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Dyeing Eggs, Naturally!

Cartons of colorfully dyed eggs

We recently had a customer email us and ask about dyeing eggs with natural dyes! It’s a great question, and one we get every spring. Here’s our official stance:

We hesitate to tell people they can use any of our dyes on food because if we do, someone will go overboard on it and try dyeing their eggs with indigo (for instance). You don’t want to do that, as the dye is activated with thiourea dioxide. Probably not all that healthy. So much as we’d love to sell you dyes for eggs, it is not a good idea.

If a natural dye does NOT use any chemicals except alum, it is probably safe to use. However, some dyes will impart a taste or smell to the food, even to eggs. And if the egg is cracked, the dye will seep into the white of the egg. One kid who saw just onion skin leakage onto the whites said it reminded him of Gollum’s head.

Another reason we won’t say our dyes just might be edible in any way is that most of them are from overseas, a lot from third world countries. We cannot guarantee how these plants were grown, who picked and packed them, or how many other grimy hands they went through.
Safe natural dyes would be colors you can buy at the supermarket. If you have children, they will be fascinated by helping you shop for fruits and veggies that can give color. Here are a few of them:

  • Spinach or any other dark green veggie (blend them with a bit of
  • water)
  • Any berries
  • Grated carrots
  • Cooked red cabbage
  • Onion skins
  • Any fruits that leave a stain on your clothes
  • Asparagus and artichokes give a light olive green – Cook them for dinner, use the cooking water (it won’t look as if it will give you any color)


With the red cabbage, you can change the color or create designs. Dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in water (use a saucer or small shallow bowl) and in another bowl, put a tablespoon on vinegar. Dye the egg, and dry it. Then dip your fingertips in one of the solutions and touch the egg. That spot will change color. The baking soda will make a blue-green spot. The vinegar will make a bright red-purple spot. Everyone loves watching this happen!

Remember that the longer you let the egg stay in the dye, the deeper the color will be. Hope this helps!

All that aside, if you don’t eat the eggs or empty the shells first, you can absolutely use our dyes and even pigments to decorate the egg shells!

(Public domain images from pixabay.com)

All About our Bijeaux Tapestry

Bijeaux TapestryIf you’ve been to a Frolic or a Retreat, you’ve seen it. Nearly six feet long and two feet tall, our small version of the Bayeaux Tapestry depicts the life cycle of string! We named it after our dye mentor and Griffin Dyeworks owner Bjo Trimble – hence, the Bijeaux (bee-JOO) Tapestry!

The work began in 2009, as a hand drawn gift from our longtime friend and supporter, Esther Benedict of Star Cross Designs and is still being worked on in bits and pieces. All of the threads used in the embroidery are naturally dyed, and most are handspun as well, donated by Frolic and Retreat guests.

I realized recently that I didn’t know anything about how the project started! I emailed Esther to ask her what inspired her to create the project, and here’s what she had to say:

“Well, first of all, I love group projects, where people are working together to create a single piece. I like to think that a little bit of each person’s creative energy gets worked into it. Second, I wanted to celebrate the contributions that Bjo and Griffin Dyeworks have made in sharing the fiber arts. One of the best things about the Fiber Retreat and now the Fiber Frolics is the chance for people to come together and share what they know in a relaxed and also affordable setting. You don’t have to be a big name teacher or fiber “artiste”, you just need to be willing to share, learn and have fun.”

Shearing the sheep












Each of the figures in the tapestry is showing one part of the life cycle of string.  Esther and her husband took every motif from a different medieval or Renaissance illustration.  “For example,” she explained,  “the woman spinning on the great wheel is from the Luttrell Psalter, which is 14th century – and incidentally the first depiction of a spinning wheel in European art –  but the men shearing sheep is from a late 15th century source.  My husband, Bruce, converted them into ‘cartoons’ for the tapestry.  We consider drawing them in one consistent style, but decided to leave them pretty much as is to reflect the origins of the illustrations.  The only thing that isn’t from a “period” source is the central figure of Bjo holding the flag with the Griffin Dyeworks logo.”

Bjo Trimble holding a Griffin Dyeworks flag, the central image in the tapestry

It’s so much fun to see what has been added after every event, and we hope you’ll add a personal touch when we see you at our fiber arts retreat in June!

