Tag Archives: cochineal

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Happy international women’s day, my friends!  I am feeling grateful today for all the women who came before me and put in such hard work to see that future generations (me included) would have the benefit of the vote, the right to run for parliament, and something much closer to equal pay than they ever knew.  And access to the professions, and to choices about marriage and family life.  And education.  And meaningful responses to violence in all its forms.  And so much more!

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These images are of two of the champions of women;’s rights in my own little part of the world, Mary Lee and Dame Roma Mitchell.  I am celebrating today by going to sing I Can’t Keep Quiet in the International Women’s Day March.  We did a lovely flashmob a few weeks back with MILCK’s song, so some of us have practised up!  And in preparation for today, I knit some pussy hats.  I began with cochineal dyed wool.  I had been wondering when I would ever use it, and recognised this as the time!

Soon, I was off!

I decided to knit my pussy hats in the round, because, you know.  That’s how I roll on anything that could be knit in the round, and I’m not afraid to graft (Kitchener stitch).

Knitting while blogging?

Knitting on the train, because I usually do.  I just kept churning them out until I ran out of wool. Then I had some pinky purple-y handspun and it was a faster knit than the 8 ply (DK) commercial wool.  Finally, I had 4 pussy hats and a lot of conversations with people about what I was knitting that led to raised eyebrows and then conversations about contemporary politics and the inappropriateness of bragging about sexual assault.  I popped them in the mail to an Education Union in Victoria that was calling out for women to wear them in their IWD march.  I’m a member of a different education union, so that seemed completely appropriate to me.  I hope some women in Victoria will be stepping out in handmade pussy hats tonight and feeling fine!

 

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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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Ply time!

A while back I had used almost every bobbin I own, each with a different colour of thread on it.

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Over time there were even more bobbins of singles than this pictures shows…  finally there has been a season of plying, skeining and washing, and now I have this pile instead.

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Logwood purples, purple-greys and purple-browns, a cochineal pink (and a cochineal-logwood exhaust), three indigo blues, two madder exhaust-oranges, and a coreopsis exhaust yellow.  I didn’t take good enough notes of the fibres–some are on merino roving (the madder), some on polwarth, some on grey corriedale. Maybe there is a little of Malcolm the Corriedale in there too!

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And there has been even more bee swarm action in the neighbourhood.  These bees have taken up residence on a rainwater tank, with some support from a ladder! And… I am so over tending the silkworms 🙂

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Dyes of antiquity: Carmine cochineal

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Cochineal is another of the dyes I received from the Guild and used at the workshop a while back.  In fact, there was a choice of cochineals.  In what I realise now was my ignorance, I chose ‘carmine cochineal’ because it was ground up and I was unsure how I could adequately grind the whole dried insects I also have.  As you can see, after an initial period of being dull ornage, the dye bath was an impressively shocking pink.  It turns out that ‘carmine cochineal’ is not a shade of cochineal but a preparation of cochineal boiled with ammonia or sodium carbonate.  I borrowed Frederick Gerber’s Cochineal and the Insect Dyes 1978 from, the Guild and found that the deeper red colour I had in mind when I saw the term ‘carmine’ could only be obtained from this preparation with the application of a tin mordant which I am not prepared to use.  the colours we achieved with alum were well within the range indicated by the included colour chart of wool samples (those were the days!)

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The colour range on this card (with madder beneath for comparison) is impressive even without tin. 

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We dyed organic wool. I dyed silk paj and twined string (the orange string was dyed with madder). 

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I brought the vat home with me and dyed a lot more fibre in an attempt to exhaust it.  Here is grey corriedale mordanted with alum and overdyed with carmine cochineal.

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And spun–three plied.  This is my first ever crocus flower, by the way!

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The magenta silk embroidery thread had maximum time in the bath, since I fished it out when removing the dyestuff (in its recycled stocking) prior to disposing of the bath!

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Natural dyeing workshop

I began the final stage of preparation for my natural dyeing workshop by packing the car to capacity the night before and steeping logwood and madder in hot water. These are more of the dyes that have been left at the Guild.  It seemed good to share them with other Guildies this way.

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I came through the parklands on my way to the Guild and stopped in homage to a few trees.  This one turned out to be E Tricarpa…

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The unpacking was quite a thing.  This is a view of the back seat of the car before unpacking.

