Lac Extract – a red dye extract from the scale insect Laccifer lacca which is found throughout India, south east Asia, Nepal, Burma, Bhutan and south China. It is found both in the wild and cultivated. The female lac insects invade host trees (mainly fig and acacia) and the insect secretes a resin that contains the red dye. When harvested, the resin is taken off the branches and is known as stick lac. The resin is also used to make shellac. The dye must be extracted from the resin before it can be used to colour cloth.
Lac extract yields crimsons to burgundy reds to deep purples. The colourant is similar to cochineal but colours achieved are warmer, softer, and more muted. The lac dye has high light and washfastness on silk and wool. 5-8% dye to WOF is all that is needed for a medium depth of shade.
Mordanting: use alum mordant at 15% WOF for protein fibres. For cellulose mordant with tannin at 8% WOF and then alum at 15%, or alum acetate at 8% – but note that lac extract has reduced light and washfastness on cellulose fibres.
Dyeing: Use at 10-15% WOF. Dissolve extract in water and simmer with fibre for 45 minutes, leaving overnight for richest colours. This dye is very sensitive to change in pH and develops to its fullest colour potential with the addition of cream of tartar at 6% WOF. The addition of an alkali like soda ash will yield plum purples and the addition of iron will give blackened purples.
For in-depth information on natural dyes see our Guide to Natural Dyes available on naturaldyes.ca. Also available as a Printable PDF