other sources of red as well, such as Brazilwood, but I suppose what I’m learning is that these natural dyes all have their impact and industry. Is harvesting Brazilwood better? is using a synthetic dye better? It’s a complex issue.
It’s pretty wild to see the difference in uptake in the cellulose fibre samples (cotton and linen) and protein fibre samples (wool and silk). This was with 6% wog (weight of goods) cochineal that had been steeping for seven hours before we dyed. I’m curious to see what a longer dip would result in.
[Photos courtesy of Christopher]