Red tulips, green dye

This idea came from Сніжана Король, who successfully dyed eggs with green dye made of red tulips. Don’t be surprised, it’s quite common for fresh red flowers to dye eggs green. I must say, the tulip dye dyes surprisingly well and surprisingly fast, smells a bit like raw potato, and we’ll have to wait and see about the light-fastness.

Now, the recipe. I didn’t have red tulips, so I bough some in the store (was looking for as dark a red as possible), and enjoyed them till they wilted.

Took the flowers, chopped them with scissors, did not soak them (though you could try, it’s generally recommended), covered with 500ml of hot water and cooked in a pot for about 20 min. at more or less boiling temperature. Let them cool, strained the petals and threw them out, added alum and the dye was ready. The dye gave much even tone on an egg wiped with vinegar before dyeing, so I would recommend that.

The book I have on dyeing fibres with plant dyes suggested that adding alum with vinegar, or, optionally iron, would produce different colors. As you might already know, it doesn’t always work the same for eggs. After playing a bit with the basic alum recipe, I split the dye into two cups, and added a gulp of vinegar into one, and iron mordant into the other. Not recommended, both of these.

Below, clockwise, from top (12) to bottom left (9):

  • untreated chicken egg in a dye with alum, 10 or 15 min.
  • dye with alum, chicken egg wiped with vinegar before the first coat of dyeing, first shade 10 min, next shade 1 hour, next shade about 12 hours. Beautiful (never mind my shaky hands, I’ve been doing so much of drop-pull, that the regular kistka is refusing to make even curves).
  • brown chicken egg, dye with alum – not as even as white egg.
  • goose egg pre-dyed yellow with old coreopsis – ok, but not as vibrant as white chicken.
  • chicken egg, dye with alum and vinegar – became all spotty and coming off easily. Perhaps too much vinegar? Anyway, not recommended, no need to spoil a perfectly dyeing dye.
  • chicken egg, dye with alum and iron

I have no more functional tulip dye left, so my tulip experiment is over for now, but there are still plenty of tulips around Toronto, so now it’s your turn. And yes, my book says that yellow tulips can give a yellow dye, and can also be supplemented with daffodils and narcissi. It says there to use the mordants for yellow that I don’t use (tin or chrome), but you could try just alum, and see what happens, anyway it is different on eggs than it is on fibres.

Goose egg drop-pull spree

I wanted to keep using the dyes I made for the Pysanky Toronto retreat. The dyes were not very cooperative at the even, but when they came back home and relaxed a bit, they were dyeing just fine, so it would be a shame to not use them. Still working on the strokes, and starting to work on the variety of patterns. All these patterns are from the Lithuanian book.


  • Top-left, coreopsis extract then sappan wood
  • Top-right dyer’s broom extract, then mulberry, then sappan wood (red)
  • Bottom: coreopsis extract, then sappan wood, then vinegar etched to white, then dyer’s broom to bright yellow and immediately after mulberry.

Sappan wood, alum vs. iron mordant

For those of you who are wondering, what different mordants can do to the dye, here is sappan wood with alum (red) and the other half of the same dye with iron mordant (purple-grey-black).

Besides changing the colour (or tone) itself, in some cases mordants used of fabric also improve, sometimes dramatically, light- and wash-fastness of the dye. I don’t know what will happen with eggs, I guess, the time will tell.

Here’s the iron mordant I got and used:

Technically speaking, you could just use the edible grade iron sulphate supplement from a drug store, it’s the same formula most of the time.

Another proof that not all that works for fabrics works for eggs also: the iron added to coreopsis dye did nothing, in fact, it just killed the dye, even though iron seems to work well with coreopsis for both plant and animal based fibres.

Coreopsis and madder

Some more experiments with same dyes, except this madder is from roots, not from powdered extract. In the first egg I overdid it with madder (because I have both light and dark red from the same dye), and it ate though the wax and messed with the yellow of coreopsis. Duck eggs.

Logwood dye (extract)

Logwood is and old dye (apparently it’s been used for dyeing since 16th century). It is supposed to give a range of colors from blue and purple to black. I got sort of dark brown with the addition of alum and chalk.

I found the dye to be not particularly eager, maybe it doesn’t like eggs so much. It also comes off easily when the wax is being taken off with candle. That, however, I have noticed with a number of natural dyes, that you have to be much more careful and gentle when taking off the wax, than with chemical dyes. So I often add much more wax before taking it off to seal the whole surface of the egg. Another thing I noticed is that the natural dyes seem to burn much easier than the chemical ones, that is, also when the wax is taken off with the candle.

UPD: To help set the logwood dye in other eggs, I have over-dyed them with another dye (in that case red sappan wood). While the egg remained almost black, the powdery surface of logwood was nicely sealed, and the issue of the dye coming off with wax has been resolved.

To see other eggs dyed with logwood, use logwood tag.

Red cabbage dye

I was a bit sceptical about the cabbage dye, but so far was pleasantly surprised. Let’s see how the color lasts, and whether it withstands time and light. How to make a cabbage dye? Ask google. I did, and found a bunch of step-by-step instructions. I’ll add one more.

Got some red cabbage. Actually, it’s been sitting in the fridge for months and was quite tired looking. If you get a fresher one, perhaps you’d get a better color.

Chopped the cabbage, put in a metal container, barely filled with water. The more cabbage, the better, only put as much water, as you need for the dye. I put around 300 ml for half a small cabbage.

