Dyeing Eggs with Natural Dyes
This is a centuries old tradition done at Easter-time to signify the coming of spring and new life and is also thought to be the origin of today’s chocolate Easter Egg. Egg dyeing involves hard boiling eggs in a pan with various plant dye materials– this colours the egg’s shell depending on the dye colour released from the plant – and is not always what you expect!
The following instructions tell you how to have a go.
What you need for a single dye pot:
• A large stainless steel pan
• 2 pints of cold water
• 1 Tablespoon of Salt – helps the dye to be absorbed into the shell.
• 1 Tablespoon of Vinegar – helps the shells to stop breaking but not a guarantee!
• 3 or 4 raw eggs – you can buy large trays of mixed size brown eggs from supermarkets if you want to try lots of ideas – white eggs other than duck eggs are almost impossible to come by in the U.K.
• A source of natural plant dye – this could be plants, flowers, vegetables and spices. There are many sources of natural dyes in the home and in the wild which give up colour – but some e.g. beetroot don’t work that well – so the results are unpredictable.
Don’t be afraid to try all sorts of possibilities – below are just a few suggestions to get you going – the results can be surprising. White eggs are hard to come by but brown eggs work just as well – they may produce a darker tone but it’s all part of the fun.
Yellow Onion Skins – work brilliantly
Collect the outer skins of ordinary cooking onions – you need a fair few to get a rich colour –probably as much as the weight of the eggs you’re going to use.
Put the cold water, salt and vinegar in the pan along with the onion skins. Tuck the 4 eggs into the pan and put on a low heat – bring the water up to boiling point slowly and cook for 10 – 12 minutes to hard boil the eggs. Then leave the pan to cool. You will be amazed at the colour!
Red Cabbage – a whole red cabbage shredded. Put into the 2 pints of cold water with the salt and vinegar. Put in 3 – 4 eggs. Bring up to the boil as above, cook for 15-20 minutes, during which time dye will be released from the cabbage. Switch off and leave to cool. The eggs take several hours to take up this dye – so be patient.
Turmeric. Use 6 tablespoons of turmeric powder, available from supermarkets and dissolve in hot water along with salt and vinegar. Boil the eggs in the solution as described above and leave to cool.
When decorating eggs, try sticking things to them e.g. masking tape, leaves and flowers which can be removed after the dyeing process. Use old tights and stretch them tightly round the egg and knot it to keep the bits firmly in place – this process is called resist dyeing because the area which is covered by the stuck on material resists the dye, leaving behind the shape of the stuck on material on the shell – this is how traditional tie dyeing is done.
In Medieval times natural dyes were all that was available so clothes reflected the colours of the local dye plants. Usually, browns, yellows and greens and occasionally red (madder root) and blue (woad).
Today we manufacture chemical dyes and we can produce any colour we like. As a result we buy our favourite colours off the shelf in the form of paint, fabric, clothing, cars, and egg dye kits! So if you want to be sure what colour your egg will be, buy an egg dyeing kit or alternatively try using food colouring! But it’s nowhere near as much fun as experimenting.
Thanks to Sara from the Weavers’ Workshop for putting these instructions together and dyeing the eggs.