Easter is right around the corner. But there’s still time to have some fun in the lead up to next week’s holiday. This weekend, why not try your hand at dyeing some eggs using natural ingredients that you can find around your house?
Civilizations have used natural dyes dating back to the Neolithic period. The majority are made from common, locally available organic materials. They are vegetable dyes from plant sources such as roots, berries, leaves and wood, which produce pure shades that mellow with age but preserve their true colours.
However, the discovery of man-made synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century triggered a decline in the market for natural dyes. The new chemical dyes could be produced in large quantities and introduced vibrant colours such as bright purple, magenta and fuishia. They quickly superseded natural dyes for the commercial textile production enabled by the industrial revolution. Unlike natural dyes, however, chemical dyes tend to fade with age rather than mellow naturally.
Fast forward to the present day; the market for natural dyes is experiencing resurgence with consumers becoming more concerned about the health effects and environmental impacts of chemical dyes.
We’re happy to jump on this bandwagon and with Easter approaching we’ve pulled together some “recipes” for natural dyes that you can use to decorate your eggs, which can then be used to decorate your home.
No question that synthetic dyes are quick and bright, but we appreciate the natural beauty and depth of colour produced by dyes created with ingredients you can find in your own kitchen. And we love that it means a safe project for adults and kids alike, provides inspiration from the beauty that can be derived from nature and is a throwback to the creative traditions of our ancestors.
1. To eat or not to eat
First, you have to decide if you want to eat your Easter eggs or simply use them as decorations.
If you want to eat them hard boil the eggs for 15 minutes (before hand, or as part of the dying process below).
If you want to decorate with them you need to remove the egg white and yolk. Wash the outside of the eggs with natural soap and water. Poke a hole in one end of the egg with a needle and gently swirl it around to make the hole about as big as a small straw. Poke another hole into the other end of the egg, but do not swirl it around. Stick a small straw over the bigger hole and blow the inside out. You can also put your mouth over the hole to blow it out. Once you think the egg is empty, rinse it with water and then blow one final time to remove anything remaining inside. Boil the empty egg shells for 3-5 minutes to rid them of any bacteria.
2. Which comes first, the colour or the dye?
Deciding on what colours to use might depend on what you have in the cupboard, fridge or freezer. Of course you can always source what you need if there are specific colours that you want to end up with. Most guides advise sticking to around 4 colours for your first time, and to play around with patterns and combos.
Below is a list of some colours that can be achieved relatively easily using natural ingredients that you might have in your pantry. Although quantities are suggested, it’s not an exact science and you will find variation in how the colours appear depending on the ratio or the ingredient vs. water that you use.
3. Make your dyes
Mix your ingredients together in a pot and add a tablespoon of white vinegar. Bring it to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes or longer. The longer you simmer the ingredients, the stronger the colour will become. When you’re happy with the colour, strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a coffee filter if you want the colour to be solid. If you don’t strain it, you will end up with a speckled effect, which can also be really pretty.
4. The dyeing process
The eggs can be dyed two ways. You can either choose to let the boiled liquid cool, insert the eggs, and then re-boil the mixture for about 20 minutes. It’ s very important to let the mixture cool before putting the eggs into it, or they will crack. Alternatively, you can put the cooled liquid into containers, add the eggs, and let them sit in the fridge overnight. When you remove them in the morning you will delight in the colours you will find.
Dry the eggs by cutting off the top of a traditional cardboard egg carton and resting the eggs in them.
5. Pattens and designs
If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, try experimenting with patterns and designs. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Sit an egg partially in the liquid to dye portions.
- Wrap an elastic band or a piece of kitchen string around an egg before dying it to keep some parts of the egg white.
- Using a batik technique, use melted wax or eco-friendly white crayons to draw on an egg, which leaves those drawn spots white.
- Lightly crack a hard boiled egg all over without removing any of the skin to allow the colour of the dye to seep into the egg and create a marbled effect. This will infuse a mild taste into the egg and is a common technique when using onions, tea, and beets.
- Try attaching leaves, flowers, lace or whatever you can imagine onto an egg (using pantyhose to hold them in place) to transfer an image onto the final product.
Store the eggs in the fridge if you’re going to eat them (preferably within 3 days, no more than a week). Invite your friends and family over to show off your creations!
Do you have a family traditions for egg decorating? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Have a great weekend!