We have an image gallery devoted to the Bijeaux Tapestry, if you’d like to see more of it!

“Mordants & Modifiers” book 100% free online!

Did you know Bjo Trimble’s book, Understanding Mordants & Modifiers, is available online, for free?

Screenshot of a UMM page

For each of about 50 different minerals salts and chemicals, we provide:

  • Common Name
  • Chemical Formula
  • Description/History
  • Other Names
  • Use
  • Best On which fiber types
  • Recipes
  • Safety information
  • Disposal guidelines (always follow local ordinances)
  • Alternatives (for when you run out!)
  • Sources (not just us!)

Plus, there’s some great general information, such has how to use the knotted strings pictured below to experiment with different mordants!

Five strands of string, all knotted together, each with a different number of knots on the string to differentiate them.

Bookmark Understanding Mordants & Modifiers today!

Teaching at USC Archaeology

Spindle whorls from USC Archaeology

Last fall, word spread through the LA fiber arts grapevine that a professor at USC was looking for people to come in and teach her students to spin on a drop spindle. As an alumni (and a spinner), I jumped at the opportunity and arranged for myself and two other teachers, Ercil Howard and Debbie Coyle, to head to campus with all our drop spindles and combs, cards, and plenty of different types of fiber for the class.

The course we were crashing is a freshman seminar in the Archaeology department called “Human Survival: Learning from the Past” and during the semester the students learn some ancient skills such as making fire, forming bricks, and preparing food with only stone tools. It was our mission to teach the eighteen students how to spin.

We arrived early and had the opportunity to check out USC’s growing collection of antiquities, including a number of spindle whorls (pictured above)!

We broke the class of eighteen students into smaller groups for hands-on instruction. Everyone was very attentive and learned quickly how to handle the fiber and the drop spindle and were soon spinning merrily away!

We had just two hours, so during the first hour we focused on getting everyone spinning, and in the second hour we were also able to cover carding and combing fiber, show many different types of fibers, and demonstrate some of the different types of spindles used around the world. Almost all the students got to try combing or carding, and many continued spinning for the whole two hour class!

During the second class session, we came back and brought Bjo Trimble with us, and the students learned about dyeing and weaving on a warp-weighted loom or an inkle loom. Again, with just two hours on the clock, time was of the essence, so we split the class in two and had one group tackle dyeing first, while the other group tried out weaving.

We used cochineal, onion skins, and indigo so the students could also experiment with overdyeing to achieve more colors than just red, yellow, and blue.

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During the dye session, we showed samples of various sources for dyes – roots, leaves, flowers, bugs – and spoke about how the different mordants and modifiers can affect the results too.

For the weaving, we were lucky to borrow a ‘portable’ warp weighted loom and get it set up in time for everyone to try weaving. Ercil was in charge of that loom, while Debbie demonstrated the inkle loom and had samples of different types of inkle and card weaving.

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The classes are all completely hands-on, so everyone got to try carding, spinning, weaving, and dyeing for just a small taste of all the effort that went into making fabric in the pre-Industrial world. You can read the students’ point of view on their class blog, the Hunter Blatherer.

Interested in having a workshop or demo for your class or guild? Contact Us today!

Now Accepting Retreat Scholarships!

Thanks to the generosity of our Frolic and Retreat guests, every year we offer one or two full or partial scholarships for our three day Retreat weekends! Click here to download the form – it’s due by April 15!

Our popular destash table, starring the Scholarsheep bank for donations.

Our popular destash table, starring the Scholarsheep bank for donations.

Our three day retreat is a great deal at $300.00, which includes your room, board and most of the natural dyeing over the weekend – but let’s see how some other retreats compare!

Spin Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR):  Seven Days
$700+ for workshops and retreat, plus $100+ for class materials. Accommodations and food not included. (Costs from a previous year’s info)

Squam Arts Workshop: Five Days
$1200 - includes all workshops, evening events, 4 nights lodging, full meal plan, or $675 without the lodging and breakfasts

Knot Hysteria Retreat: Three Days
$795 – Classes, materials (except tools) and meals included.

