Welcome to MissouriBendStudio!

This is an online journal of my artistic investigations and a way to communicate about my work, ideas, quandries and queries! I welcome comments and conversation and do hope you enjoy these musings. My artwork is available in my shop MissouriBendStudio on Etsy.com or on my website.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Walk Through The Universe: Red, week 2

Pomegranates...hmmm....no.  Cranberries.....hmmmm, no that's not it either.  Red, all things red...what about that insect I'd read about, that they grind up by the thousands to get a red pigment....let's investigate cochineal!   And what an interesting walk I took yesterday! I started out with a Google search and quick scan of information on wikipedia, which you can find here and then went on over to Etsy where I met Kim, a charming traditional dyer in Columbus, Ohio, via her shop, Loch Lomond Studio.  She creates beautifully dyed fibers in a vast array of colors, any of which you can find here.  My initial search for cochineal on etsy revealed a good many hits, but the fibers from Loch Lomond Studio seemed particularly interesting with colors that ranged from deep, rich red to an ethereal lavender-like hue.  Kim agreed to answer my questions on short notice and generously provided a great amount of fascinating information!

Your shop description mentions both tradition and modern dyeing, and that you will be moving toward just working with traditional techniques. What are the differences?

Traditional dyeing is how all dyeing was done for thousands of years prior to the Industrial Revolution, specifically 1856. 1856 was when modern synthetic dyes were invented by Henry Perkins. I use the terms "traditional" and "modern" to separate the two. The more common terms are "Natural" and "Chemical" or "Synthetic", I feel these terms have been over used and abused, even though they are accurate . I'm more personally more comfortable with the terms "Traditional"  and "Modern". Traditional dye techniques use plants and insects (such as Cochineal) and metal salt fixatives (or mordants). All the materials used occur in nature. Some of the dye stuffs have been used for 5000 years; most for at least 3000 years. All modern dyes are synthesized from coal tar and petro-chemicals. They've been around less than 200 years. Most dyeing done today is done with modern dyes. I find doing traditional dyeing more fascinating from an artistic, anthropological, historic, and scientific stand point.

I'm amazed at the different colors of the yarns dyed with cochineal and what accounts for the wide range that goes from pink to purple (all things being relative!). It must be more than the yarn and the strength of the dye....can you elaborate?

The range of colors that you can achieve with traditional dye material is one of  the things that infatuate me with the process. My favorite dye materials are the ones that produce a wide range of color. Cochineal is one of those dyes.  Depending on what metals are used is one of the ways you can achieve  different colors. To get  American Beauty Red,  alum is used; for scarlet,  tin; purples copper and iron. You can also get purples with  chrome, but I wouldn't advise doing it. Chrome is highly toxic. By combining the mordants you can achieve more colors. Example: If you do a Scarlet Red with tin then do an after bath of iron you get a deep crimson.  Deep colors, stronger concentrations of cochineal are used, for lighter colors less concentrations or exhaust baths. I always exhaust my baths. It's more economical and safer.  It also depends on the Ph of the dye solution, acid more red, alkaline more blue. Different fiber also take the dye differently, I'm going to start working with other fiber and fabric. This dye season I've purchased a semi-wild variety, so I'm curious what colors I'll be able to achieve, it seems this type of cochineal goes more towards the purples. We'll see.....

You also mentioned in your announcement the price of cochineal is skyrocketing...what's happening in the cochineal market and why?!

Prices have gone up six fold!! The cochineal market is volatile. Seems like it always has been. It's a supply problem. Apparently the carminic acid (this is what gives cochineal it's red color) manufactures were keeping the prices depressed, so the small farmers stopped producing.  Cochineal supplies have been cut by half. Hopefully supplies will recover by 2012-2013. Also the harvest was late due to rains.

How did you go from painting to fiber arts and dyeing and also do you make your own artworks with dyed material? 

Children. I stopped painting when I had my children. I was an oil painter and I didn't use the safest of paints. Also with fiber arts I could stop in mid project and deal the many demands that come with Motherhood. I started dying with modern dyes, then moved into Traditional dying when they got older. Although, I always wanted to make my own colors from scratch, even when I painted. What I'm planning to do in the near future is surface design using traditional material and methods..... with a twist.

Visit Kim's shop to see many more colors made with the cochineal dye, along with a great number of other beautiful colors! 


  1. I sure learned a lot from this bit of research! Glad you found it interesting too, G. Cheers!


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