COCHINEAL (Dactylopius coccus): New World cactus louse living on cacti (Nopalea cochenillifera, Opuntia c.) and much used by South American dyers long before explorers arrived. Used as a dye in Europe by at least 1515 AD (exact date unknown as the Spanish kept it a secret).
Females produce carminic acid (not bug-blood!). Over 70,000 insects are needed for 1 lb dyestuff but 1-2 oz whole bugs will dye 1 pound of fiber.
Works best on wool and silk. Acid dyebath gives best reds; alkaline dyebath results in red-purples to pure purple. Best on wool and silk; lighter tones on cellulose fibers, light-fast and wash-fast if cared for.
The extract is especially nice to use for hand-painting silk scarves and other wearable art, and to use as pigments for medieval illuminations. Farm-raised bugs are harvested at end of their short life-cycle.
AKA: Campessiane, carmine, carmine naccarat, cochineal berry, coccus cacti, gray cochineal, natural red food coloring #4, silver cochineal, Spanish red, [OE] chochanneil, civil-berry, grane of civil-berries, [L] coccineaus = of scarlet color; [It] coccinglia; [Fr] cochenille, grane (grain) of Portugal; [Sp] grana, grana cochinella, grana fina (cultivated), grana sylvestre (wild), grane of rota; [Gr] kokkos (grain, seed); [Aztec] nochezli. [Peru]
Alum mordant: clear red
Copper mordant: reddish-orange
Iron mordant: grayed-purple
Tin mordant: bright red to red-purple
HISTORY NOTE:European dyers knew red dye insects c.4000 BC: kermes (Kermococcus vermilio, Coccus ilicis) is a shield louse on the ilex or kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) but much so-called kermes is actually ground cochineal or lac mixed with red earth. St. John’s blood or Polish cochineal (Coccus margarodes) lived on knawel (Scleranthus perennis) but may be extinct. Lac (Coccus laca) is a Middle Eastern and Indian dye, cosmetic, lacquer. Early writers wrote ‘cochineal’ (red) for any dye-insect, long before the New World cochineal was introduced (c. 1520-28 AD).