The Dyer’s Picnic: Cochineal, Indigo and Madder


From left, Ellen, Kathy, Carol, Joy, Francoise, Angie, Mary, Ann and Niccole at the Fiber Factory

Mesa, AZ Last Saturday, I did my semi-annual dye class for the Fiber Factory in Mesa.  We take a full day and use cochineal, indigo, madder and osage orange.  Since this combination includes all of the primary colors, theoretically we can derive any color on the color wheel.   Although both indigo and cochineal were used historically in Navajo weaving, only a few weavers use them today because of the time and expense involved.   D.Y. Begay and Roy Kady, in particular, use these and other non-native dyes to differentiate their work and to extend their control over the color possibilities available to them.

In this class we got a particularly vibrant pot of cochineal and believe you me, those bugs did not live in vain.  This particular batch of cochineal came from Aurora Silk and with some stanous chloride (tin) mordant and citric acid in the bath, the reds, corals and pinks were seemingly inexhaustible.  We also got some beautiful terracotta shades, teals, deep blues and even a couple of impressive purples (cochineal overdyed with indigo).    Of course you can look into the dye pot (see below)!   I’m going to need to get bigger pots for next year because the class is so popular.


Third or fourth batch of yarn in our cochineal pot.

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker

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1 Comment

  1. Sandy Gally on November 30, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I am so jealous, Mary. Such vibrant colors. Sign me up for next year and I will bring my pots and stoves. Maybe in the Spring we could one in Prescott?