_Thank you so much for all your lovely comments about the shawl! It is so satisfying to complete something finally! I’m trying to use the momentum from knitting the shawl to finish my handspun Lotus Blossom Shawl…_
[Sunday's post](http://blog.sweetgeorgiayarns.com/2006/02/on_multitasking/) with the mystery photo was, yes, cochineal bugs. I took the opportunity while the DH was away in Ottawa to wash some smelly fleece and dye with bugs…
Cochineal is a scale insect that feeds on a kind of cacti in Mexico and South America. The red pigment is from carminic acid which the insect produces to repel its predators. Maiwa sells whole cochineal bugs which need to be ground up before using. At about $9 an ounce, it’s expensive stuff… compared to say, $2 an ounce for madder.
I was gifted a “Magic Bullet” food processor from my father-in-law who bought one and got one free… He seemed less than enthusiastic when I said it would be perfect for grinding up bugs for dyeing. I should learn to keep my thoughts to myself sometimes! But it is fantastic for grinding the bugs to powder in seconds.
Maiwa’s instructions recommend 4 to 8% WOF (per weight of fibre) of cochineal. Since it’s so expensive, I opted to go with 4% — so about 17.5 g for the pound or so of Gotland I was dyeing. Oh, here’s the raw Gotland fleece:
I basically weighed a big chunk of raw fleece, washed it with Dawn and let it dry so that I could weigh it again afterwards and figure out what I would be left with*. In this case, I lost about 20% of weight after washing the fleece — that’s all dirt and grease! I was left with just over a pound of fleece that went into this dyepot. It was mordanted with both alum and cream of tartar because I wanted a real fuschia red/pink colour. Without the cream of tartar, I think the dye ends up a warmer red.
The powdered cochineal was boiled up with a touch of vinegar and some water for about 15 minutes and decanted. I repeated this two more times, so there were in total three decantings of the cochineal. I saved the powder that was left in the pot for a future dye session (maybe mixing it with logwood or lac?). The decanted dye solution was returned to the pot and I added the mordanted fleece:
The fleece dyed slightly unevenly with the tips, of course, being a lot darker than the rest. Since I know the yield (80% of raw fleece) for this fleece, I’m not planning on washing and drying anymore of it. I’ll wash it, mordant it right away and then drop it in the dye pot. The extra drying and wetting times just increases the handling of the fleece and increases the chance that it will felt or get all messed up.
Even with just 4% dye, the dye pot wasn’t even close to exhausting, so in mild panic, I dropped in some other skeins of yarn in an attempt to exhaust the pot. There was a handful of silk noil, some corriedale wool roving and two skeins of stuff I had handpainted…
None of this extra yarn or fibre was mordanted, but still took on a lot of colour. The lime green portions of the skein turned into a really interesting green-gold colour — not really something you could easily mix from synthetic dye powders… it just seems like a whole other layer of colour. Very very interesting.
I’m using this skein as warp in my next weaving project. And even after adding these extra fibres to the pot, the pot _still_ didn’t exhaust. So not wanting to be wasteful, I kept the rest of the stock for next time!
_* My bad: Yesterday I termed this “degreased wool per raw wool” as “shrinkage” — but shrinkage is loss of yardage. If anybody knows the proper term for this (yield?), let me know please!_