Kermes, or Kerms, from which is got the "Scarlet of Grain" of the old
dyers, is one of the old insect dyes. It is considered by most dyers
to be the first of the red dyes, being more permanent than cochineal
and brighter than madder. In the 10th century it was in general use in
Europe. The reds of the Gothic tapestries were dyed with it, and are
very permanent, much more so than the reds of later tapestries, which
dyed with cochineal. Bancroft says "The Kermes red or scarlet,
though less vivid, is more durable than that of cochineal. The fine
blood-red seen at this time on old tapestries in different parts of
Europe, unfaded, though many of them are two or three hundred years
old, were all dyed from Kermes, with the aluminous basis, on woollen
Kermes consists of the dried bodies of a small scale insect, Coccus
ilicis, found principally on the ilex oak, in the South of Europe,
and still used there.
William Morris speaks of the "Al-kermes or coccus which produces with
an ordinary aluminous mordant a central red, true vermilion, and with
a good dose of acid a full scarlet, which is the scarlet of the Middle
Ages, and was used till about the year 1656, when a Dutch chemist
discovered the secret of getting a scarlet from cochineal by the use
of tin, and so produced a cheaper, brighter and uglier scarlet."
Kermes is employed exactly like cochineal. It has a pleasant aromatic
smell which it gives to the wool when dyed with it.