Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus)
A traditional dye in Latin America, cochineal (grana cochinilla fina) is the quintessential red of the Americas farmed and used by indigenous populations from the time of the Maya and Aztec through the modern day. A small scale insect which thrives on the nopal cactus, cochineal produces shades from vibrant carmine red to luxurious fuchsia on all types of fibers, and is also commonly used as a colorant in foods and cosmetics.
With a near monopoly on its production, Oaxaca was a lucrative major trade center for European markets during the Spanish colonial period until the end of the Mexican War of Independence, at which point cultivation spread to other areas and the emergence of synthetic dyes such as alizarin decreased demand for the precious dye. Despite the collapse of its large-scale production industry, cochineal is still grown and used by Oaxacan weavers and dyers today.
Cochineal is explored extensively in Michel Garcia's DVD Natural Dye Workshop II: Colors of Latin America on Wool Fibers Using Sustainable Methods, filmed in Oaxaca.
Visit SFS Podcasts page to find cochineal expert Alejandro de Avila's lecture (Chapter 1) on 17th century woven featherwork from Mexico.
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