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Cochineal

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Cochineal

A few weeks ago (that now feels like a hundred years ago), I had the pleasure of visiting Kindred Fiber Farm. Kindred is a farm located outside of Fredericksburg, about 80 miles West of Austin, owned & operated by a gorgeously kind couple, Anna Marie and Knox. In addition to the young couple’s daughters, a menagerie of deeply loved animals also call this place home, including sheep, bunnies, a donkey, and a herd of Alpacas (and I am sure I have overlooked some more!). Before that sun drenched Saturday, I had never met an Alpaca, but I was soon bowled over by these entirely charming creatures. Their large, expressive eyes, cherubic curls and curious demeanor are pure delight to behold. 

A close up portrait of an Alpaca, it has brown hair, large expressive eyes and a knowing smile

A group of Alpaca standing in a field

Kindred raises and lovingly tends to the majority of their animals as a source for ethically harvested fibers. Their coveted wools are much sought after, and quickly sell out each season. I am really thrilled at the prospect of a future MBS x KFF collaboration with said fibers and our plant dyes (stay tuned).

yarns from Kindred Fiber Farm

The reason for my recent visit came when Anna Marie, the co-owner of Kindred, DM’ed me on Instagram in response to a teaser I’d shared for our forthcoming Cochineal dyed Capsule. She shared that they had tons of Cochineal living on their farm and that I was welcome to come and collect some for the studio.

Miranda crouches near a prickly pear cactus collecting cochineal

Miranda walks through a paddock with a basket full of cochineal

In case you are not familiar with Cochineal, it is a small, scale insect. Considered a parasite, the females of the species spend their entire life cycle imbibing on the juices of the Prickly Pear Cactus, often until they are too large to move. Peru is the largest exporter of wild Cochineal. In Oaxaca I saw them cultivated using Zapotec techniques on farms. The color created with Cochineal, as well as its harvesting and propagation are rich, dynamic aspects of the cultural history of the Americas

Prickly Pear Cactus with colonies of Cochineal On it

Cochineal, still in their nests, on Miranda's fingers

A dye vat of Cochineal with fabric emerging from it


Cochineal produces a chemical called Carmine and it is responsible for the first, immediate red known in the natural dye world. Spanish Conquistadors began its export to Europe (which resulted later in trade to Asia) 
in the 1500’s. It has since influenced the aesthetics of numerous cultures and quite literally changed the color of our shared global history. In contemporary times, it can be found in countless conventional products from food to cosmetics; most all of us have likely consumed or applied Cochineal in some form.

Cochineal Colonies on prickly pear cactus

Here in Central Texas, Cochineal is quite literally all around us. I’ve seen it in yards, during walks through residential neighborhoods and trails, even in the parking lot of H-E-B (for you non-Texans, that our much beloved ‘national’ grocery chain). You can find Cochineal virtually anywhere that Prickly Pear Cactus grow. The tell tale sign that a Prickly Pear has a colony of Cochineal is the milky white, cotton-like webbing that the Cochineal live within, either in punctuated tufts or abstract webs spread across the face of each paddle. Some feel that they diminish the appearance of Cacti, but I think they are a beautiful reminder of the miracle that is nature. 

Miranda collects cochineal from Prickly Pear Cactus

A basket with a scarf tied around the handle filled with a few prickly pear cactus paddles


We purchase the Cochineal that we use in our collection rather than forage it, but the opportunity to share the origin of the source of the electric pink was too delicious to pass up. Our dear friend, Kelly DeWitt of KKDW & Mangroves, joined me with her camera for an afternoon visit to Kindred Fiber Farm as we chatted natural dyes and fibers with Anna Marie, met (and fell in love with!) their gorgeous kiddos and animals and collected a small haul of Cochineal. After a bucolic day, we enjoyed wine and really good pizza in Fredericksburg.

I hope our recent work with this rich and storied dye is an appropriate celebration of the life and color of the Cochinilla.

 

Had you heard of Cochineal before? Or met an Alpaca? What do you think of this brilliant shade? I would love to hear from you, please share your thoughts in the comments below ♡


Big XO, 


MB 

With special thanks to Kindred Fiber Farm for hosting & Kelly Dewitt of Mangroves for documenting such an enchanting day.

 

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