Dyes of antiquity: Opal Cochineal

Some time back, I started a series of posts using dyes that have been gifted to my Guild–or perhaps just abandoned there!  Among the haul of amazing dyes of unknown provenance and considerable age was quite an amount of cochineal.  It had so many forms of packaging and so many forms that I brought together all those with similar labels and packages… and this left small quantities of ‘opal cochineal’ (12 g) and ‘ruby cochineal’ (36 g).  I was absolutely unable to figure out whether these were marketing terms or actual descriptions of the dye qualities of the dried bugs themselves, and finally I decided to find out.

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Step 1: weighing the opal cochineal, consulting the dye books (I went with Rebecca Burgess on this one), and stitching my dried insects into a pouch.  I abhor stockings, so they only come my way from other people’s discards.  I found an antique nylon curtain in the stash and stitched up a double layer bag for the dyestuff to be sewn into.

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Into the dye bath!  When the mount of colour released almost immediately is so stunning, it’s easy to understand why this dye was so sought after (and of course, still is in some quarters).  I added small quantities of silk embroidery thread at different stages in the process, along side several batches of fleece from ‘Viola’, a silvery-grey English Leicester Cross. The thread looks just great.

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I love the colour from the first bath best, but tried to exhaust the dye, with three batches of fibre.  Total dyed weight: a whopping 72g.  Is it ‘opal’ in some special way??? Let me know if you have a view.

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Here is my little nylon sachet after its many steepings and soakings, heatings and coolings.  I had a chat with a friend at the Guild and she’s been cochineal dyeing too.  Maybe all our exhausted insects will go into one final exhaust bath.

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Filed under Natural dyeing

7 responses to “Dyes of antiquity: Opal Cochineal

  1. marg

    Mazz, thank you for your blog and your fibre practise. I want to purchase some un-dyed silk embroidery thread – any clues?


    • I would suggest Beautiful Silks–if you are in Australia. they have a great range and it includes undyed silk embroidery thread (which I am enjoying very much right now!) Thanks for your comment.


  2. I would love to attend your natural dyeing classes if possible if non-guild members can and perhaps join too. I am particularly interest in dyeing the old way. What beautiful mellow yet vibrant colours. The history connected with it too is so appealing and seeing the colours that would have been worn hundreds of years ago. It is interesting too that these dyes do not ‘go off’ even after what could be years and yet they are of organic origin. That in itself is a very interesting thing to know. Thanks again for a very informative post.


    • Thanks so much, Keryn. I love these colours too! Non Guild members are welcomed at Guild events, it is more an question of knowing they are happening, if you’re not a member. the www site ususally offers a schedule. At present I haven’t got a workshop scheduled but I would like to run them again. I have just been too pressed for time this half of the year.


    • PS you can of course join the Guild if you’re interested. I’d be happy to arrange to meet up on a meeting day and show you round or you could come to our twice a month Wednesday night spinning group and meet some of the posse that is our Guild!


      • I would absolutely love that. I am doing a one day indigo dyeing workshop this Friday at the Guild which I am excited about run by Julie Haddick. If you could put me on a wait list for your classes that would be terrific. I do check the Guild website occasionally to see what’s happening and will do so again. Thanks very much!


      • Enjoy the indigo class! There won’t be a waiting list until there is a class to wait for 🙂 I hate to depend on my memory so let’s both keep an eye on it to improve our chances of meeting, Keryn.


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