Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Perfect Red

This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of book 'reviews'.
I'm a huge fan of the written word in general but there is something important about the tactile experience of handling a book. The texture of the paper, the smell of the pages, the weight of the book itself, all integral to a good read.

A Perfect Red
by Amy Butler Greenfield explores the complex history of cochineal, the first ever true red dye to meet western eyes. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish began importing the dyestuff from the New World.
Previously, Europeans were only to dye with madder, which produces an rusty, orange red.
Very quickly, cochineal became highly sought after, and was one of the items sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth I for her Privateers to steal. It was second only to silver as Mexico's valuable exports.
The book is greatly informative, not just on the dye and it's history, but on the historical climate surrounding it and it's possible impacts on the larger world. It offers insight into the wonderment that the colour would have caused in a time before synthetic dyes, when such substances were highly prized. It is a surprisingly fascinating read, and far from dry.
Fingers by Stasia Burrington.

Cochineal is a parasitic insect that lives on the Nopal cactus. The dye is derived from the Carminic acid that it uses as defense. In Colonial times Cochineal was mainly used to dye fabric, but was used by indigenous peoples of the Oaxaca area for many purposes. It it has mostly been replaced with synthetic dyes but is still commonly used in cosmetics and food.

While many different shades of red can be achieved with cochineal dye, it is the true crimson that was most popular with its introduction to Europe. It is this specific shade of red that still captivates us today. Traditionally associated with love, passion, anger and blood. It also speaks of a luxury that could only continue from a time when such a colour would have been reserved for the church and the very wealthy.
Here are some selected items from etsy celebrating this beautiful shade.(clockwise from top left)beret21 by dadaya; Imaginary Blood Vessels Horse by Leah Markov-Lindsay; Hat from Retro Repro Handmade; earrings by Tina Rice
While I'm sure that none of these items were coloured with cochineal they are captivating shades of red none the less.(clockwise from top left)Mola/Red leather bag from South Industry; A Bit of Red by Eliza Frye; Much Love by Ashley G; Jessica wool dress from kcoline; Sandals from Tuto.

(clockwise from top left) The Kimono by Heather Evans Smith; Coral necklace from Ruonan; the Raven's Winter Perch by Steve Morris; Earrings from Lily Sharon; Brooch from uloni; Hello Stranger by Nora Aoyagi.
(clockwise from top left)Feathers Print from 1canoe2; Moccasins from Spiro creations; Burning Volcano ring from Jia Style; Frosty II by Milkylane; Red Poppy dress from RubyPearl.

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