Sunday talks for February

Feb. 4th

Susan Wright Weaving with knitting Yarns

Feb. 11

Kristen Whittie  Running a Sheep Farm

Feb. 18 Peggy Hart Wool in America 1780-1840

Feb 25 Steve Prudy Nunoa ad the Alpacas of the 

Alt Plano

Call to register as there is limited seating.  413-397-3680

This is a free event, refreshments wil be provided   1:00 to 3:00 pm

Dyeing with cochineal.


Cochineal, Dactylopius coccus is a scale insect which has its life cycle on nopal, or Opuntia cactus.  It is cultivated on this cactus.  The insects have piercing mouth parts, which they use to puncture the cactus paddles thereby allowing them to take in the cactus juice on which they feed. One can visit Cochineal farms, for instance in Oaxaca in Mexico.  There one is able to see  the live insects in all stages of life living and thriving on the Opuntia cactus plants.


The adult and nymphal scale insect is filled with a red pigment, carminic acid, which has been used over time to color lipstick, foods and drinks, and fiber and fabric.  Carmine is the color name.


We as fiber practitioners are able to purchase the whole dried insect bodies, ground insect bodies, or an intense extract.


One of the interesting aspects of this dyestuff is that using distilled water results in much darker and richer colors.  Using tap water or well water means that results can be unpredictable (pale colors, often, in my case).  I highly recommend doing a series of experiments with a variety of water available to you when dyeing with cochineal, and especially using distilled water.  Cochineal in the dyebath is temperature sensitive and also pH sensitive. And as always, keep meticulous notes either on hang tags on your samples or in a notebook.


One aspect of cochineal is that it can be used as a substantive dye, thus with no mordant.  This is how I tend to use this insect.  The resulting color for me is a very saturated, rich and deep magenta.  I am quite satisfied with this simple and very slow approach to dyeing with cochineal.  A slow and gentle simmer on a very low fire is desirable, because higher temperatures shift the color away from the purple.


Typically dyers use cochineal as an adjective dye, in other words with a mordant to aid in the color binding to fiber.  I have used this method, as I am sure many of you have.  Aluminum sulfate is the common mordant fiber artists use for protein based fibers, such as wool and silk;  aluminum acetate is the molecule used for cellulosic fibers such as linen and cotton.


I like to let the dyed fiber rest and cool in the dyebath for at least twelve hours after a simmer.


Another insect based red dye was used in the Near East and parts nearby.   It is also called carmine, but from the kermes insect, species name Kermes vermilio.  This insect has its life cycle on oak trees.  Literature states that it is not lightfast, though its use was widespread in antiquity.  I have no personal experience with Kermes, though I have long been curious about it

Thank you Lisa Bertoldi for this interesting information about Cochineal.  I for one am looking forward to dyeing with it at our annual dye party.






Welcome to Fiberuary 2017




We hope to have may wonderful people writing about fiber and crafts over this coming month.  If there is something special that you would like to write about please e-mail me at


I have been hosting going to and experiencing Dye Parties  since the late 80’s  They are so much fun and I wanted to share the ins  and outs of them so you can have your very own.

You will need a fairly large area with access to water.  A tent is useful and tables are a must.


Lobster pot with a drain or a canning pot  (these pots are used exclusively for dyeing.

Quart jars with lids                             plastic cups/or small tubs

stencil brushes                                    Dyes (recipe to follow)

placCamp stove and bottled gas            dye pots

wooden spoons                                    plastic spoons

saran wrap if you are doing painted on roving

white vinegar                                        masking tape

With the saran wrap and vinegar we usually ask people to being one or the other

If this is your first dye party and you don’t have any dyes i recommend Pro Chemical Dye Company in Somerset Ma.  800-2buy-dye  or online at http://www.prochemical.dye.  I was introduced to this great company  after I started spinning and have been using them successfully ever since.  If you have any questions, need a specific color they are there to help you.  I use the washFast Acid dyes.

In the dye parties I have attended over the years most people brought their own stoves and pots and spoons.  The dyes were provided for a small fee and were mixed and ready to go.  A tub filled with water and white vinegar was set up for those who brought dry material  .  People brought jars of natural dyes to share.  A rinsing tub was also filled with cold water.

Usually there was a pot luck lunch and bringing a chair to sit on after hours of dyeing is welcomed.

Tables were covered with plastic. A couple of  tables were dedicated to painted on yarn and roving.

Everyone brought scrap wool or yarns to use up dyes.  Most times the left over dyes brought the best colors.  We tried not to dump dyes using them up is great for the environment.

Sometimes these parties lasted from Friday through Monday, with Saturday and Sunday being the busiest days.

Recipe for a Stock Solution

1 tablespoon dye in 1 quart of water





The remains of these dyes after the party can be kept till the next year.  Each dye jar  should be labeled.

My friend Debbie and I did a dye party for the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild.  It was a fun day and we ended up with lots of wonderful colored woolen material.

People also brought basket weaving materials to dye.

It’s a fun way to get a years worth of dyeing done in a day to two.  If you have a dye party please send me pictures  I would love to share them next year.


Pre-soak your yarn s,rovings, warps or material in a vinegar/water solution

Spread out your yarn, roving or warp on a slightly larger piece of saran wrap.

Using a brush or spoon (but being cautious about having too much liquid  as it will         muddy your outcome) add color in stripes, blotches, or whatever turn over to catch what you have missed. If you don’t want any of the original yarn color showing make sure everything is covered.  Blot up ay extra liquid.

Fold over the sides of the wraps and roll up jelly rool style.  Tape package and initial and place in the steamer.  when the pot is full and steaming put top on and leave for 45 minutes.  Remove and let cool before unwrapping and rinsing.

Remember to exhaust the dye that is in the steamer before draining.

Have a wonderful time.  Carole Adams  Whispering Pines Farm