I find color so alluring. It entices me with its beauty and temps me into so many, many projects. Projects that sometimes never get finished. This time around it’s naturally dyed eggs. Those beautiful muted colors created from plants have most years been too much, too long, too complicated. But not this year! This year the kids are a little older, life slightly more manageable and I’m perhaps a wee bit more organized. This year things came together, and even a little early so we can share our process with you. My youngest and I experimented with naturally dyed eggs this past week. Those earthy colors have clasp my heart, leading me on a journey into natural dyes; I just know it. I have a stash of old white t-shirts waiting for me to do something with, and now I’m thinking they are perfect after these eggs, but I digress. This was to talk about our egg experiment: how we did it; what we used; and what I will do differently next time. The best part, now we can eat them without worry.
Making the dyes
I took my ideas from an older post from Magnesium blue. Her eggs looked so lovely, and she seemed to have more success with hers than others I’d seen. I used red cabbage for blue, turmeric for yellow, and beets for magenta. I tried mixing these dyes to acquire secondary colors, but not with much successful. I also used red onion skins. I only had brown eggs, so that’s what we used. We made the dyes from chopping the vegetables and boiling them in water with the eggs. The onions skins were just placed in the water, and the turmeric was a combination of fresh and dried. We brought the mixture to a boil, and boiled them for 10 minutes.
Straining and soaking
We let the eggs and dye mixture cool. Then we decanted the dye into mason jars. The eggs were carefully placed into the jar with the dye, a few tablespoons of vinegar were added as mordant, and the eggs were placed in the refrigerator to set. Most of the eggs were left for 8 hours though the dyes set at different times. The red onion skin and turmeric set rather quickly, but the beet took a little longer. The red cabbage dye took the longest. It was hours before any color seemed visible at all. Because it took so long, I took it out, put it back on the stove, and added more red cabbage to strengthen the dye color and a little salt to help set the color. In the end, I think time was our best friend.
The red onion skin eggs were gorgeous. The color and the dye sat beautifully leaving the skin of the egg smooth. The turmeric and red cabbage gave beautiful colors as well. Taking a yellow egg and leaving it a few hours in the beet mix did produce a lovely orange, even though mixing the two dyes didn’t really work. Same for the magenta in the cabbage dye, but it was tricky to figure out how long to leave it, and resulted in too much handling and scraping off of the dye coat.
What didn’t work and what I’ll do differently
Coloring: Secondary colors didn’t work. In the future I’ll just find a dye plant for each color that I want. I have saved some artichoke water for green. I plan to try grape juice for purple. Maybe I’ll try yellow onion skins for orange, and I’ve heard that avocado skin and seeds give a pink color. The beet dye was highly disappointing. The color of the dye was magnificent, but the egg color once dried was a dull, barely pink color.
Vinegar: I also was too liberal with the vinegar. Although vinegar does help set the dye and intensifies the color, vinegar is also an acid and calcium dissolves in an acid. This means that the shells of the eggs, which is made mostly of calcium, were reacting to the vinegar that I added to the dye. I think I will use less vinegar maybe 1 teaspoon per jar of dye, definitely no more than a tablespoon. I will also boil my eggs separately with a little baking soda to try to help with this.
Making dyes alone: I plan to do the dyes and eggs separately next time. The amount of water that I had to add to the pot to cover the eggs was sometimes more than I would have liked to get a concentrated dye.
Handling eggs: I’ll try next time to handle the eggs as little as possible. I also realized the dye was made by a coating on the egg, so the more I handled the eggs, the more scratches and blemishes the eggs acquired as the coat came off the egg. I think the vinegar didn’t help with this either. Next time, I plan to handle the eggs as little as possible.
Though this process took more time than the commercial dye projects, there is something deep and fulfilling about the slow process of dying natural eggs. I think we will keep this tradition for years to come. Hope you enjoyed our process and Happy Spring.