Boiled the cabbage in water for about 15 min., strained and squeezed as much liquid from the cabbage as I could. Got this sort of purplish color.

Since I’m not a fan of purple, I added some baking soda, to turn the purple into teal. You could keep the purple if you like it, or add acid (vinegar) to change it more towards red. I didn’t do it, I like it blue. Added some alum.

Here is what the white egg looked like after some time in the dye.

On the left – olive green achieved with cabbage dye after coreopsis. With time I realized, the results are better when dyeing repeatedly, that is, put it for a while in the dye, then pull it out, let it dry and rest, and then put back into the dye again. See the first photo – the blue background egg has been in the cabbage dye three times.

The egg on the right was used to write on it and then was etched with vinegar. I made a mistake of washing the wax off with hot water, the dye did not like that and came off in some places. Regular method (though done quite carefully) of taking the wax off with the candle, worked much better with preserving the dye – you can see that in the first photo.

The dye smells like cabbage, which is not particularly pleasant, but other than that does not spoil fast – I’ve had it for a month, most of the time it’s been in the fridge, and it’s still working fine.

UPD. After some time the eggs are not smelling like cabbage any more, which is great.

For more eggs died with this dye, see red cabbage tag.

First experiments with natural dyes complete.

Here is the result:

You already saw the previous post with yellow coreopsis dye. I must say this was my favourite dye, and I was extremely lucky to have started with it, because I have struggled quite a bit with the next dyes. Coreopsis give a good intense yellow with relatively little dye, without cooking (just boiling water), it dyes quite fast and works well for a long time. While the red dyes have spoiled by now, this one seems fine still, and smells as beautifully now, as it did in the beginning, in spite of having been sitting in a jar in a hot room. I love this dye and will definitely keep using it.

Now, one by one.

1. coreopsis – yellow, madder standard and cochineal – red (50-50 mixture, twice).

I would have probably dyed it for the third time, the plan was to leave it in the dye over night one more time (it had already a session of few hours and then once overnight), because it still had some patches not fully dyed to my liking, but when I came from the week-end of being away, the dye has spoiled, so I’ll have to try a new batch of red dye eventually. I have really struggled with both madder and cochineal, I was not getting the intensity of color that I was expecting based on other people’s reports (and probably based on my amazing experience with coreopsis), I have used up the small container of madder standard in the process. I still have a container of madder rich, but that has turned from powder into a piece of rock, so I’ve let it be for now. I am tempted to just buy some regular madder in a herb store – it comes both in the root form and in powder, and see whether it works better that this fancy dye powder. We’ll see.

2. red cabbage – teal, vinegar – white.

Red cabbage was a nice experiment, because that is something that is easily available in a grocery store. I did add a mordant, and changed the pH balance to have a blue tone instead of purple. It smells like cabbage, is rather weak when dyeing, and takes a while, but still it works, and let’s see how the color withstands time and light. Maybe I’ll show later in a separate post and in detail, how I made that dye, especially if I manage to get another egg or two dyed in it.

3. coreopsis – yellow, black walnut – brown. Goose egg.

Black walnut worked sort of OK, but took a while to dye. It’s good as foundation (or over-dye) for other colours to make them darker. Perhaps I should have dyed this one two or three times. The dye powder is coarser than others, and I have more of it, so I will likely play with it a bit more, to see whether I can get the color more intense or have it dye faster. The egg pattern is not traditional, it is from a memorized and partially improvised version of a trypillya-style egg I have seen before. Not sure who is the author of this pattern, if I knew I would say.

4. black walnut – brown, vinegar – white.

I did an experiment here, because this was an etched egg and I did not want to mess up the while background by taking the wax off with the candle, I did half of it with hot water and half with hot oil. Turned out, walnut did not like one of those procedures (neither, by the way, did the etched cabbage egg above), guess which was the procedure not liked by walnut and cabbage? You can see that the dye on the right (or bottom) half of the egg has partially washed away. Didn’t like the water, liked oil just fine. You’ll see later that lac did not like oil. But maybe would not have liked water even more, who knows…

5. coreopsis – yellow, red cabbage – pale green, lac and then black walnut – brown.

This is the egg from the previous post.

So the red cabbage gave this pale green instead of teal-blue after coreopsis. I fell in love with this pattern earlier this year, so here is a comparison, the same pattern dyed with chemical dyes, with natural dyes and without dyes – etching with vinegar on the brown egg.

6. coreopsis – yellow, madder and cochineal – red, lac – burgundy, vinegar – white.

In the photo below you can see that lac was not happy at all and came off with the wax. Not sure whether it did not like the hot oil, which I used to take it off, or maybe it was just generally unhappy. It did not behave like this in the egg above when I used black walnut over lac, maybe this is what I should have done here. But, in general, lac stinks (worse than cabbage), it takes a long time to dye, the color is not particularly nice, and as we can see, does not stay so well. And it spoiled also within the same timeframe as madder+cochineal. I still have some left, so I might do more research to see whether I can add something to the dye to make it more happy (chalk? cream of tartar? something else?) and play more with it, but probably not any time soon. I will probably try out other versions of similar colours that I have not tried yet before coming back to this one.

See, this is lac by itself, the first try on plain egg – I should have known still from this first run, that is does not stick all that well to egg, the dye came off just by me wiping the egg dry.

So, that’s it for now. Ask questions if you have any.

All the dyes I have used here besides red cabbage are Maiwa extracts in powder form.