Can you see the white stuff on the cactus? And the black stuff in the bowl with the red wool ball? That is cochineal, or natural colour E120 (also known as carmine, and found in lots of red and pink food). Yes it is an insect, I have seen the dried ones before when I was studying textile arts at University, but never the 'live' insects. But before I get into this, a little intro to natural dyes.
We were all impressed by the beautiful clothes we saw in Peru, and since I studied natural dyes myself I was most interested in learning how traditional clothes are made. The most prized wool is baby alpaca, followed by alpaca and then sheep.
Natural dyes come mostly from plants (so cochineal is a bit of an exception) and look at the varieties! I was impressed by the black corn dye, I didn't know it existed!
The wool is washed with a natural soap (a grated root - it looked like yucca, which the women also use to wash their hair and keep them black).
The cochineal insects are crushed and a the red-purple dye extracted. Adding lemon juice makes the colour a brighter pink-orange. Dried insects are powered to make the dye, including the one in most pink and red food. I try to make sure that I read the labels because I like to avoid cochineal (E120), and prefer to eat "vegetable" dyes :-).
The wool is hand spun.
And then woven.
Meeting the alpacas (and other alpaca/lama cross beauties...)
And meeting their carers
Photos by Alessandra Zecchini © (except the one of me, which is Peter's)