By Robin Kuehn.
For those who celebrate Easter, or spring, or simply enjoy hard-boiled eggs and crafting, join me on a journey of homemade dyed eggs using things you can find in your backyard and around the house!
I always enjoyed the crafting side of celebrating Easter as a kid, so that’s naturally the tradition I’ve really hung on to as an adult. (Well, besides eating chocolate, of course.) Through the years I’ve tried all sorts of methods to dye eggs: using stickers, tape, and wax as masking material, and adding color with everything from the funny little bottles of food coloring to cutting up old silk ties (yes, really!). My favorite by far is using repurposed and natural materials, especially since I never know quite how it will turn out.
To craft along, you will need:
- Eggs – any color!
- A pot to cook them in
- Dyeing materials (more on this in a bit)
- Worn out pantyhose or onion bag material, or scraps of tulle material
- Rubber bands
- Collected leaves, flowers, etc. (see below)
1. Choose your color-additives
This may seem like the tricky part, since at the moment we’re not able to rush out to the grocery store to gather ingredients. Never fear! I’ll bet you have some things right in your kitchen that will work.
In the past, my favorite thing to use was yellow onion skins. Yes, the skins! I love the idea of putting to use the parts that aren’t edible, and would even make a special trip through the produce department of my local grocery store to scoop up a pile of the skins out of the bottom of the display. The cashiers would give me a confused look, but were gracious enough not to charge me anything for it.
Here are some eggs I dyed with onion skins, as well as the one at the beginning of the article. They started as brown eggs, so they turned a lovely, rich dark brown with the addition of color.
Unfortunately, this year I didn’t have a chance to go onion skin gathering, so I dug around in my kitchen to see what I did have.
I found some venerable turmeric in the back of the spice rack, and deep in the freezer was a mixed bag of berries, from which I chose some blueberries. If it turns out as I hope, I should get some yellows and blue hues.
What might you have in your kitchen? Other things that would work include red cabbage for purpley blue color, used coffee grounds for brown, beet peels and beet ends for a deep red… I imagine cherries, tea leaves, spinach, paprika, and even carrots could work. I have tried fresh parsley in the past, but found that since I only cook my eggs for 8-10 minutes, some of the lighter dye ingredients don’t have time to darken enough. But you can still experiment with them. *If you intend to eat the eggs as I do, please only choose food-safe ingredients.* If you want to blow out the eggs and only dye the shells, I’m sure you can try a number of other things too, especially since you can cook them longer.
2. Get those colors cooking!
Since I want to squeeze as much color into the water as possible, I filled each pot about halfway with water plus the dye ingredient, and set them to simmer while I worked on the rest of the preparation.
3. Pick your pattern makers
Now for my favorite part, the treasure hunt! We’ll be using leaves to put patterns on the eggs, so go out into your backyard and select some with interesting shapes. As before, let’s stick to some we know won’t hurt us – no lilies, ivys, holly, or other potential toxins. When in doubt, take a small sample or even a photo and look it up before using it- it is better to be cautious!
This year I found some blackberry leaves, chickweed, garlic mustard, catnip, strawberry, mugwort… Again, if you’re not certain of the safety of what you’ve found, don’t use it!
When in doubt, go for things that are really easy to recognize – clover and dandelion greens work perfectly! You can also select some violet flowers or leaves, or even some of the safe house plants like a sprig of rosemary or some basil. I’ve used birch bark and feathers to make interesting imprints too.
4. Time to assemble
It’s time to get the rest of your materials together. Because I have trouble throwing out anything that might be remotely useful, I have some different produce mesh and some old pantyhose (and you’ll notice one leg has already been sacrificed to egg-dyeing some other year).
Here are my eggs. I decided to use different colors of eggs to see how they’d come out, so the six brown are from Muddy Farm in Stone Ridge, NY and the two light blue are from our Executive Director Christie DeBoer’s chickens in Accord, NY.
To assemble, you’ll place a leaf on an egg, and hold it in place with a piece of mesh material.
Place, wrap, secure with rubber band, trim off excess.
If you’re having trouble getting the leaf to stick, you can wet it with a little water.
The pantyhose or produce mesh does not need to completely cover the egg – it only serves to hold the leaf firmly against the shell. That said, the pantyhose does work a little better for clear imprints, since it holds the edges of the leaf down a little more securely. There will be a little mark where the material is gathered under the rubber band, so I try to make sure it’s on the backside.
Okay, our eggs are ready; time to check on our simmering colorant!
5. Boil those eggs
I gave the pots of simmering blueberries and tumeric a swirl, and it looks like there’s a fair amount of pigment in the water. I turned the heat up to a boil, and gently set the eggs inside.
I set my timer for 10 minutes.
I KNOW, the secret to a perfect hard-cooked egg is under 8 minutes, but my reasons are two-fold.
First, I want to give them a chance to have a little more color set in, and second, you cannot get me to eat a runny egg yolk for love nor money. No thank you.
Now we wait.
(Note from our Executive Director Christie: she also has ducks and will be experimenting with her duck eggs which must be boiled much longer! Remember to time appropriately for the egg you use!)
6. The reveal!
Once my timer bell rang, I shut off the heat, tipped as much hot liquid out of the pot as possible, and back-filled with cold water to stop the cooking. I’m told this will also help the shells not stick later, but I have had inconsistent results in that regard.
After some cold water flushing, my eggs were cool enough to snip away the wrapping and see how they came out.
The results were mixed, but I’m pleased with this experiment! As you can see from the egg furthest to the left and the one on the upper right, you can get some good color from turmeric and blueberries. Since those eggs began as a light blue, the color showed up a bit better. Unfortunately some of my pattern makers weren’t pressed tightly enough to come out clearly, and the turmeric didn’t darken the brown eggs very much.
But that’s okay!
As one of my favorite TV show characters Miss Frizzle likes to say, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
Some of the lighter ones are still pretty if you can get a close look at them.
And this egg managed to catch some of the chlorophyll from the mugwort, so that’s interesting!
Maybe next year I’ll find myself some light-colored chicken or duck eggs and try out a different color additive – perhaps some dark cherries?
Try it out, and let us know how it goes!