Dye Eggs like the Ancients with Plant Dyes

The ancient Romans had a saying, Omne vivum ex ovo, “All life comes from an egg.” In spring, we celebrate new birth and spiritual rebirth, much the way people have been doing for centuries — from Persia to Polynesia, India to Africa, Central Europe to Central America — and much of the ritual centers on the egg.

In a wonderful piece on spring rituals in the Huffington Post, Donna Henes writes that, in spring:

It is as if the great egg of the whole world has hatched.

The ancient Persians may have been among the first to dye their eggs, which were used in springtime festivals almost 5,000 years ago. Ukrainians and other Slavic people, in Eastern Europe, were also among some of the first ancient people to decorate eggs and use them in their sun worship and spring ceremonies.

The Ukrainians created especially elaborate designs for their eggs, which are called Pysanky. ¬†This is a wonderful¬†history of Pysanky, an ancient practice that lives today and influenced other cultures to decorate and give eggs — from the Medieval Europeans to the 1800s Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought egg-dyeing from Europe to the U.S. and in turn influenced druggist William Townley to create commercial egg dyes for his Paas Dye Company, which is still in business today. (The word Paas stems from Passen, the Pennsylvania Dutch word for Easter.)

Below, decorated Ukrainian Pysanky:

1880s customers clamored for William Townley’s egg-dyeing tablets, but of course the ancients used natural dyes from plants, roots, coffee and tea, and those are still wonderful and fun to use today. They also result in stunning, natural colors.

My friend Molly de Vries at The Fabric Society wrote a beautiful post about dyeing eggs using natural plant dyes. She used onion skin, turmeric, blueberries, cabbage, and grape juice. I’ve gotten nice results with beets. She includes complete and simple instructions for making your own dyes and creating festive dyed eggs. Her site is also filled with inspiration and pretty pictures about this and other projects.

The DTLK Kids site also has lots of ideas for unusual egg-dyeing projects and ways to create patterns and designs on your dyed eggs.

If you wish to take egg-dyeing to a whole other level, this is a terrific how-to site for exploring elaborate Ukrainian Pysanky designs, which are often created with layers of different colors, using small bits of candle wax where you don’t want the color to penetrate — a technique that resembles batik.

Enjoy your celebration of spring.

Dyed Egg Photos by Molly de Vries.

Ukrainian Egg Photo – Museum of the Pysanka, Kolomiya, Ukraine. Photo by Lubap.

Read Part 2: Egg Dyeing Workshop

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7 responses to “Dye Eggs like the Ancients with Plant Dyes

  1. I think we are going to try beets and onion skins this year. We get our eggs from a neighbor, so they already come in interesting colors. I love blueberries too much to use them as dye!

  2. good lord, this was marvelous! and i remember using tablets of dye eggs when i was a kid (don’t have any small ones of my own so haven’t dyed eggs in decades) thank you for this :)

  3. Namaste,
    Great piece of work Suz, really informative and well illustrated, going to be sharing this with my grand daughter this evening.
    Thank you again.
    peace be with you

  4. Greetings Mel, Kate and Michael! Thanks, as always, for visiting and for adding your good cheer. I’m so glad you’re inspired about dyeing eggs. Mel, and others who do this, definitely let us know how yours turn out. It’s such a fun, natural project. I didn’t know a lot about the decorating tradition either, until I started looking into it. The beauty is that it makes me want to use plant dyes for other things, too. (A neighbor used them on hand-spun yarn and got wonderful results. She then made socks!)

  5. Hi Suz

    Great posting. Thanks for sharing. My step-dad always makes “pace” eggs dyed with onion skins or celandines – a native UK plant that pops up in spring time and has a lovely yellow colour.

    I’m always interested in natural dyes – this was regarded as womenfolk’s secrets passed from generation to generation here in Scotland. So sadly much knowledge has been lost here.

    Best wishes

  6. Thank you for coming to my work shop Suse. It was fun playing!

  7. Pingback: Egg Dyeing Workshop | Slow Family Online

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