Plants make an incredible range of beautiful colours, and some pigments from produce items, herbs, and spices can be easily extracted to use as natural dyes. Synthetic petroleum based dyes gained popularity for mass production of textiles and clothing after they were invented in the mid 19th century. But before this, plants were widely used as a source of colour all around the world for thousands of years. Natural dyes today are still used, but not to the extent of mass production, as the colours can vary based on a variety of environmental factors. On a smaller scale, natural dyes are quite lovely and can be created simply from a backyard garden, native plants, and produce. And some dyes are easy to make and use without jumping too far into the scientific side of dying fibres.
Eggs are one of the easiest items to colour with natural dyes using small dye batches made in a kitchen… no special equipment needed! And what better time to dye eggs than Easter!
With eggs, the colours do not have to be incredibly colourfast because they are not being washed like a garment and since the scale of dying is so small you can create strong solutions of dye yielding saturated colours.
In this post I will take you through the process of dying Easter eggs using natural dyes, which includes making the dyes from scratch too. I chose to use six different plant items for this example, however, I would suggest choosing 4 different dyes to make into colours, as making more than that at one time is a little on the laborious side.
Just a couple of notes before beginning, natural dyed eggs do take longer to create than the chemical tablet dyes you would buy from a store. This is because you are extracting the colour from each plant or produce item using heat, which takes roughly 20 minutes for each. There are a couple that can be done in the microwave as well, but I would suggest preparing the dyes the day before dying the eggs so all the dyes are cooled and easier to handle.
Another thing to note about natural dyes, especially if you are fairly new to using and making them, is that blending and layering natural dye colours do not work the same as regular colour mixing rules. For example, if I mixed red and blue food colouring together, I would get purple. If you mixed a natural dye that looks pink with one that looks blue you may get something totally different that you would never have expected. Some colours can also change as they dry, which is extremely interesting and mysterious! Just another reason to experiment with the plants and produce you use and mix together!
Easter Egg Dying with Natural Dyes
Plants and Colours
Turmeric (powder or roots) = yellow Orange onion skins = orange Red cabbage (with 1 tbsp vinegar) = light blue to teal Black beans = darker blue with speckles Hibiscus flowers = midnight blue (with hints of purple) Beets = pink
Combinations (1st dip colour + 2nd dip colour)
Turmeric + red cabbage = light green Turmeric + hibiscus = dark green Onion + red cabbage = darker orange Red cabbage with baking soda added = teal Red cabbage with vinegar = teal with pink blotches
Making the Dyes
Each plant material will make a separate dye colour for the eggs. It’s best to dye the eggs after the dyes have cooled, therefore it is best to prepare them the day before. It’s not totally necessary, however it does make the egg dying process more straightforward for dying with multiple colours. Eggs can also be dyed while they are boiling on the stove top which can speed up this whole natural egg dying process. This method is best used if you are only planning on dying with one or two colours and perhaps using other fun design option (see bottom of post for an example). Cabbage is a great all-in-one dye for eggs, and can produce beautiful robin egg blues, especially if the eggs are boiled with the cabbage.
1 tbsp Turmeric powder 2 – 4 Beets, quartered 1 – 2 Handfuls orange onion skins ¼ – ½ A red cabbage depending on the size 20g (⅓ cup) Dried hibiscus petals ** ½ cup Dried black beans
Small metal pot Metal spoon Glass jars or cans for storing dyes Optional: cheesecloth for straining
**Black Beans can not be done the day of egg dying and needs 24 hours to soak.
For each of the first 5 plant materials listed, follow these directions to make each dye.
Place plant material in a small pot and cover with water. For the turmeric powder, make sure there is about 2” of water for the 1 tbsp powder.
Bring the water and plant material to a boil on med-high heat, and once it begins to boil, turn the temperature down to simmer the dye.
Simmer for 20 minutes. The longer the plant material simmers for, the stronger the dye will be. 20 minutes is about the average minimum amount, however, if you do have more time, feel free to simmer each for a longer time. The hibiscus and cabbage both really benefit from being heated longer, however the turmeric won’t really change with more time heated. It’s pretty colour concentrated to begin with.
Take the pot off the heat and let it cool with the plant material still soaking in the pot for about 20 minutes.
Once it is cool enough not to burn you, scoop or strain the plant material out of the dye, pour the dye into a jar or can, and compost the boiled plant material.
Store the dyes in the fridge until ready to use.
