The Color RED…..Cochineal

Beautiful color RED…..COCHINEAL. What is it?

Here is the short story.

A little bug lives on the nopal cactus and has babies that make a fuzzy cover for protection while they grow into mature adults. After they mate, the males fly away and eventually die, the mother is incubated in a little woven tubes. The babies crawl out and spread on the cactus while mothers then die and become the dye (carmenic acid) after they are dry. Many thousand of dry cochineal bugs make up a pound of dye.

The nopal ‘paddles’ are the host for the cochineal bug and are harvested from the parent cactus and set in dirt as pictured at the Rancho Nopal Cochineal, a cultivation farm in Oaxaca. They can also be suspended on a frame as seen at Bii Dauu rug weavers studio in Teotitlan del Valle.

The cycle takes about 3 months from incubation to full maturity, depending on the warmth of the air and season. Dried cochineal bugs are then ground either on a matate or in a coffee grinder. Different mordents, when added to the yarns or the hot dye bath, create different colors. Limon, an acid, creates a orange color and soda, an alkaline, creates a deeper red.

Cochineal can be seen in several indigenous garments below. A wool skirt from the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle and a quechquemitl (cape) and a striped skirt from a Mazahua village – Santa Rosa de Lima, State of Mexico. Cochineal dyed garments stay vivid for a long while, as seem the bright pink Mazahua gaban (poncho) which is over 130 year old.

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