Making Vegetable Dyes

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Question: I've heard that you can dye eggs using plant materials from the garden. My kids would love this. How do we go about it?

Answer: Using plant dyes to decorate eggs is an engaging activity that requires few materials. Here's a basic method: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add plant materials plus 1 tablespoon of vinegar, and simmer the mixture for at least ten minutes. Then it's ready for dyeing.

Before immersing the eggs in the dye, your children can use hard or melted wax to draw designs on the eggs. The wax will resist the dye, and patterns will emerge. Children can also experiment with other ways of creating intriguing patterns -- by wrapping and securing plant materials (e.g., cabbage leaves) around the eggs before simmering them, for instance. Inquisitive youngsters might examine how the concentration of dye plant material or vinegar affects the outcome. Or they might try dyeing different types of materials, such as yarn or fabric.

Here are some garden plants that can be used for dyes:

  • beets (red)

  • red cabbage (blue)
  • carrot tops (green)
  • mint leaves (yellow)
  • parsley leaves (yellow)
  • spinach plants (green)
  • onion skins (tan)
  • black-eyed Susans (yellow)
  • coreopsis (orangish)
  • marigolds (yellow)
  • sunflowers (gold)
  • zinnias (yellow)

Note: If you are dyeing fabrics, particularly those that will be washed, you might need to add a "mordant" to help bind the color. Alum and vinegar are the only mordants we recommend using with children. Consult a book on dyeing with plants for more details.

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