Making a note about a useful resource more than anything. This resource: https://craftatlas.co/natural-dyes/polish-cochineal gives some description of natural dyes, and while one could find more information on the “Polish cochineal” elsewhere, this one has an intriguing (though it’s hard to tell how accurate) color comparison of different natural dyes at the bottom of the page.
If it is indeed accurate, then one could claim that the shade of current Mexican cochineal is very close to the “Polish cochineal” traditionally harvested, sold and exported from Ukraine, unlike, for example, the “Armenian cochineal” – the closer relative of the Ukrainian bug, the shade of which is quite different.
Of course, even if this was an accurate reference point, it would still apply to fabrics and to the most generic/common recipes, since different shades and colors can be obtained from the same dyestuffs under different chemical conditions, and, of course, the colors sometimes work quite differently on eggs than on fabrics. Still, I thought this was interesting and wanted to save the reference.
About a month ago we went to a local art shop which is the home base of the amazing water-colour paints (https://stonegroundpaint.com), and as we got talking about colors, paints and dyes, the owner, Eric, brought out a container of dried cochineal and gave me some to take home. So yesterday I finally got to it and cooked up some dye with alum and cream or tartar (as suggested by some fabric dyeing recipes). The pink you see on these eggs is that cochineal dye.
The other coral-like reddish orange is coreopsis extract with alum on top of the fist cochineal. The brown is the same cochineal-coreopsis sequence finished with a dip in iron water.
I will have to play more with the next batches of the dye (I only used about a teaspoon of bugs, which I then ground not very finely), I will likely use more bugs next time (to make the color more concentrated), I’ll grind them better, and will start with no mordants, and add cautiously.
For the first experiment with the whole bugs, I think this is not bad. I have tried cochineal extract before but didn’t have a lot of it, so I used it in combination with madder.
The next few months I will be experimenting more with cochineal, both the whole bugs and the extract. My parents gave me for Christmas a gift certificate to the Maiwa online store, so I’ll order some cochineal from them.
Made some more eggs, some were attempts to copy Lithuanian drop-pull eggs, while others were inspired by Lithuanian patterns. A number of dyes – two of coreopsis (extract and fresh), elderflower (dried), sappan wood, madder, saskatoon berries (frozen), I think that’s it though I might have forgotten something. Mainly with alum, one egg had sappan wood with iron on background.
All of these colors were achieved with the combinations of saskatoon berries (blue), sappan wood (red, pink), buckthorn (yellow), buckthorn with iron (brown), gardenia (yellow/gold), coreopsis (gold), elderflower (yellow) (except emu where no dyes were used), plus the natural variations of eggshell color and vinegar for etching.
I’m becoming more comfortable with drop-pull technique, seeing more possibilities. While most of these eggs are trying to be strictly traditional as much as possible (mostly Ukrainian, some Lithuanian), a few patterns have just appeared out of nowhere, non-traditional (though not necessarily anti-traditional) which is nice. To write “my own” design is something that almost never happened to me in the other more common technique, so to have it happen in drop-pull after a relatively short time is rather surprising and even inspiring. 🙂
I’m getting ready to put away the dyes and tools for now, but there might be some more posts of close-up shots, and who knows when the next time will be…
I was going to try some new dyestuffs, so I tried this Indian madder, manjistha (Rubia cordifolia). I had dry roots bought from a herb store, used a usual recipe for madder-like things: soaked for a while (about a day), added some calcium, then simmered for a few hours, then left for a while still, then strained, added alum and tried dyeing. After a few long (multiple hour) dyeing sessions, in-between which I let the egg dry out, here is what I got. It’s a bit more orange that a brown egg would be. It took very slowly, and the shade it not very deep.
It’s possible that I messed up something with the recipe, perhaps I should have chopped the roots up to make them finer (I’ve seen that recommendation somewhere). Manjistha is supposed to be less afraid of heat than regular madder (the main dyeing component, manjisthin, is present in madder too, but in a much smaller proportion), so I don’t thing that I overheated it. I used distilled water this time, who knows, maybe manjistha doesn’t like that. I din’t like the smell very much from the beginning, and after a few days the dye has started fermenting, so I ditched it. I dryed out the used roots and kept them in case I want to use them again – this is recommended with roots in general. Still have half of the original amount of unused roots, but probably won’t try it again any time soon – too much effort for a result that is too weak.
Here is what this egg looks like after writing (second dark red dye – sappan wood, and then vinegar etch):
Sappan wood (Ceasalpinia sappan) has become my favourite source of red color for now. Native to Asia, it is the “older” cousin of what is now known as Brazil wood. When the Portuguese invaded what is now Brazil in 1500, the redwood trees they saw growing there reminded them of Sappan wood, which they already knew, called it pau-brasil and used for dyeing along with the rest of the Europe. Because of extensive use for dye and for violin bows, or perhaps the opposite, because the dye business was not economically profitable after the invention of the chemical dyes, or maybe due to both these reasons, the Brazil wood (Ceasalpinia echinata, Paubrasilia echinata) is almost extinct now, Wikipedia says that the trade of Brazilwood is likely to be banned in the immediate future. So now we are back to the good old Sappan wood, which is still available and abundant in India and China. It is used medicinally in both Ayurveda (where it’s called Pathimukham) and in Traditional Chinese medicine (where it’s called Su Mu). Continue reading →