I love colouring Easter eggs with the kids, and we do this naturally with items out of our pantry. The kids love it too. When I last asked the kids if they wanted to dye eggs, my eldest immediately set himself at the counter and said, “Let’s get out the turmeric!” So we headed to the cupboard and fridge and retrieved our dye sources: turmeric, onion skins, beets, and purple cabbage.
Making the dyes is quick and easy. Just add equal parts of the dye source and water into a pot and add a splash of vinegar (about a tablespoon for each cup of water). The vinegar helps to set the dye, so don’t skip it. And don’t worry too much about quantities here, which will result is slight variations of colour, but it will all work. Then boil the contents of the pots for 15 to 20 minutes, let cool, and strain. And just like that, you’ve got your natural dyes!
– purple cabbage makes light blue tones
– beets makes pink tones
– turmeric makes yellow tones
– onion skins makes red tones
We got additional dyes by colour mixing.
I do this activity with my boys, so we dyed pre-boiled eggs in the cooled dyes in order that they can participate more fully in the process. But you can get different and usually deeper colour tones by boiling eggs directly in the pots of dye. I’d love to have green eggs this year, and read that red cabbage will transfer green dye on brown eggs, so that’s on our “to try” list.
There was almost no waste from the dyeing process, as we ate both the boiled beets (peeled and sprinkled with a little red wine vinegar) and the boiled cabbage (plain! the boys pulled it out of the pot and ate all of it without a word from me).
There are lots of ways to decorate the eggs. We’ve experimented with tying elastics around the eggs or applying stickers (paper hole reinforcements are fun) before dyeing. But our favourite for hands-on fun is to draw on still-warm freshly boiled eggs with beeswax crayons. The heat melts the wax and the crayons just slide on – it’s a lovely sensory experience. When the eggs were too hot to hold at first, the boys drew on them while they perched in a paper carton; later they could hold them in their hands.
If you’d like a sheen on the eggs, rub a little oil on them after dyeing. I usually present our eggs out on our playsilks so I haven’t applied the oil before. But it is pretty and I think the boys would enjoy the process so this year I’ll probably use paper instead of the silks to cushion the eggs.
As with all DIY projects with children, it’s important to focus on the process. My first time doing this with the children (who were obviously too young), I had their attention for 5 minutes and then basically dyed the eggs on my own which I enjoyed, but kind of missed the point. Except that maybe it didn’t, because now the boys line up at the table when it’s time to dye our eggs, ready to chop cabbage or pour the vinegar or draw on the eggs. It’s all part of the process, and has become one way in which we welcome the spring.