How to Color Easter Eggs With Natural Dyes
Easter eggs come in all shapes and sizes from tiny, mottled candy-coated chocolate delights to super-sized, ostrich egg-like offerings smothered with scrumptious icing decorations. From fabulous gilded and bejeweled marvels cherished over the centuries to decadent chocolate and marshmallow confections, waiting to be devoured by happy hunters, Easter eggs hold a very special place in many societies.
Some cultures have raised the decorating of Easter eggs to a fine art. From Russia, Hungary, and the Ukraine, colorful eggs—painstakingly decorated with intricate graphic patterns—are often handed down from generation to generation as beautiful examples of the egg decorator's artistry. Beaded eggs from Central Europe sport patterns every bit as complex and beautiful as that found on a jeweler's counter, adding old-world charm and color to modern Easter decor.
Elegant Easter Eggs
The Easter eggs coloring I grew up with was neither as refined as the lovely gilded eggs above, nor as gem and gold encrusted as the fabled Fabergé eggs in the picture below.
I love the adorable eggs that have been painted and decorated to look like Matroshka or Little Mother nesting dolls, another delightful example of Russian Easter art.
Our family used vegetable dyes and a few clever yet simple techniques that enabled us to create eggs as lovely, at least in our childish eyes, as anything one could purchase in a store. Besides, we had so much fun together making them!
Of course, we ate scrambled eggs for supper for the next two days to use up all the innards that were sacrificed to the Easter egg-making frenzy that swept our house every Easter week.
I still remember watching, fascinated, as my dad would gently poke a hole in each end of the uncooked eggs with a long darning needle, then carefully blow the contents into the waiting saucer. It always amazed me how often the yolk would squeeze it's way out of that tiny hole and plop into the saucer completely unbroken.
Exquisite and Costly Russian Eggs
Wrapped and Dyed Eggs
After the contents were decanted, our mother would rinse out the shells and place them on a tea towel to air dry. We were forbidden to so much as breathe on the shells until they were deemed ready to use.
Sometimes, she would lower the shells into a pot of hot water and vinegar, "to toughen the shells," she explained. I am not sure that it added much toughness though, as the shells were still quite fragile, and we had to quickly develop a delicate touch or risk being banned from handling the soon-to-be Easter prizes.
Fun and Funky Easter Egg Designs
Once the eggs were ready to be handled, we were allowed to lower the eggs into small pots of hot water, to which a few drops of vegetable dye had been added. I am reasonably sure we applied more dye to our hands and the old tea towel in which we were draped, but it was great fun, nonetheless to see our creations take on color.
As we grew older and more adept at not crushing the egg shells, we were encouraged to draw designs on them with colored crayons. When these eggs were dipped in a contrasting dye, some of the waxy crayon would remain, making a pleasing pattern on the dyed shell.
Sometimes, though, the crayon would run, making the dye color muddy. This led us to a more sophisticated stage of Easter egg coloring—using white crayons to create our patterns, and several layers of colored dyes.
Though this technique is simple enough for fairly young children, to prevent breakage, you might want to use pre-cooked, or hard-boiled eggs, to avoid breakage.
Fill three small glass or chins mugs with warm water and then add a few drop of vegetable dye to each one - yellow for one, peachy-pink to another (a few drops of red plus a drop or two of yellow), and bright fuchsia to the last (slightly more drops of red plus a drop or two of blue). Add a few drops of vinegar to each dye lot. This will help intensify and "set" the colors.
- Dip the egg in the yellow dye and leave until it reaches the desired shade.
- Let it dry thoroughly.
- Draw your design on the egg in white crayon - the part you cover will stay yellow in your finished design.
- Dip it in the second color—the peachy pink—and leave the egg in the dye until the desired color is reached. This may take a while as you will want to use very warm water, but water that is not too hot to melt off the crayon and remove your design.
- Remove and let it dry completely.
- Refresh the white crayon over the yellow parts where necessary, and add more of your design. Any pink parts you cover will remain pink in your finished design.
- Dip the egg into the fuchsia dye and let stand until it reaches the desired color intensity.
- Remove your egg and let it dry.
- Once it is completely dry, you can dip it into very hot water for a few seconds at a time and wipe it with clean paper towels to remove the white wax crayon. This may take several dips and careful rubbing to maintain as much color as possible.
- Carefully burnish it with a dry cloth and a few drops of oil to give your completed egg a glossy finish.
Heirloom Easter Eggs
Natural Dyes From Everyday Foods and Spices
You can also achieve beautiful results using a variety of natural foods and spices.
- Boiling eggs or their empty shells in layers of yellow onion skins will yield a rainbow of golden to golden-brown tints.
- Steeping eggs amid layers of red cabbage will produce shades ranging from lavender to a soft purple.
- Boiling sliced beets, May Day berries, or cranberries will lend a variety of pink to red shades, in various intensities.
- Turmeric (a spice) mixed with hot water will create a rich golden to golden-orange shade.
- Boiling or steeping the eggs in turmeric, and then dipping them briefly in a red-producing substance will create a rich orange shade.
- Boiling Cinnamon bark will produce a soft brown, as will steeping your eggs in strong tea or coffee.
- Steeping eggs with Chamomile flowers will yield yellow shades.
- Spinach leaves, Lilac flowers and grass will yield various shades of green.
- If you have access to the Indigo plant, you can make blue eggs, but Blueberries or Saskatoon berries will produce a purplish shades, not a true blue.
- Some herbal teas will produce lovely pastel shades when eggs are steeped in them—a little experimentation may be required to find desirable combinations.
"Crystal" Encrusted Eggs
These lovely, glass-bead-look eggs are as easy to create as they are beautiful. All that is required is your glue gun or clear-drying adhesive, and clear glass or plastic beads.
This finish can be applied to colored plastic eggs (glue gun technique) or to papier mache (paper-mache) or foam eggs (clear adhesive technique).
Glue Gun Technique:
- Keeping your fingers well out of the way, apply clear-drying glue-gun adhesive to the colored plastic egg, in a pattern of uneven, tiny blobs.
- Cover a small section at a time.
- Continue applying glue until the entire surface is covered.
- Alternatively, small, clear, plastic beads may be added to increase sparkle and texture by rolling each section of the egg in the beads before the glue sets up.
Clear Adhesive Technique:
- Brush adhesive on a small section of a brown paper-mache or foam egg.
- Apply a few small piece of colored or patterned tissue paper, and brush a layer of adhesive on top of the paper.
- Continue applying adhesive and paper in this manner until the entire egg is covered. Several layers will increase the texture and color interest of the finished egg.
- Let dry and check for lifting edges or places that need more tissue. Apply more tissue as needed. Let dry.
- Apply a layer of clear drying adhesive and roll the egg in tiny, clear glass beads.
Dyeing Easter Eggs
Questions & Answers
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