When I was growing up, my mom was a weaver. I remember there often being a project going on her loom, her spinning wheel tucked in the corner, and the big canning pot on the stove, dyeing yarns. I wonder now if I have always been curious about natural dyes, because in the third grade, my mom helped me put together a science project using foods as natural dyes.
Recently, when my mom brought over a stack of children’s book on fiber arts, she also brought over several books on using natural dyes for fabrics and yarns, knowing that my interest in natural dyes had been rekindled. I skimmed the books, learning things I had not known, wishing for more detail on fabric dyeing, knowing I am not ready to purchase chemicals to use as setting agents, and finally settling in on the natural food dyes I know and love.
But this time, I chose not to use them for fabric. I decided to use them for food. I wanted to give my kids the opportunity to color something and Easter eggs seemed like the perfect choice.
Using foods for natural dyes (of eggs, non-synthetic cloth, and non-synthetic yarn) is incredibly easy. Some foods are natural dyes (or as we know them, staining agents), such as coffee, tea, turmeric, mustard, grapes (wine), berries, beets, etc.
Here is how to make your own egg dyes:
Your food for color + 1 tablespoon vinegar + 2 cups water = Egg Dye
(The vinegar is the setting agent.) Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, them simmer for 10 or more minutes.
Pouring your mixture through a sieve will give a liquid that leaves you with a solid dye color. Leaving the food material in the mix will give your egg a mottled color.
To obtain various colors:
Red: beets, cabbage, red raspberries, strawberries
Yellow: onion skins, turmeric, mustard
Blue/Purple: blueberries, blackberries
Green: mix your yellow and blue dyes
Orange: mix your red and yellow dyes
We used red raspberries for red, blue and blackberries for blue/purple, and a combination of turmeric, mustard, and onion skins for yellow. For a second batch, we used beets for a more vibrant red.
We also made leaf imprints on some of our eggs. To do this, simply press the leaf against the egg, wrap the egg tightly inside an old nylon stocking, twist to keep taut, and dye for as long as you can bear to leave it sitting.
The egg above was dyed in blueberries and the egg below was dyed in beets. Both were left soaking for well over an hour. We left them tightly wrapped when they were removed from the color and they were allowed to dry slightly before we removed the stockings and peeled off the leaves.
And because I could not bear to let all those simmered berries go to waste, I used them to make berry cobbler!
1 quart (4 cup) berries (or chopped fruit of another variety)
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 stick butter
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2/3 cup milk
Stir berries/fruit and 1 cup sugar. Set aside. Make a batter of flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and milk. Melt butter in baking pan (9×13). Add half the batter into pan and blend with butter. Put berry mixture on top of batter, then top with remaining batter. Do not mix. Bake at 350 F until crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Note: You may want to use less sugar, depending on the fruit. Two cups of sugar makes it very sweet. You also may prefer to use less butter.
Nicola Alesandrini lives in Northern California with her family, where she spends her days chasing kids, enjoying bits of nature, and avoiding laundry. She’s a jack-of-all-trades who loves economical and ecological living. She writes and crafts whenever she can squeeze it in and she blogs about it all at Which Name?