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Natural Dyes for Easter Eggs All you need is the kitchen
by Marion Owen
November 17, 1999

Natural egg dyeing is as simple as making a cup of coffee, with ingredients from your kitchen or your garden. Naturally dyed eggs with their subtle earth tones look elegant. You can turn eggs into beautiful gems using onion skins, paprika or shredded cabbage. Rubber bands make plaid and stripe patterns; strips of cloth produce a Sixties tie-dye look, and masking tape yields batik eggs. Experiment with stick-on vinyl letters and numbers, or etch designs through paraffin wax. Most of all, have fun.

Why do we give Easter Eggs?

In the 17th century, Pope Paul V blessed the humble egg in a prayer by saying, "Bless, O Lord, we beseech Thee, this Thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to Thy faithful servants, eating in thankfulness to Thee, on account of the Ressurrection of Our Lord." An important symbol to early Christians during Jesus' Resurrection, colored eggs date back to the medieval kitchen, where people dyed Pace eggs and gave them as gifts to celebrate the spring season and Pashch (the original name given to Easter or Passover).

The egg has symbolized creation and the continuing of life for centuries. Given as gifts by the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Chinese at their spring festivals, the egg also appears in mythology, where we read about the Sun-Bird being hatched from the World Egg. In some customs, Heaven and Earth were thought to have been formed from two halves of an egg.

In the 1290, Edward I's expense account includes the purchase of hundreds of eggs to be distributed to his household. At one point, eggs were forbidden during the solemn fast of Lent, but were reintroduced on Easter Sunday, both as part of the feasting and as gifts for family, friends, and servants.

Dye techniques: cold dip vs hot dip

There are two ways to dye Easter eggs naturally. The first is the cold-dipping method, which produces soft, transluscent shades. The eggs and ingredients are boiled separately. After the dye has cooled and been strained, the eggs are dipped for 5 to 10 minutes, then dried on paper towels. To avoid uneven coloring, continuously rotate the eggs.

The second method involves boiling the eggs in the dye. This technique allows for darker colors. As the eggs roll around in the hot water, they take on a more uniform color. Here's the basic hot-dye method (with variations to follow): To dye 8 eggs, use 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of water. Place eggs in non-aluminum saucepan and add water until level is at least 1 inch above the eggs. Add natural dye ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.

How to create different effects

Batik eggs:

Batik is an Indonesian method of hand-printing cloth by brushing melted wax on to the parts that are not to be dyed. Making batik eggs also uses melted wax, where the eggs are alternatey dipped in colored dyes, and designs are added by painting on melted wax. You can also use masking tape to produce very interesting results.
Cut out designs from masking tape, or use vinyl stick-on letters and numbers (available from art and office supply stores) and stick them onto your egg. Dip the eggs into dye. Remove them from the dye and blot any drips that form with a paper towel. When they are dry, remove the tape or stick-ons. With batik dyeing, it's a good idea to start with the lightest dye and work your way to the darker ones. If you want to keep an area a certain color, you must cover it so it resists the dye. Use masking tape, crayons or hard paraffin to draw on the designs.

Half-and-half eggs:

Dip dyed eggs into a second coat of darker dye to add a whole new color. The first coat is boiled and the second is cold-dipped for 5 to 10 minutes. to cold-dip, place egg in a small glass bowl or paper cup and prop it up against the side. Some great color combinations include coffee and blueberry; turmeric and red cabbage; and onion skins and cranberry.

Onion wraps:

Rub eggs with vinegar and wrap in onion skins. Secure the skins with cotton string, dental floss or narrow rubber bands. When boiled, the skins's dye colors the shells giving a natural tie-dye effect. To achieve a full, rich effect, practice using many layers of onion skins. Pre-dampening the skins also helps them stick to the egg.

Tie-dye and plaid stripes:

Ahh, remember the 60's? Well for some of you, these eggs will bring back memories of bell-bottom jeans, Elvis, and tie-dye T-shirts. There are many techniques to create a strong tie-dye effect. The first is to double-dip eggs wrapped with rubber bands to create contrasts. For example, fasten a band around a white egg. Dip in red cabbage dye. The exposed area will turn blue, leaving the covered areaas white. Or soak an egg in red cabbage juice until it turns bright blue. Once dry, wrap a rubber band around the egg, and dip in cold onion dye for a dark mustard color with bright blue stripes.
Another tie-dye look is created by dampening strips of cloth with water and wrapping it around the egg. Wih an eye dropper, drop spots of different colors on the cloth. Twist or tie the cloth strips tightly around the egg so the colors blend together. Gently unwrap the egg and let it dry.

Free-form stripes:

Wrap eggs with dental floss and/or different sizes or rubber bands.

Blotchy pastels:

rub berries such as blueberries, currants, cranberries or blackberries right on the shells for soft blues and pinks.

Dye colors and recipes

Ingredients from the kitchen often yield surprising results. For example, an egg dipped in red cabbage solution will turn blue, not red. A brown egg, boiled in red cabbage dye and then soaked overnight, will come out a deep royal blue.

    Red: red onion skins, pomegranate juice
    Pink: cranberry juice, 3 to 4 cups of rhubarb stalks, raspberries, red currants, or shredded beets. (If those same "beet" eggs are rinsed with lukewarm water right after boiling, they will turn beige.)
    Lavender: purple petunias or pansies, violets, grape juice. For a darker lavender use 4 cups frozen or fresh blueberries
    Yellow and gold: For each quart of water add 3 tablespoons of turmeric and 2 tablespoons white vinegar. Also try yellow mustard, curry powder, dandelion and daffodil blossoms.
    Rich brown: boil eggs in 1 quart coffee
    Green: Add a few eggs next time you cook spinach (chopped frozen works great)
    Blue: Coarsely chop 1/2 head of red cabbage; soak overnight for a deep royal blue
    Chartreuse: Boil in 3 tablespoons of turmeric, then cold dye in red cabbage
    Brick red-orange: 4 tablespoons paprika per quart of water

Experiment with different fruits, vegetables or spices for color. You can generally add up to 4 cups of fruits and vegetables per quart of water. Look to your yard and garden for other possiblilities such as ferns, grasses and flowers.

Easter egg safety

    -Keep eggs refrigerated before boiling.
    -Wash your hands thoroughly before hdandling the eggs.
    -If you won't be coloring the eggs right after cooking them, store them in the refrigerator.
    -When hiding eggs, avoid areas where they might come into contact with pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects or lawn chemicals.
    -Refrigerate your eggs again after they have been hidden and found, and don't eat cracked eggs or eggs that have been out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
    -Don't eat eggs that sit around in hot water for many hours or overnight. Save those for decorations only.
    -If your egg hunt involves hard-boiled eggs, it's wise to keep track of how many the Easter Bunny hides. If you don't find an egg on Sunday, you might be smelling it by Wednesday.

"Over the Hedge":

"April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers."
Edna St. Vincent Millay

"Spongy April."
William Shakespeare

Here's a great Easter egg activity for family and friends: Gather around a table. Each person takes and egg and draws "hair" on it with a permanent marker or crayon. Then each one passes their egg to the person to their right. That person draws the eyebrows. Pass the eggs around, drawing eyes, noses, freckles, glasses and so on untill all the face parts are done. Dip in dye if you like. If you need inspirations, get the Sunday comics.

Learn why organic is the only way to grow, plus how-to gardening tips at Marion Stirrup of Kodiak, is recently featured in Organic Gardening magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. Marion also developed PlanTea, the organic tea bag fertilizer. For more information, or to order, contact her at PO Box 1980, Kodiak, AK 99615; 1-800-253-6331 (907-486-2552) or e-mail:

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