April 09, 2007


Natural Colours

Yes, it's a little strange for me to write not one but two Easter egg posts, since I'm vegan and don't even eat eggs myself, but Artist Friend sent me a photo of the Easter eggs they dyed at his house this year. Well, he'd told me about the eggs, and I begged for a photo.

Artist Friend went the natural route, preferring to use such things as onion skins, cabbage, and apple bark rather than the fizzy little tablets you can buy at the store. He spent a whole evening boiling weird stuff in big pots on the stove. I can just picture him stirring odd potions like a Shakespearean witch, filling his kitchen with steam that smelled like onion skin and cabbage and who-knows-what-else, joking with his son as he sucked him into the whole project, whittling bark off apple tree branches, wrapping eggs in cloth and onion skins and rubber bands, and making a total mess out of the kitchen. In the end, he produced a basket of lovely eggs with subtle colours.

Some of the things he tried – like beet juice or cherry juice – didn't work, while others, like the red cabbage, produced gorgeous colours. The failures, he said, were almost as much fun as the hits. And some of the experiments required patience, like being willing to soak the eggs in liquids overnight. He sent me some of the recipes that worked, and a list of stuff that didn't.

That is so one of the things that I love about Artist Friend: he willingly chooses things that are messy and complicated and time-consuming, and he has fun with mistakes and uncertainties. He will happily dive into a project that will lead to chaos on the counter and peelings on the floor and strangely-scented steam, and sometimes beauty, too.

It is a wonderful trait in a friend.


Yankee T said...

So lovely. I have an artist friend, too, who has always used onion skins and cabbage, but I've never seen anything like this variation in colors.

kathy a said...

oh, wow wow wow!

i'd love to hear more about how artist friend got all those lovely colors! and especially the blues, greens, yellows.

jo(e) said...

kathy a: Here's a few that I've cut and pasted from his last email:

Place raw eggs in a pan, cover with cut up red cabbage, cover with water and add a tablespoon of vinegar. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the eggs (they will still be white at this point). Place the eggs in a bowl and cover them with the inky purple liquid. The color will set as the liquid cools, about an hour for a medium blue, overnight for a really bright blue. This one is magic. You can dip cooked eggs into the liquid, once it's cooled, for a soft pale blue.

Orange: Do the same with yellow onion skins for a pumpkin orange and red onion skins for a rich mahogany brown. (Keep the vinegar out of the red ones and the color comes out slightly redder.) Or you can dip cooked eggs in the dye for softer colors.

Get some sticks from an apple or crabapple tree. Whittle off the bark, collecting about a double handful. Cover with water, a quart or so, and bring to a boil and simmer for 1/2 hour. Strain, then add 1 tsp of alum (commonly available in the spice section at the grocery store). You dip the cooked eggs in this, which gives a surprising bright yellow. I also used sticks from a crabapple with bronze leaves--this made a nice coffee brown.

One other tip:

Cut a 6x6 square from an old t-shirt. Place a handful of crackly onion skins or common blue violets on top of it. Wrap it around a raw egg, making sure that the material touches the egg all over. Secure it with rubber bands, then bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes (don't put onions and violets in the same pot!). Take out of the pot and store in the fridge overnight. These were really beautiful.

Sheila said...

On the Isle of Skye for our honeymoon we met a woman who raises her own sheep and dyes the resulting yarn (she mostly sends it out to be spun) with natural dyes, some of which she also grow herrself. She told me that green is nearly impossible--most vegetable dyes come out yellow or brown.

I'm guessing your friend dipped the same eggs in yellow and blue for green?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, jo(e), for being so nice and such a good friend. To get the green you take a cabbage blue and dip it in apple bark yellow, the more you dip it the greener it gets. One other that was terrific:
a can of melted Welch's grape juice concentrate, with just enough water to cover the eggs. Use cooked eggs, but bring to a boil in the juice, then soak in the fridge overnight. Once you rinse off the godawful sticky mess in the morning, you get this beautiful mottled dark purple. And the picture of the one wrapped in violets does not do the real egg justice. It's a lovely mottled delicate blue and green, my favorite of all we did.


Nicole said...

I have always wanted to try the natural dyeing method, but I am just way too lazy for that.

kathy a said...

wonderful! i never would have guessed the blue is from red cabbage. those are brilliant yellows, too.

i'm guessing the more mottled eggs [lavendar at around 1:30 on the basket rim, and yellow/brown at 8:30, are products of that last tip? ["how to tie-dye easter eggs the natural way."]

Anonymous said...

kathy a:
the egg at 1:30 is from grape juice--another of my favorites. You're right about the onion skins. The one wrapped in violets is at 5:00 in the 2nd circle, between the navy and brown eggs--the photo is a bit washed out. That dark blue one, oddly, is from black cherry juice, soaked all night. The color is beautiful, but it didn't dye the egg; it's just laid on top of the shell and it rubs off when you touch it.


kathy a said...

AF, thanks! i should have guessed that the 5:00 inside egg was violets, being so delicate. grape juice -- it really is lovely!

thanks for sharing your eggs and recipes. very much nicer than the fizzy dyes.

Anonymous said...

Sheila: Weld and woad for a beautiful Saxon green in wool.


susan said...

wow--red cabbage makes blue? whodathunkit?

Rev Dr Mom said...

These are so beautiful!

We haven't dyed eggs in a few years...the Kid detests boiled eggs so it seems like such a waste. Maybe someday when I have grandchildren I'll dye eggs again.

BeachMama said...

Those are indeed beautiful. Artist Friend, how nice of you to share your experiment with us. And to Jo(e), thank you for sharing even though you don't actually eat the eggs.

Sheila said...

NAF--ah, I hope in my next stage of life to get back to more serious fiber experiments--I'll keep the combo in mind.

My Skye dyer did say she started with woad for her blues and her greens--couldn't have told you what her yellow was, though. She also said her colors varied by how recent and how much rain she'd had, b/c the acidity from the peat soil there affects her colors.

Kyla said...


Dawn (aka Busymomma) said...

"he willingly chooses things that are messy and complicated and time-consuming, and he has fun with mistakes and uncertainties. He will happily dive into a project that will lead to chaos on the counter and peelings on the floor and strangely-scented steam, and sometimes beauty, too."

I love these lines. Life should always be so. If you don't mind, I would like to post this quote on my blog (with a link to your--of course).

Beautiful eggs!

jo(e) said...

Dawn: Go ahead. You are always welcome to link to me.

Dawn (aka Busymomma) said...

Thanks Jo(e). It'll probably be written and up in the next few days.