My mom is an expert designer and crafter of hooked rugs (the kind the pioneers made, not modern latch hooking), and she has often dyed the wool swatches herself with a variety of natural materials. I remember watching her stir steaming, sometimes evil-smelling pots of plant matter for hours, listening to her talk of onion skins and celandine, marigolds and mordants – which permanently set the colour.
Those experiences sparked my interest in using natural dyes for eggs. With fond childhood memories of sitting around the kitchen table painting Easter eggs – which we’d blown out until we thought our heads would explode – I adapted several natural dye methods found online and experimented over a couple of weeks, using only items from the grocery store and spice cupboard (and, okay, my husband’s wine rack) to get the results shown here.
These dyes produce muted, variegated, matte colour – like those seen in nature! Don’t believe those Pinterest photos showing “naturally” dyed eggs in hot pink, brilliant blue and emerald green – I suspect they’ve cheated and used commercial dyes or food colouring. Also, despite online recipes for green dyes using cabbage, beets or spinach on white or brown eggs with or without vinegar, the closest I could get was a very pale celadon green from spinach. I did, however, get a teal green-blue (not shown) from first dyeing with turmeric (#3, alternate method) then redyeing for less than an hour in red cabbage (#15).
I dyed my eggs uncooked because I wanted to blow them out later so they’ll last longer; if using raw, make sure they’re fresh so they’ll stay submerged in the dye liquid – older eggs will bob with one end sticking out • Use hardboiled eggs if you prefer • Before dyeing, clean eggs with a drop of dish soap and lots of water so the colour will adhere better • Dye eggs in a single layer in a non-metal container narrow and tall enough to ensure complete coverage • Turn eggs occasionally in the dye bath, touching them as little as possible, until desired shade is reached • Remove eggs very carefully with a slotted spoon – plastic if you have one – and set on a wire cooling rack; until it’s dry, the colour is very fragile and prone to rubbing or scratching off • Some dye matter such as turmeric or grape juice will leave a grainy or bubbly residue or “skin” which will eventually set • When most of the egg is dry, turn to let the underside dry, gently patting over the still-wet rack marks with your finger or a paper towel • Save the dye to use multiple times • Always soak and store eggs, whether raw or hardboiled, in the refrigerator.
Natural Dye Recipes:
These twelve materials and methods – with a few variations in soaking times – yielded the results shown in the photos. Generally, the longer the soak, the deeper the hue, especially for pinks, purples and blues. Colours 1 to 7 are a bit more vibrant in real life than in the photograph (it was hard to get the lighting right!).
(1) Celadon Green: Bring 4 cups (one 227 g/8 oz. bag) fresh spinach and 1 tsp baking soda to a boil in 3 to 4 cups water • Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally mashing spinach with back of spoon • Remove from heat and allow to cool • Strain spinach from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 24 hours. This is a very pale green that never got any darker, even after 24 hours.
(2) Ochre: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 green tea bags • Allow to cool • Remove tea bags • Soak white egg for 8 hours. This colour is a slightly more muted version of the mustard yellow from turmeric (see #3), with no residue.
(3) Mustard Yellow: Add 1 cup boiling water to 2 tbsp ground turmeric and 1 tbsp white vinegar • Allow to cool • Soak white egg in mixture for 14 hours. This method left a grainy residue on the egg. Alternate Method: Bring 4 cups of water, 4 tbsp turmeric and 4 tbsp white vinegar to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes • Allow to cool • Strain turmeric from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 24+ hours. This will give a sunny yellow colour and a smoother surface to the egg.
(4) Tan: Add 2 cups boiling water to 2 tbsp ground coffee • Allow to cool • Strain coffee from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 24 hours.
(5) Light Sienna: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 tbsp ground paprika and 2 tbsp white vinegar • Allow to cool • Soak white egg in mixture for 24 hours. Unlike turmeric, the result (without straining) was a smoothly-dyed surface with no residue.
(6) Mushroom: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 strawberry pomegranate (STASH™) tea bags • Allow to cool • Remove tea bags • Soak white egg for 24 hours. This looks just like the LBMs (little brown mushrooms) we find in our local woods – taupe with a hint of olive green!
(7) Umber: Add 1 cup boiling water to 4 orange pekoe tea bags • Allow to cool • Remove tea bags • Soak white egg for 7 hours. A wide range of shade intensity is possible, depending on soaking time.
(8) Baby Pink: Bring 4 cups peeled, sliced red beets (about 2 medium) and 4 tbsp white vinegar to a boil in 4 cups water • Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes • Remove from heat and allow to cool • Strain beets from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 10 minutes. Beets will give instant, lovely results ranging from pale pink to deep maroon, depending on soak time and whether you use white or brown eggs. See #9 and #12 for variations.
(9) Dusty Rose: Use same method as #8, soaking white egg for 2 hours.
(10) Lavender: Soak white egg in 2 cups of red wine for 5.5 hours.
(11) Mauve: Soak white egg in 2 cups concord grape juice for 14 hours. Intensity will vary depending on soak time.
(12) Maroon: Use same method as #8, soaking brown egg for 2 hours.
(13) Slate Blue: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 tbsp loose hibiscus rosehip tea leaves • Allow to cool • Strain out tea leaves from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 2.5 hours. This tea was a no-name bulk food store purchase. Straight hibiscus tea will probably yield similar results. See #14 for a darker variation. This recipe, with vinegar added, is supposed to yield green, but it didn’t.
(14) Denim: Use same method as #13, soaking white egg for 7 hours.
(15) Sky Blue: Bring 4 cups shredded red cabbage (about half a large head) and 4 tbsp white vinegar to a boil in 4 cups water • Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool • Strain cabbage from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 45 minutes. See #16 for a variation.
(16) Deep Blue: Use same method as #15, soaking white egg for 3 hours. Not shown: a brown egg soaked for 4.5 hours produced a dark denim blue (not the dark green claimed by online recipes).