How-To: Natural Egg Dyes

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By Arwen O’Reilly Griffith
Years ago, my friend Emma’s mother used to make us a traditional German Easter brunch every year. We knew to show up with the very first leaves and flowers of spring, as well as a patiently collected bag of onion skins. Anna would decorate her light-filled apartment with flowers in defiance of the bare winter outside and lay the table with plates and plates of food. And while the final dishes were simmering, we’d make Easter Eggs.
People have been coloring eggs to celebrate spring for literally thousands of years, starting with those cultured Persians. The practice has become ever more complicated as it spread around the world, with everything from stickers and tie-dye in the U.S. to marbling and elaborate wax drawing in parts of Europe and Russia. Crafty early Christians ensured that colored eggs are now mostly associated with Easter, but in Sweden they dye eggs to ring in the summer solstice. Decorated eggs are beautiful at any time of the year, and if you’re not attached to the electric pastels of commercial dyes, you can make them with food and spices you probably have lying around the house.

White eggs
Flowers and leaves to decorate eggs
Pot of water
Dye (onion skins, blueberries, asparagus/spinach…)
1 T vinegar to intensify the dye (not shown)
One pair old stockings (in a color that won’t bleed)
Step 1:
Cut up your stockings into 4-5″ sections. Tie off one end. Wash the eggs in mildly soapy water to clean off any oils or residue that might keep the dye from being absorbed. Dry them off. (Tip: stick them back in the refrigerator until you’re ready to place the decorations on; the condensation will help stick leaves and flowers to the egg.)

Step 2: Tie off one end of the stocking.

Step 3: Choose your leaves or flowers carefully. Leaves with interesting and distinct shapes work best, and choose flowers that can be pressed flat. You’re looking for two dimensional graphic interest here, since the specimens will be pressed tightly against the egg. Flatten them first if necessary, and then wrap around the egg. Keep in mind that stems can add interest, so think about making a spiral or doing something else fun with them. In planning your design, also keep in mind that the knots in the stocking will leave a swirling pattern in the dye.

Step 4:Carefully place the egg in the stocking pouch. This is the hard part, as your carefully placed plant will invariably move around. Have patience, and you’ll get better at intuiting the best way to hold the leaf or flower down against the egg as you place it. Tie off the other end of the stocking, making sure the stocking is stretched as tightly as possible around the egg to hold the leaf in place. (If you don’t have an assistant, wrap the thread around the stocking a number of times while you hold it in place with the other hand before you try to tie your knot–it will add tension so it’s easy to do!)


Step 5: Add the dye material, vinegar, and eggs to the water. If you’re using onion skins, use equal parts onion skins and water. (I gathered a gallon-size bag of onion skins for a quart-sized pan of water; remember that they pack down a lot!) Boil for 20 minutes.

Step 6:Remove the eggs, cut off the stockings and leaves, rinse off, and voila! You can rub with vegetable oil for a nice finish. These can be eaten, although if you boiled them for 20 or more minutes, don’t expect them to actually taste good. Enjoy, and happy spring!
About the Author:
Arwen O’Reilly Griffith is staff editor at Make and Craft and mama to a 2-year-old rapscallion.

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