Madrona Winter Retreat: Four Days
No registration fee, but a per class fee: 3 hr. classes: $90; 6 hr. classes: $180; 2 Day (12 hr.) classes: $325. Meals and lodging not included.

Fiber Frenzy: Three Days
$250-$305 entry; Workshops are $60+$15-$35 for materials each (up to 3), or classes (up to six) have a small materials fee. Meals and lodging included.

You can register today for our 2013 Retreat (June 14-16) with a $50 deposit!

The raffle at the Retreat is a major scholarship fundraiser!

Colorful Frolic a Success!

Miki Lawrence of Funhousefibers.com teaching a color blending class

We’ve been hosting Frolics once or twice a year for a few years now – I’m pretty sure the first one was in January of 2009 – and every time we meet new friends, welcome new teachers and vendors, and most important of all, everyone learns something new!

The dyepots started bubbling early with Bjo Trimble’s indigo class. Check out the beautiful dark blue results!
Indigo-dyed yarn and roving

The Color Blending class (pictured at the top) was very popular! Students received roving in red, yellow, blue, black, and white, and a color wheel – and just by blending the different fibers together with different amounts they each created a staggering 27 colors! We were happy to host a new teacher for that class, Michelle Lawrence of FunHouseFibers.com. Everyone is looking forward to see what she’ll teach us at our Retreat in June.

On the weaving side of things, we had classes in color patterns with warp & weft, 3/1 Twill, basic card/tablet weaving, the ram’s horn pattern, and advanced cardweaving students learned to weave their names.

The name dawn woven into a band

Sadly, I can’t cover every class, but we do have a lot more photos from the Frolic on our Facebook page – and if you have photos to share, feel free to link them in the comments below!

March 2 Frolic Classes Posted!

Our class schedule is being finalized and sign ups will start soon!

Check out this Frolic’s offerings on our Frolic Classes page.

Remember, people who have already paid for the event get first choice of classes.

You can learn more about the Frolic on our dedicated Frolic webpage or visit our store to register & pay for the event!

Dec 18 is our holiday shipping deadline!

The last possible day for ordering for delivery before Christmas is December 18.

Our Dye Kits and Period Pigment kits would make excellent gifts for your crafter or painter who seemsDye kit to have everything!

Back to Blogging!


After being distracted by Real Life and FaceBook for far too long, I’m attending to my own blog at last. Yeah, I know I’ve promised to do that before this. But I mean it this time. Really. Seriously. Honest.

We’re gearing up for more dye workshops and fabric painting workshops in 2013. Plus adding dye recipes to our catalog. And separating out our earth colors to its own catalog: Ancient Earth Pigments.

And lots of photos. Plus guest bloggers now and then.

Lots of reasons to keep checking back.


Dye Safety

This is not meant to scare you out of dyeing but is meant to prevent you and loved ones from really dying! Enjoy this wonderful craft by not getting careless. Always be prepared to deal with accidents. Call 911 if victim has a hard time breathing, is not breathing, cannot wake up, or has convulsions.

This is the most important dye information you will ever need!

“Most accidents are the direct result of arrant stupidity; they don’t always happen to the stupidee, but just as often to innocent bystanders.” — FIRST AID TEACHER, Los Angeles Fire Department

Nobody plans on an accident, but bad things can happen all too fast. Never assume that lack of warning means the material is safe. Practice dyeing safety so it becomes automatic.

