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Alphabe Thursday C is for Carmine, crimson and cochineal

December 5, 2013

2013-12-04 12.11.39

My favourite colour is red.  it is the colour of blood, sunset, rubies and glowing coal.  Red, particularly carmine or crimson is the pigment obtained from cochineal.  For centuries it was the treasure of the Incas and the Aztecs; after that the Spaniards guarded it carefully.  The blood of the cochineal was used to dye the robes of kings and cardinals, used on the pallets of great masters and by makeup artists.  It was, I hear at its best when fresh; one of the most valued natural dyes ever produced. However, it was not I understand used for Buddhist robes as there was too much death in it.  

The cochineal is a parasite that lives on the prickly pears in South America; there are plantations in Chile and Peru.  It is a tiny white insect about the size of a bedbug; when squeezed and killed it releases a blob of dark scarlet blood. Left to their own devices the insect will eat a prickly pear to death.  So the farmer has to monitor the situation carefully allowing the cochineal to get so fat but not destroy the plant.  The plant is able to recover in a couple of months when it becomes invested again.  

Harvesting is hard work and dangerous. The spines of the pears are blinding should they get in ones eyes and difficult to remove from the skin.So it is essential that protective clothing is worn. The white parasites are blown off the plants with large machines into buckets like snow, The live pregnant bugs are tipped into steel vats and churned into colour index 4. It doesn’t feel such a lovely colour any more; says me who wears a leather shoes and a fine silk scarf.

alphabet thursday

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2013 11:44 am

    i was disgusted that cochineal comes from a beatle.

  2. December 5, 2013 1:57 pm

    Reblogged this on Living, Libraries and [Dead] Languages and commented:

    It really is blood red!

  3. December 5, 2013 3:17 pm

    I used to do a lot of natural dyeing – cochineal is one of the “interesting” ones!

    • December 5, 2013 3:29 pm

      I think the whole business is interesting … I had not realised that our desire to be beautiful was such a big industry!

  4. December 5, 2013 4:26 pm

    Informative and colorful post for C ~ very interesting ~ thanks, carol, xxx

  5. December 5, 2013 9:43 pm

    Red expressed so much! Blood in battle, Love. Never thought of it before. {:-Deb

  6. December 19, 2013 12:35 am

    I never knew the color red came from a creepy, crawly bug…

    I am not a bug lover but I definitely like the color red… I now have a new respect for creepy crawlers!

    Thanks for linking to the letter “C” – Clever post!


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