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Cochineal looks a little more expensive than some natural dyes but 25 grams of whole cochineal bugs will dye a pound (450 grams) of wool a good red, and another pound or two in shades of pink. In fact a cochineal dye bath is difficult to exhaust and can be used to produce a range of colours in successive batches. Expect to be able to use the same dye bath for 4-6 batches of wool.
5 grams of whole cochineal should be enough to dye a pound of wool pink. For a special project that requires a deep blood red, you can use 100 grams of cochineal to a pound of wool. When you take the first batch of fibre out of the dye bath, you can add more fibre for paler but still beautiful colours.
Boil about a pint of soft water, pour it over the ground cochineal and leave the powder to soak overnight. The next day, add more soft water to your dyeing vessel leaving enough space for the fibres. Heat the cochineal to near boiling for 15 to 20 minutes.
Let the water cool a little and then filter the dye bath through a coffee filter reserved just for cochineal (it is worth saving the filtered particles for another bath), but you can also use a paper filter. Or you can filter the cochineal through a silk scarf. If you do not filter the cochineal you will be forever washing the tiny particles out of the fibres.
450 grams of handspun alpaca dyed with cochineal in 3 batches. Add the mordanted fibres, aiming for no more than 100 grams of fibre (dried weight) per 10 litres of water, or 50 grams of fibre if you are using a 5 litre saucepan [10 litres is 10.6 US quarts]. I prefer to divide my fibre into three parts, and add them at different stages to obtain a range of shades.
Leave the fibres overnight, or if you prefer, simmer the fibres gently at low temperature for about 40 minutes. Remove the fibres from the dye bath and let them dry and cure for a couple of days before washing them.