This year, I tried to replicate some of the traditional Lemko patterns from Elyjiv’s book with natural dyes. Of course, Elyjiv’s eggs were not made with natural dyes, neither, most likely, those Elyjiv copied from, but I thought this experiment would be interesting. Sometimes the dyes do not cooperate, and that goes for natural dyes even more than for aniline ones. Sometimes I used brown eggs, and that, of course, changed the colors as well. But, anyway, this was fun.
Here are my eggs, all dyed with natural dyes, that I brought as a demo to Pysanky Toronto event last weekend. Photo: Mykola Swarnyk
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.
Here are some eggs that I made last year but didn’t get to post on the blog. As usual, natural dye experiments.
Smaller egg – duck, yellow-marigold, brown – dried elderberry (not particularly reliable, seems like). Bigger egg – goose, yellow– marigold, orange – madder, brown – dried elderberry.
Yellow – weld, olive green – malva, blue – cabbage, pink – old madder+cochineal after vinegar. Smallest egg is chicken, then duck, the goose.
Weld (yellow), cabbage (blue, green, teal), duck eggs.
Weld (yellow), cabbage (green/olive), and madder/cochineal (orange), duck eggs
More exercises with what can well become my two favorite dyes, and with the drop-pull method. I’m discovering that there is much more potential for different strokes than I initially thought. My grandma only did simple dot and straight line circles, but the actual variety of patterns and stroke combinations is amazing, especially once you hit the google image search. Of course, my hand is still not very steady, needs more practice, but I’m looking forward to it. If someone knows a good book on these Lemkivski eggs, point me to it please!
Yellow – coreopsis extract, a new/different source, seems darker than the first one, I might consider diluting it more, and I ordered seeds, will attempt to grow some in a planter.
Red – still the same sappan wood. This dye is few weeks old now, has developed clumps and stuff, but still smells fine, doesn’t appear to be spoiled, and still gives the color, albeit not as easily or evenly as before.
I love these kinds of patterns from the North-East of Ukrainian ethnic territories, this area is now in Russia, and this is where one of my great-grandfathers was killed during World War II. These are so earthy and so sky-ey at the same time. I sometimes think, if birds were to make pysanky (the decorated eggs), this of what they would look like. Maybe it’s the abundance of pine-branch motif, that look so much like feathers. They also remind me the patters of native Americans.
The dyes: yellow is probably buckthorn (though maybe still weld? When you make and throw out 3 yellow dyes in 10 days, things become a bit confusing). The red is sappan wood. Then things became somewhat complicated. I was going for dark brown and put it into walnut, but it actually managed to eat out the darker red and gave me quite light brick-brown.
I didn’t mind the color, but for this egg preferred it to be traditional rather than experimental, so the egg waited for about a week till I made logwood. This time, as also previously, logwood on other eggs was coming off with wax, so I made an experiment. After logwood was dark enough, I let the egg dry, and next day put it back into sappan wood hoping the the coat of another dye will keep the logwood from pealing off (that seemed to have worked OK with the dark purple egg in the previous post). Voila! Seems to have worked just fine. Now let’s hope the logwood dye doesn’t spoil before I want to use it again – I have to make new yellow, and possibly also new red, and I used up all of the logwood extract I had left from my first purchase of natural dyes few years ago.
Here’s another take, where you can see the side-band also.
Here is a different technique of drawing with wax on eggs. My grandma, who taught me to draw on eggs used to do these with a simple matchstick, while heating wax in a tin on the stove. I haven’t done this for probably 25 years (first attempts look a bit shaky), finally decided to try again. Not with a matchstick, but with a thing they call here drop pull tool, but who knows, now that I figured out the other components of the process, I might even try the matchstick again.
This technique comes from a very special region of Western Ukraine, Lemkiwshchyna, mainly in present-day Poland (and perhaps also partially Slovakia). It is a very tragic place, and very special place, that has been robbed of its people during and after the second word war, it had its own dialect that was very different than others, its own amazing sings, and its own manner of drawing on eggs, of course, among other things. My grandma grew up there, her father was a priest and was sent there to serve, and lived there still for a few years after marriage. My grandfather’s plan, who was also a priest, was to immigrate to US, and the tickets for the ship were already bought, but apparently my aunt got sick, and grandma refused to take a sick baby sailing across the ocean. That chance was lost and they ended up moving to the Soviet Union in the middle of the war. Even though originally we are not “from” there, my grandma’s best years were spent there and she loved the place very much and gladly shared the memories, stories, and these kinds of eggs as well.
Here, above, is the tool I used for these. This is a thick one, I have also some thinner ones somewhere in the box, I will probably explore those next time. You dip the head of this “pin” into liquid hot wax, and draw these elongated drops on the egg surface.
And here, below, the oil-heating thingy I used for heating the wax. It’s quite convenient. Someone gave it to me as a gift a while ago, and I was saving it actually for this purpose. I wasn’t sure whether a tea light candle would keep the wax hot enough, but it does.
Now, the dyes.
The beige one is black walnut on its own. I’ve used this dye few years before, and it’s a bit strange – thick and dark brown, almost like molasses, but it doesn’t absorb well into the egg shell. Almost like henna, which gave very disappointing results. This one is more interesting though, because it seems to have the capacity to lighten the darker egg, which could be useful if one wants to use incompatible colors on the same egg. I’ll show this to you later on another egg.
The pink, or maybe scarlet is a few weeks old sappan wood dye. I wasn’t so pink in the beginning, maybe the dye is wearing out, and maybe it became a bit more sour since a few eggs have been in vinegar baths. When used on fabric, this dye apparently can change from orange and warm red all the way to crimson and even purplish. when the Ph is changed. So maybe this is what happened…
The reddish-brown is walnut over sappan wood.
The purplish-maroon is sappan wood over logwood. I played with logwood last lear a bit, there is already a post somewhere earlier about it, what I have noticed today is that while on its own logwood does not like to adhere to the shell, looks powdery and easily comes off with wax, overdoing with another dye, in this case sappan wood, helps the color stick to the egg, and saves it from wiping off with wax. I’ll play more with this and will probably show more eggs.
Now, both (or rather all three) of my yellow dyes have died, the seem to spoil very fast, I was quite disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to use buckthorn more, but I just received an order of my favourite coreopsis extract. It’s a different make, so I’m not quite sure whether it will work, but I guess we will see :).