Dyeing with Cochineal
Boil about a pint of soft water, pour it over the ground cochineal and leave the powder to soak overnight. The next day, add more soft water to your dyeing vessel leaving enough space for the fibres. Heat the cochineal to near boiling for 15 to 20 minutes.
Let the water cool a little and then filter the dye bath through a coffee filter reserved just for cochineal (it is worth saving the filtered particles for another bath). When our coffee machine broke, I saved the gold coffee filter for this purpose, but you can also use a paper filter. Or you can filter the cochineal through a silk scarf. If you do not filter the cochineal you will be forever washing the tiny particles out of the fibres.
Add the mordanted fibres, aiming for no more than 100 grams of fibre (dried weight) per 10 litres of water, or 50 grams of fibre if you are using a 5 litre saucepan [10 litres is 10.6 US quarts]. I prefer to divide my fibre into three parts, and add them at different stages to obtain a range of shades.
Leave the fibres overnight, or if you prefer, simmer the fibres gently at low temperature for about 40 minutes. Remove the fibres from the dye bath and let them dry and cure for a couple of days before washing them.
I save the cochineal dye bath by pouring it through a funnel into a very clean plastic bottle. I fill the bottle to overflowing and put the screw cap on. This is best kept in a fridge, but mine keeps well out of the fridge for several weeks.
Over-dyeing with Cochineal
Woad over-dyed with cochineal produces beautiful purples. Over-dyeing cochineal with madder produces a true red.
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