Turmeric and cabbage can both be done in the microwave quite easily. Place plant material into a microwave safe bowl or jar. If your bowl is not glass, the turmeric will forever change the colour of it.
Cover the plant material with water, leaving room at the top so it doesn’t overflow
Microwave at 2 – 3 minute increments until water has heated and essentially boiled the plant material. (This could be about 6 – 12 minutes)
Leave it to cool before straining the plant material out of the dye.
Black Bean Dye
Place black beans in a jar and just cover with water.
Leave the beans in the water for 24 hours. As the beans soak, they will absorb water, add more if the beans are above the water. Gently stir with a spoon when you add more water.
Once the beans are done soaking, pour the soaking water into a jar, which is now the black bean dye. The beans can now be used for cooking.
Dying The Easter Eggs
Yay! Now that you have small batches of natural dyes, you can dye lots of different things… including Easter eggs! Dying Easter eggs is one of my favourite Easter traditions that my family would do every year. With natural dyes patience is key, but they can be so beautiful, experimental, and even involve some chemistry lessons for the kids!
4 – 6 Natural dyes made the day before 6 glass cups Newspaper (to cover the table) 6 spoons or egg dippers 1 tbsp Vinegar ½ tbsp Baking soda
Pour each dye into a wide mouth cup and fill with about 3” of dye or until each cup is filled ¾ of the way.
To alter the cabbage dye, pour cabbage dye into two cups and add either 1 tbsp vinegar or ½ tbsp baking soda into one of them. This will alter the pH of the dye, creating a different colour.
Fully submerge each egg into the dye. I would suggest leaving it in the dye anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes. Again, the longer you leave it, the stronger the colour. If the egg looks to be very light in colour, try leaving it out for a bit as the colour may set and change as it dries.
Take the egg out, let it dry by air or lightly rub it with a rag. Because natural dye is actually “dying” the surface, it will not come off as easily when touched with your fingers or laying on a cloth surface.
Try dipping some of the eggs in a second colour and experiment with mixing. Usually second dips take a shorter amount of time to achieve a strong colour.
Many other plants and produce items can be used to dye Easter eggs. Some other plants you could try making dye from could include:
Blueberries = blue/purple Coffee/tea = brown Red onion skins = red/brown Grapes/red wine = burgundy Elderberries = grey/blue
Plant material I would NOT suggest trying to dye with:
Spinach Parsley Mint
These three dyes are meant to create a green coloured dye, however, they require tons of leaves to actually make any sort of colour that will transfer to another surface. In my opinion, they are a waste of produce and time. To achieve a green colour, you can have much better success by double dipping eggs in two different colours, for example, turmeric first, then cabbage. These leaves can be used for creating egg designs though! See the example below, updated March 2021.
Creating Egg Designs
Updated March 2021
These eggs above were dyed a year after this post was originally posted. With addition to dying eggs with natural dyes, you can make so many natural looking designs using leaves, herbs, or fresh flower petals. To create designs like the cabbage dyed leaf-printed egg above, choose a uniquely shaped leaf like parsley and place it on the egg. Warp the egg and leaf tightly in cotton cheese cloth, twisting the cloth to make sure the leaf can not move. Tie an elastic around around the top to secure it. If you would like dark colours quickly, you can also boil the wrapped eggs with a dye like cabbage on the stove top while boiling the cabbage. Doing this creates a more uneven colour on the egg and can even yield purple colouring as well (this is what I did with the egg above).
Other techniques for creating designs on your eggs:
Robin eggs – after dying eggs in cabbage dye and they have dried, create a mixture of cornstarch and water. Gently flick the cornstarch mixture at the eggs to make a speckled design. Let it dry.
Gold leaf – When the eggs have mostly dried, use edible gold leaf to create flakes of gold on your eggs. If they do not stick to the egg, you can use the cornstarch mixture to help them adhere. You can use regular gold leaf as well, however because craft gold leaf is not edible, I would suggest only using wooden or other fake eggs for craft gold leaf.
Wax resists – Use a white crayon, bees wax, or small birthday candle to draw designs on the egg before placing it into the dye. Wherever the wax is, the dye will bead off.
My last bit of advice, if I were to choose only four plant materials to create dye from, I would use turmeric, red cabbage, hibiscus, and onion skins. They offer many colour combinations, options for pH adjustment, and all create concentrated dyes that make for beautiful saturated colours. If you’d like to try creating speckled eggs with red cabbage dye, this website has a wonderful tutorial that I would highly recommend.