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.






                                 HANDWOVEN KITCHEN TOWELS  by LISA BERTOLDI

Kitchen towels!


I love big, thirsty, durable, substantial kitchen towels.  They speak to me of comfort, of meals prepared with caring and thoughtfulness.  Of hot corn bread carried to potluck suppers.  Picnics in fields.


When I was a child doing kitchen chores, I always had certain towels for which I reached.  Often they were decades-old linen towels.  One I have in my mind’s eye was a threadbare rag, so beloved for its softness and its generous size.


For the past nine years I have been weaving those towels.  Always in twill, for the maximum number of threads packed in per square inch, and always in cottolin and linen.  Cottolin, a Scandinavia invention from around the time of World War II, is a terrific thread:  it combines the strength of linen with the forgiveness, the stretch of cotton.  As a warp, it is nearly perfect.  And a weft, or crossing thread, of linen singles, gives gloss, gives absorbability.  I utilize threads from Sweden because they are of very high quality.

I weave these towels on a 160 centimeter Swedish loom, called Glimakra.  It’s a workhorse.  It behaves dependably and admirably, and I love it.  We are used to each other.  I know how the beater should sound, how the treadles should feel with each and every pass of the weft thread.


Each individual warp has a sweet spot, an inch or two in which the weft threads flow like water, and flow dependably, and each beat with the overhanging beater is perfect and satisfying.  That sweet spot is one of the great joys of weaving, for me.


The weaving, or weaving off, of the fabric is about one-third of the effort of the creation of new cloth.  One must design, then plan the warp;  wind the warp threads;  make the warp chain from those threads;  dress the loom;  then make the all-important sample.  Finally one weaves off the fabric.  Still not done!!  Hemming, then finishing of the fabric.  The final step is inspection of each towel.


I sell these towels to an enthusiastic public.  Women and men collect them year after year, in various color ways.  They are given as gifts for weddings, birthdays, house warmings.  I weave them large, nineteen or twenty inches wide, by about twenty-nine inches long, so they can be truly useful in the kitchen or at the picnic. They look great.  They become very buttery soft and yet more absorbent with time and use.


I have chosen to focus my weaving on one item, to make that item the best it can be.  Utility is foremost in my mind:  I want to supply superbly absorbent kitchen toweling.  Durability is critical:  I use strong, well made threads from a respected company.


I have a limited line, in a sign, which utilizes as a weft thread handspun linen.  I spin this linen thread myself, out of the highest quality flax stricks.  The thread is glossy, strong, lovely.  It is a slow and very satisfying process, and the resulting towels are special:  they look a bit rustic, they are a bit heavier, and the drape is exquisite.  They age marvelously.


Each year I perform experiments with rags made from my towels, to see how much use they can withstand.  They hold up really well, and can take many dozens of washings, they can take abrasion, they can take it all.

Weft Handwovens


Lisa Bertoldi

51 Conway Road

Williamsburg MA 01096

Landline 413.268.7485

Lisa also sent us some pictures of a recent Dye Party in Worthington last summer

Thanks Lisa for showing some naturally dyed yarns.  What a fun dye party that must have been,