Cochineal: Traditional crafts in Lanzarote

Haría’s Saturday artisan market is a fantastic place to explore traditional crafts and buy local gifts to take home. One of the exhibitors is the Milana Association, selling silk and woollen accessories which have been hand-dyed using locally-harvested cochineal, an insect that breeds on prickly-pear cacti. Fields of these cacti are a recognisable sight around the island, particularly in Guatiza and Mala. The fruits are particularly rich in vitamin C and are popularly conserved as cactus jam.

Cochineal arrived in Lanzarote in 1825, where ideal climate conditions created the means to develop a very profitable income for the island until the arrival synthetic dyes disrupted the market, with reduced production costs decimating its commercial value.

Recently however, cochineal has come back into favour, in part due to its lack of toxicity.

The Milan Association was created in 2005 to recover the art of using cochineal and both study and promote its use. They organise workshops, guided tours and exhibitions.

On their stand, representatives from Milana demonstrate the process of converting the cochineal beetle into this famous red colourant and show how the dye is used to create inks and colour clothing, by drying the beetle and the crushing to a powder. They have generously given us permission to reproduce their methods which are set out below:

  1. Dilute the ground cochineal in a container of water
  2. Heat the solution to a temperature of 60-70º C for 30 mins.
  3. Filter the preparation to obtain the colourant.
  4. Soak wool or silk, etc in a colour fixative (aluminium sulphate, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, tartaric acid, etc) diluted in hot water for 20 mins.
  5. Soak the treated wool or silk in hot colourant for 30 mins.
  6. Rinse with water.

Stop by their stand to learn more or visit their website (currently only in Spanish):  asociacionmilana.com

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