23 April 2011

The New Old School of Egg Decorating

I couldn’t remember the last time we’d decorated Easter eggs. My daughters have only done it a few times in their lives. And so, after seeing Soule Mama’s blog on eggs, I thought it was high time we tried it again. But having been inspired by Soule Mama’s crafty inclinations I thought we’d try using some natural dyes. I’ve never met this women, who lives on a farm somewhere in New England, where she sews and knits, photographs, writes books, and does so many beautiful things that make me wonder why I’m sitting in front of the computer screen (again!) instead of learning how to do something.

As kids, my siblings and I decorated eggs every year, if I recall my childhood correctly. We were dyers of the Paas School of Egg Decorating. How I loved to drop that colored tablet into the vinegar! Easter, to me, always smelled like boiled eggs and vinegar, rather than chocolate and lilies. We were pretty traditional in most of our designs, using crayons and rubber bands to illustrate our egg canvases. And usually, even our dad would join us, often late in the game, making cool multi-color eggs that made us all wish we had a few more eggs to color. And our mom would usually indulge us by letting us dye any eggs – even raw ones – that remained in the house.

It is definitely more work to make our own dye, and the process of dyeing took a lot more time than it would with the kit. It wasn’t a short activity by any means; in fact, eggs were in the dye baths for several hours, so it wasn’t the greatest activity to do with young kids. Arden got bored, but came back to check on her eggs several times.

To make a pink dye, we used beets. Coffee, of course, will give you a yellowish-brown effect – I tried not to think about what my daily habit is doing to my teeth! Red cabbage makes a beautiful blue dye. And red onion skins resulted in a very cool mottled greenish effect that was more dramatic than anything we could have achieved with a kit.

I was reminded of a framed poster my grandparents had hanging in their house, which had illustrations of various native-to-Arizona plants and small swatches of yarn that was dyed from parts of those plants. For a time, my grandfather was into weaving and even dyed his wool.

This process of making dyes was an experiment that made me think of how we – as a society – have lost a lot of skills and knowledge about how to make things and how to do things. A few generations ago nearly everyone had a garden, was an artisan of sorts, understood how things worked (and therefore could fix them), or created something that was a necessity for others. It was far more than a hobby or craft. We’ve ventured away from that for the most part, towards offices and desk jobs and computer screens. But the good news is that there are lots of people out there who do know how to make and create all kinds of things – and many of them write books and blogs about it.

What new “old skill” might you learn?


  1. Very impressive. Uh, well, as fore me, I hard-boiled the eggs! Catcher and Cath went Paas on them while I spent the day at the Spring Beer Fest and watching basketball and soccer with friends. I did hide the eggs in the yard, and, in fact, some of them were hidden in spots where slugs joined them, making Catcher's discovery double the fun.

    I may try canning this Fall, but I'm not fully committed.

  2. Wow how gorgeous! I'd say the results were well worth the time. The eggs (egg salad?) might be gone by now but you've always got the beautiful pictures. And the memories.