For a textile enthusiast any visit to Oaxaca will include a trip to Teotitlán del Valle, a village of weavers and dyers. Due to market pressures some workshops unfortunately are using artificial dyes now, so I was pleased to get a recommendation for dyer that still uses traditional methods and is highly skilled, which is confirmed by the fact that she collaborated with Michael Garcia - Juana Gutierrez. After a search of a good half hour we found her studio compound, and were demonstrated some of her dyeing methods. I will document her process of cochenille growing and preoaration for dyeing.
These are "seeded" or "impregnated" leaves for a want of a better word. With a sieve the immature insects are distributed over the flat leaves, like dusting of icing sugar. The leaves then have to remain in a horizontal position for 3 days for the microscopic insect to burrow in. After that time they are hung in the rack, see above top rows. They "mature" for 3 months after which time they look like the cactus leaves in the bottom row. See picture above.
Close up of mature cochineal below.
They are then harvested and dried and are ready for use.
To dye a skein if wool you need 300 g of cochineal bugs.
If squashedwith fingers you can already see how strong the dye is.
Juana then grinds the insects to a fine powder which is ready to be used for dyeing. There are different methods for that such as adding lemon juice or vinegar, alum containing plantmaterial, or tannin to bind the dye to the fabric.
Cactus hosting cochineal insect.
Some of the spectrum of reds that can be achieved with this dye. It is often underdyed with yellow ( tarragon and alum) .