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The steeped fermenting walnut hulls (another dyestuff left at the Guild) travelled in the front seat footwell, in a pot with a lid, in a big bucket in case of spills.  No spills.  Whew!! I put heat under them an hour before people arrived in hopes of getting it over with.  My friends, I will never do this again.  It may take me years to live down the smell this dye pot gave off!  At one point when a heater went on, someone told me they had found a dead mouse in the heater.  When I went to see, they were looking for a mouse they were sure must be in there because they could smell it.  Cough!  The women who were rostered on in the Little Glory Gallery in another part of the Guilds premises exclaimed.  So did the treasurer, who came in to work on the books and was similarly appalled.  Eventually walnut tailed off and a eucalyptus bark dyepot began to prevail.  The smell of natural dyeing had people who had come to the gallery wanting to come and see what we were doing all day!  I give you the walnut hulls I will be living down at the Guild for years to come.  They produced an inky dye.  Truly impressive.

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I set up a bit of a display table of yarns and knits, leaf prints, tea cosies, sample cards and books.

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People had their first go at India Flint’s eco-print technique.  Some had read the book but never tried it.  I don’t know how people can resist!  The Guild has a copper which had been repaired because we were planning to use it.  Use it we did!

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My Mum deadheaded her African marigolds for me through summer and they made a great yellow.

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I tried grinding the soaked madder in a blender as Rebecca Burgess suggests (the second hand blender was pretty challenged) and here it is in the dye bath, in its own stocking… we got some lovely reds.

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I used one of the bottles of pre-ground cochineal that had appeared in the dye room cupboard.  The colour was entirely startling!

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There was a pot of logwood that came out so deep it was virtually black.  There was a pot of E Scoparia bark that gave some burgundy on the first round and some tan for a skein added in later.  There was an E Scoparia leaf pot and an E Cinerea leaf pot–oranges of different shades.  The dye room at the Guild has four gas burners as well as the copper–so we went wild.

The wonder of unwrapping eco print bundles never wears thin!

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I used the opportunity of being at Beautiful Silks in March to acquire organic wool as well as silk noil twill and some silky merino for this workshop.  E Cinerea did its wonderful thing.

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And so did human imagination…

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The string print on the upper right of this next image was a lovely surprise…

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It was overcast and the results of the dye vats which were the focus of the day are seen here in all their glory drying in the Guild car park! These are eucalyptus and logwood.

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These are cochineal, madder and marigold.  I had mordanted some silk paj in alum and taken it along.  I tried eco printing it years ago and didn’t think much of the results.  Wendi of the Treasure suggested jewellery quality string (which sounds very promising to me), so I’d been planning to eucalypt dye them–but took this opportunity to expand my palette.  The silk went orange in the madder bath even though wool in the same bath was much more red–still good.

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People made their own series of test cards too.

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It was a day of happy experimentation, I think, the smell of fermented walnut hulls fighting it out with stewed eucalyptus bark notwithstanding.  The people who came were friendly, warm and generous–a delight to be among.  It was a treat to be in the company of other people who are fascinated by eucalypts and by the dye possibilities of plants. Folk were talking about what they might do with their cloth and how they might approach their neighbourhoods differently…  I hope that for at least some it will be the start of an exciting new journey.  By the end of the dye I was deeply weary.  I took the logwood, madder and cochineal baths home with me (after taking suitable precautions against spillage) and began some exhaust dye baths next day.  But by late afternoon I was down to twining silk string mindlessly and happily…

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More jars for the pantry!

I’ve been making the most of the end of season fruits and flowers to create more Stuff, steep and store jars.

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This jar contains pomegranate rind (and a few seeds)–somewhat dried out after contributing to more than one salad earlier in the week:

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Then I made another with hibiscus flowers, and since I was sorting through dyes from the Guild that day (on a large sheet to catch escapees), a few cochineals and kermes left on the sheet with dust and dirt and leaf fragments.

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Finally, why not try madder root, as I now have quite a bit of it in my possession?  I figure if this does not go well–though I can honestly see no reason it should fail–I can heat it and dye with it when it comes out of the jar.

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Before sealing…

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And some days after…

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Many more images of what people are doing with this process over at The Pantry.

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