Written by: Rahdne Zola
While I am by no means a traditional guy, the exception for me is that I love dyeing eggs in the springtime. It’s an activity that I enjoyed as a child and now as an adult it has become a sacred ritual that spans 2 days and is reminiscent of the building excitement of Christmas to a child. After not dyeing eggs for many years, two years ago on a whim, I decided to dye eggs again and attempt it using natural dyes. I gathered a few ingredients (coffee, tea, turmeric, and grape juice) and winged it. I had mild success that year. Of the dozen eggs that I dyed, about 4 or 5 of them turned out. That experience in 2014 taught me a lot, which I applied a year later when it came time to dye eggs again. I was also better prepared with the proper jars and a more extensive list of ingredients. I achieved significantly better results in 2015 with all 16 of the eggs I dyed. After posting photos of that year’s batch online, a few people asked me to share my process with them. It took me a year, but I am sharing that now through this year’s batch.
Typically, my egg-dyeing ritual begins on Friday. This photo shows the ingredients used in my 2016 batch: purple kale, cherries, cranberries, yellow onion skins, red onion skins, dried day lilies, blueberries, turmeric, match green tea, beet powder, blackberries, dried hibiscus petals, pomegranate, and asparagus. Two additional ingredients not pictured here that I used were red wine and rooibos tea. Of all of these, only three of them yielded no results: asparagus, pomegranate, and matcha green tea. I learned afterward that the trick to using pomegranate is to boil the peel (I had only the insides of a pomegranate). It’s also worth noting that the cherries yielded a pale brown, which can be used as a base or second color, but it’s not quite up to par to be used on its own. A very important fact that I learned after everything was in the fridge: most varieties of North American day lilies are toxic, and for cats they are lethal. I removed all unused day lilies from my house immediately and left only the ones that were already “steeping” with the eggs. Even though the day lilies provided a pretty bluish-grey hue, I discarded those 2 eggs after photographing them so as not to take any chances. (In 2017, I will purchase Chinese day lilies to use because they are not at all harmful to consume.)
With the purple kale, hibiscus, turmeric, and beet powder, I included them in the pot of water to cook with the eggs. I also added vinegar to help with transferring the colors onto the eggshells. It’s important not to overdo the vinegar. As I learned in 2014, too much vinegar will soften your eggshells and the dye ingredient will soak into the egg. If you use only enough water to cover a single layer of eggs in a pot, then add no more than 1/4 of a cup (4 tablespoons) of vinegar. The yellow and red onion skins were also cooked in the water with the eggs, but they do not require vinegar. Onion skins are potent colorants and the more skins you use for dyeing, the more pronounced the hue will be. As for all of the different berries, I cooked the eggs separately and then combined them afterward. These fruits do not require vinegar, either.
For the ingredients that you boil along with the eggs, transfer the liquid into the jar. Using a spoon, gently lower the eggs into the jar. Adding the food items (kale leaves, onion skins, etc.) will give a unique pattern to the eggs, so if you want solid colors on your eggs, do not include the leaves and skins. For the fruits, I usually only partially mash them and then spoon them into the jars around the eggs. Again, use only the juice if you want a uniform, solid look to your eggs. If you want to create different designs and patterns on your eggs, anything that you can place between the dye and the eggshell will work. Popular items include rubber bands and tape, but let your imagination run wild. The best way to learn is to experiment. When finished, seal the lids and place the jars in the refrigerator overnight or longer.
The vessel in which you “steep” your eggs is important. Ideally, you want a tall, narrow jar so that you can include several eggs all while keeping the liquid as concentrated as possible. In 2014 I made use of various items in my kitchen, but for my 2015 batch, I purchased these 1-liter cylindrical jars made by Weck. I used them again this year and they are absolutely perfect for dyeing eggs. On Saturday, if the sun happens to be shining, I will remove the jars from the refrigerator and place them on the windowsill to steep in the sunshine for a bit. On Saturday is when you will want to transfer your eggs to another color or add/alter the items (rubber bands, tape, etc.) on the eggs. If you’re using an ingredient that isn’t giving you the results you want, now is the time to change your plan for those particular eggs because this will be your last chance to make any changes to your eggs before they’re finished.
At this point, I often peek into the jars to see what is happening with the eggs, much like marveling at the presents under a Christmas tree. The wonder and mystique is exhilarating. The excitement for what’s to come when I unveil the eggs is palpable. I eagerly await Sunday morning.
The culmination of your excitement and your work comes with the big reveal on Sunday morning. The elation that I felt as a child tearing into Christmas presents is echoed in unveiling the dyed eggs, although I find that the reveal of eggs has a more satisfying payoff, perhaps from the aesthetic qualities of the eggs combined with the gratification of knowing that I created them myself. Either way, the experience is euphoric for me. Pick a jar and start removing your treasures. You will want to handle the eggs as little as possible so as to preserve the look. Depending on the ingredient used, you can rub off some of the color for a paler look, if that is your preference. However you decide you like your eggs to look, you will want to blow dry them, which helps to preserve the look. Once dried, I gently rub mine with olive oil, which intensifies the colors, patterns, and contrasts found on each egg.
As discussed previously, last year’s batch brought about an emotional turning point in my creative identity. Naturally, I went into this year’s ritual with a slightly refined process, an arsenal of magical energy, and my most ambitious roster of ingredients to date. The outcome, pictured in these 2 photos, did not disappoint, with 22 striking eggs in the end.
Like previous years, 2016’s experience came with its own lessons, which I will likely apply next year. As you begin to do the ritual over time, you can start to see parallels between your emotional space and your creative output from year to year. In 2016, I needed an abundance of vibrant colors and so that is what I produced.
Start your own egg-dyeing tradition, whether by yourself or with your children, and see where it takes you. Leave me a comment about your experiences or any questions you may have. Which ingredients work well for you? Follow the links below to view photos from all of my egg-dyeing rituals. Whether you celebrate Ostara, Easter, or Spring, make it a colorful, beautiful one.
Featured in this post: Eggs for Ostara Series 3 No 1Eggs for Ostara Series 3 No 2
All current artwork can be found in my profile at Fine Art America. Thank you for your time and your support.