Celebrating the Spirit of Spring with Egg Dyeing
As an artist that works in the Nature Realms it feels especially important to make oblations to the spirits that surround me every day. Making offerings to the spirits of spring is one of the ways I like to show my gratitude to the abundance the land affords us here in the Pacific Northwest.
Our tradition is to wrap eggs in plants that I've gathered over the year and hard boil them to impart the dyes on the shells and then take them out to the forest to hide as food offerings.
Egg shells are an animal protein (like wool or silk) and hence will take dye more readily than vegetable proteins (like cotton or flax). I recommend beginning with free range eggs from local farmers. Often, I find that these are brown eggs, so I try and find a pack of the lightest brown ones I can to work with. Free range white eggs are available, but I had a hard time finding them this year.
I don't like to use mordants (or additives which help dyes adhere) when dyeing eggs since they will eventually be eaten by creatures of the forest. Although the mordants are non-toxic, I don't want to make anyone sick from ingesting even a small amount. Along these lines, I also try and choose dye plants that can be fairly safely eaten, even though the shells probably aren't being gobbled up. The spirits will take in the essence of the eggs and leave the food for the creatures of the forest to consume and also be nourished.
This year we chose to use some onion skins, alder cone dye (see previous post here), purple clematis flowers, and maple leaves. I set up three pots on the stove, the first containing the alder cone dye from a previous post. Water and two large handfuls of purple clematis flowers I'd been saving in my freezer were added to the second pot. The third pot was plain water to be used for the onion skin and maple leaf egg printing experiments.
Each pot was brought to a simmer prior to adding the eggs. Fellow Artist Amy Billharz joined me and we wound leaves and onion skins around several eggs, holding them in place with knotted cotton twine. Some eggs we just wound with the twine to see if it alone would make patterns on the shells when added to the alder cone or clematis dye pot. Experimentation is the most fun when doing this activity. Try anything and see what works!
I found that we got the most interesting dark colors from the eggs that were covered in maple leaves and onion skins and added to the alder cone or clematis dye pot. The eggs we covered in plants and added to the plain water gave lighter, brighter colors.
Once the eggs boiled for 7-10 minutes we turned off the heat and removed the pots from the burners, letting them sit for another 10 minutes. We then pulled them out with tongs to cool in a bowl for another 10 minutes before unwrapping them. (This waiting time is the perfect time for a cup of tea!)
Once unwrapped and patted dry with a towel we added them to a small basket lined with silk fabric and headed to the forest. As we walked, we chatted and laughed, each of us stopping every so often to hold an egg quietly for a moment then disappear into the undergrowth to a place that called to us to leave our offering with gratitude for the ending of Winter, the beginning of the blooming season, and return of the Sun. In this way, we walked through the woods enjoying the beauty around us and each other's company, giving thanks.
This is one of my favorite Spring rituals. Let me know if you try it!
(note: all photos in this post by Amy Billharz)