Egg decorating is a festive activity that celebrates the arrival of spring, a season of renewal. The egg, an ancient symbol of rebirth and new life, has a long and storied history tied to holidays and seasonal celebrations around the world, including Easter. In fact, if you’ve hand-dyed eggs, then you have, perhaps unknowingly, participated in one of the oldest known decorative art forms. In 2010, archaeologists in South Africa discovered engraved ostrich eggs dating back around 60,000 years. Since then, eggs have been decorated in every way imaginable, including traditional pysanky (Ukrainian Easter egg decoration) and arts-and-craft inspired decoupage eggs.
This tutorial keeps things simple and relies on natural ingredients, which result in rich, jewel-toned dyes that cover the egg in a wash of color but also let the shell’s speckled beauty show through. Drawing on spring’s color palette for inspiration — from robin’s egg blue to daffodil yellow — the dye recipes shared here require little more than a few kitchen ingredients and a bit of patience.
These dyes are not fast-working like their commercial counterparts; the eggs need to soak for a few hours at a minimum. To achieve the vibrant colors shown here, you must soak your eggs overnight. If you prefer more pastel tones, a shorter soak is effective. Keep in mind that this is not an exact science — colors will vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including the color of your eggs’ shells and the amount of time you soak them for.
Natural dye ingredients, such as
3 cups of yellow onion skins from roughly 8-10 onions
3 cups of red cabbage, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons ground turmeric
3 cups of beets, chopped
3 cups frozen blueberries
3 tablespoons hibiscus loose-leaf tea
1.5 quarts water per dye ingredient
12 tablespoons white vinegar
2 dozen white or brown eggs, or both, hard-boiled
To create a dye bath, combine a single natural dye ingredient (listed above) with one and a half quarts of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat to low and simmer for roughly 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool before straining the liquid into a large glass jar or bowl. Avoid using stoneware as the dye can stain. Compost or dispose of the solids. Stir two teaspoons of white vinegar into the dye.
Repeat these instructions for each of the dye ingredients in separate pots, or use the same pot washed thoroughly after each preparation.
To dye the eggs, add a single layer of hard-boiled eggs to a jar or baking dish, and pour the dye over them until they are completely submerged. For soft, pastel colors, allow the eggs to soak for two to three hours; for vibrant, richer colors, place the dye bath of eggs in the fridge and allow them to soak overnight. You can experiment with the vibrancy of the dye by giving the eggs multiple soaks in the dye, but just be sure to dry them in between soaks. You can also dip the eggs in different baths to achieve different colors; the purple eggs resulted from dyeing the eggs in the beet dye, and later, in the cabbage dye.
To remove the eggs from the dye, it’s best to use a slotted spoon. The key is to remove them gently and allow them to dry completely before you handle them — the dye can rub off or streak if you handle or wash the eggs before they are dry. Use a cooling rack or empty egg carton for drying.
As long as the eggs are properly refrigerated and stored according to food safety guidelines, they are perfectly safe to eat for up to a week, and the dyes leave no discernible flavor.