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Cochineal has been used in the Americas for dyeing from as early as 700 BCE. The vivid scarlet was treasured by the Aztecs and Incas. The Aztecs called it ‘Nocheztli’, from the Nahuatl “nochtli” (the opuntia / nopal cactus) and “eztli” (blood), directly translated it means “Cactus’ blood”.


The legend began in the Mixteca Region, land of the Cloud Men, in the eastern corridor of modern-day Oaxaca, Mexico. Before the advent of mankind, when gods inhabited the earth, two powerful gods fought in its mountainous terrain over the possession of an enormous crop of Nopal Cacti. During the fierce and tragic battle both gods where mortally wounded; their blood splattered across the nopal fields. Not wanting their bodies to remain on earth, their siblings descended from the sky and carried the battered bodies back to heaven on a bed of clouds.

Cochineal dye

  • One of the reddest, naturally occurring dyes in the world, it comes from insect, Dactylopius coccus, (Costa Dactylopiidae). The crimson dye is carminic acid, produced by the female insect to deter predators. Approximately 5mm in length, the female wingless insects resemble small brown grains covered with white powder.

    Ovipositing on the prickly leaves, they feed on the plant juices converting them into carminic acid, a brilliant red and pH reactive compound. Our Cochineal is picked by hand and dried in the sun the same way it has been for centuries.

  • Botanical name: Dactylopius coccus

    Common names: Cochineal

    Primary dyestuff: Carminic acid

    Key components: Anthracquinoid

    Class of dye: Cochineal can be used without a mordant as an acid dye on wool and as a mordant dye for both protein and cellulose

    Light and wash-fastness: Excellent

    Colour: Powerful hues of scarlet, orange reds and beautiful bright pink

    pH sensitivity: High. Acid will shift colours towards orange and red, while alkaline will move colours towards purple and plum.

    Dye bath method: Suitable for both cold and hot dyeing

    Recommended quantity of dye:

    1-2% WOF extract

    5-20% WOF ground


    Swatch: Organic linen, habotai silk, peace silk, bamboo silk, cotton-silk, and bamboo jersey. Samples dip dyed into modified pH solutions for 5 mins. Colours achieved for reference only and we encourage you to experiment further.

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