Experiments With Natural Dyes

Dyed with onion skins (with some sticker resist)

Last year we painted wooden eggs for Easter, but my youngest has since outgrown her egg allergy, so we were back to decorating real eggs this year. However, I wanted to get away from the fluorescent, fake colors. I’m the one who eats most of the eggs, and the food coloring dye that leaks onto the egg white always gives me pause. So this year we experimented with natural dyes.

Way back when, in the dark times before the Internet, I experimented with natural dyes while working at a summer day camp. A group of kids and I tie-dyed t-shirts using dye made from beets and blueberries. (We’d been learning about local Native American tribes, so I’m thinking, but am not positive, that I found these dye suggestions in my research, which would have taken place in the library, with books.)

So that’s where I began with Easter egg dye, and I added in onion skins after reading this post. That blogger boiled the eggs along with the onion skins, but I was a little hesitant to give my three-year-old a raw egg to wrap, so I decided to make the dyes separately and dip already-boiled eggs into the dye. There are lots of tutorials on this–such as here (via KiwiCrate) and here (via Craft)–but it looks like many dyes need a long soak, even overnight. I wanted something the kids could see working rather quickly.

The two orange eggs were dyed in onion skin dye. The reddish one at the front is from beets, and the bluish one at the back is from blueberries. The blueberry dye and beet dye looked almost exactly the same in liquid form, but as the blueberry-dyed eggs dried, they became bluer. For all of these, I boiled and then steeped the dyeing agent, then strained the liquid through a wire mesh strainer and added a splash of vinegar as a mordant.

Dyed with blueberry dye

A couple of days later we tried spinach and red cabbage as well. These weren’t as successful. I think the red cabbage would have required an overnight soak, and something interesting happened when I added vinegar to the strained spinach dye. First off, I didn’t need to-spinach contains its own acid, oxalic acid, which is strong enough to act as a mordant all on its own. When I added the vinegar, the liquid, which was a dark green-gold color, lightened into the color of lemonade–and had no effect on the color of the eggs. I’ve been searching for an explanation (what reacted with what?) and haven’t found one yet, so if you know, please tell me!

The Easter Bunny usually leaves my kids little rhyming clues as to where their baskets are hidden. This year, my oldest mentioned he hoped his clue was in code.

Cracking the code

I used a simple number/letter substitution, but I began at “N” as “1.” I helped him work through the first word, which was three letters, using logic to figure out where the vowel probably was (in the middle) and going from there. Then he was off and running. Every year, the Easter Bunny has to get a little smarter…

Have you experimented with natural dyes? What worked best for you?

One thought on “Experiments With Natural Dyes

  1. Jill

    I’m going to guess the pH changed? I know when using cochineal that if you change the pH you can get a more purple or a more scarlet color. I think. Way cool eggs, though. And no scary dyes.

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