Friday, 14 April 2017

Dyeing Plant Prints on Boiled Eggs

With family staying over the Easter holidays, I have enjoyed coercing visitors into trying natural dyes on hard boiled eggs. A friend showed me this video, which makes plant printing on eggs look like child's play. In practice, the first challenge was to find eggs with shells that weren't naturally brown already. After opening boxes all along the supermarket shelves, I bought a dozen white duck's eggs, a red cabbage and one onion, which I bagged together with all the loose brown onion skins in the tray. Next, to take my visitors for a hearty dog walk in the great outdoors, armed with a tub for collecting small leaves and flowers. Then another trip to the supermarket to buy a multipack of cheap nylons - none at home, I forgot that I haven't had to wear tights for years.

Cutting 20cm lengths off each leg of the tights, we tried to flatten leaves and flowers against an egg, then pull the tube of nylon over and stretch it away from the egg to tie the spare material in a knot. Keeping more than one flower flattened in place did not go well. Plant material has a tendency to roll itself up during the stretching and the egg may catapult off.

"Cracking start, Oscar." My companion, Elinor Gotland, considers my younger relatives fair game for her rapier wit. 
"Did you fancy an omelette?" 

In the video, the process only takes a second, but on close observation, you can see that the tube of tights starts off stretched over one hand, the egg and the plant material go into that palm, then the spare nylon is brought over the back of the hand and knotted on the other side of the egg.

"There now, I said just to use one leaf or flower, keep it simple, eh, stupid?"
Elinor went over to critique the dye pots.
"Sure you've got enough onion skins in here? Don't want to mess anything else up, butty bach." 

Unfortunately for Elinor, she had underestimated my nephew, who is quite hardened to cruel and disparaging remarks. 

Half the red cabbage was chopped into a casserole pot and our remaining eggs were wrapped and put in with it. All we had to do now was rescue Elinor, add water and boil.

After ten minutes, the eggs inside must have been boiled, though their shells still looked pale. After twenty minutes, the onion skin eggs looked seriously sunburned, while the cabbage eggs had only the merest tinge of frostbite, as shown in the photo. Turning off the heat after 30 minutes, we left the pots to cool. 
The video says they should be refrigerated for another unspecified period, maybe the extra time helps dye uptake. Since the red cabbage eggs did look quite blue once cool, without refrigeration, we went straight in there with the scissors, snipping off the tights and peeling away the bits of plant.

The fine leaves of fern and fennel made my favourite effect, though broadly speaking, I think the best results came from thicker and more substantial bits of plant material. I ought to warn you, the whites of the eggs take up a bit of dye through the shell, though no taste of onion or cabbage.
Only two days time and there will be chocolate eggs. Face it, nothing else compares.


  1. argh, I just remembered my own childhood days, where we tried the same process:) it turned out that trying to spread the leaves on wet eggs makes the covering easier, though not by much! I think we eventually used pins to spread overturned leaf parts, once they were covered loosely by the tights... I love the results, but I don't like cold hard boiled eggs, so I decided that only freshly dyed (with food dyes) eggs will do tomorrow morning - again... happy easter and bon appetit:)

    1. Blue and orange/brown eggs on toast made breakfast more interesting, if not more appetising, to my smaller visitors - only one opted for cereal instead. Happy Easter :)

  2. Interesting results, Fran! Though I think browner eggs do very well for onion dyeing, at least in my practice. this year I also dyed Easter eggs in refosco wine. It gave a very dark colour which I can't name, English being my second language; I would describe it as violet to black-blue. They have a mist of crystals on the surface, very interesting. The colour and the crystals seem to be only poorly attached so the eggs must be handled with care.

    1. I didn't try dyeing brown eggs - I'll give it a go another time, thanks. I'm not sure if I will find refosco wine in Wales, but I will look out for it.