Safety Gear

FIRST AID BOOK & KIT: Read a First Aid book – you do have one, right? — before you need it. Make a dye workshop first aid kit with various sizes of waterproof bandages, gauze patches, burn ointment, eyewash,
good tweezers, antiseptic, adhesive tape, and sharp scissors.
SAFETY GLASSES: Eyeglasses or contact lenses will NOT protect eyes from splashes and flying powder. Wear safety goggles when using chemicals. If anything splashes into the eyes, wash them gently with water (nothing else) and get medical treatment immediately.
MASK: All powders are dangerous if inhaled, including cosmetics. Sawdust is dangerous because it is really microscopic splinters, which is not good to inhale. Wear a dust or paint mask. However, dust masks are not a substitute for good ventilation, and are no help against fumes. If mixing a lot of powders, get a NIOSH-approved mask.
MIXING POWDERS: Cover work surface with dampened newspapers. Don’t mix near air conditioner or furnace intake pipes that can spread powders into the air. Dissolve powdered chemicals in water, then carefully pour into the dyepot. Toxic fumes result from mixing very strong alkalis and acids, even such seemingly harmless household materials such as bleach and ammonia. PRO-Chemical Company’s excellent website suggests filling a shoebox with damp newspaper cut to size. Keep powdered materials
inside mixing box while measuring or transferring from bottle or package. When powder is mixed or contained, carefully roll up the soiled newspapers and discard.
WHEN TO CALL 911: If an emergency of any kind happens don’t hesitate to call for professional help. They can call the Poison Control Center while the victim is being transported. Post veterinarian’s number in case a pet licks dye or chemicals. The vet can call the National Animal Poison Control Center and have an antidote ready.
CHILD SAFETY: Keep everything well out of children’s reach. Small bodies have less ability to metabolize toxic substances than large bodies. Thousands of children are poisoned every year, some fatally. Children will taste anything: bleach, insecticide, peroxide – you name it! Dyeing is a valuable learning experience, so children old enough to obey can participate if they are watched very carefully.
PETS: As with children, a pet will eat anything it can reach. Thousands of animals are accidentally poisoned every year. One of our pups got into our indigo and ate some. Not enough to harm him, but he pooped bright blue for a couple of days. It was a lesson: what if he’d eaten something far more dangerous?
INSECT BITES: Perfume, food and soft drinks attract insects that get annoyed because you aren’t a flower. Draw their attention away from the dye area with a jar-lid full of sugar-water place well out of the way. In case of bites or stings, follow these hints:

  • Bee stings are acid; put baking soda (alkali) on them
  • Hornet stings are alkaline, put vinegar (acid) on them.
    FIRES: There is not much in a dye workshop that is a fire hazard. However, a sleeve or an apron string too near a dyepot fire can catch fire. If working in an area where there are dry grasses or lots of fallen leaves, be aware of that fire danger. Besides having a fully charged fire extinguisher on hand, also keep a garden hose nearby. A final resort is to overturn a lukewarm dyepot on the fire. The results will be colorful but the fire will be put out.
    BURNS, SCALDS: There is always a danger of burns and scalds if someone is careless around pots of hot liquid. Never put butter on a burn because the fat traps heat and tissue damage continues. Put the burned area in ice water until it can be treated. Aloe gel is good for light burns if not allergic to aloe. For a bad burn, put baking soda on a clean wet cloth and place lightly over burn. If a blister forms or the wound weeps call the doctor.
    FINGER-LICKIN’ GOOD? Place all food, bottles, and cups well away from the dye area. It’s easy to stir your coffee with a spoon used to measure mordant, and that thoroughly ruins the coffee flavor. If your fiber is not thoroughly rinsed it may still have a small amount of unabsorbed mordant on its surface. So don’t handle that fiber, then lick your fingers! This strange warning turns out to be a very necessary caution for adults, not children. Go figure!
    CHEMICAL TOXICITY: Though most natural dyes and mordants are harmless, repeated or prolonged exposure to any materials – including talcum powder — can cause sensitivity and ultimately nervous system damage to some people. These materials can also potentially harm a fetus or nursing child, even though you may have used the same material for years. If you have any adverse reactionsto anything,stop using that material and call your physician.
    LABEL! LABEL! LABEL! Toxic materials in unlabeled bottles causes 75% of all poisonings. Keep the original label and MSDS information with each item on your dye shelf. Never leave any container unlabeled for ‘just a minute.’ Teach children to report skull-and-crossbones if they find something so marked. Don’t remove supplier’s name or hazard warnings. Some chemicals degrade with age, so write date of purchase and when it was made into a solution.
    STORAGE: Replace all plastic or paper packaging by putting the dye or mordant in labeled containers with tight lids. Don’t use metal lids on mordant jars. Some chemicals dissipate in heat or light so keep storage area cool and dark. Make sure glass jars can’t fall off shelves and break – this is very important in earthquake country.
    CLEAN UP: Powders can be wiped up with damp rags; never blow on powders as they may disperse all over the place and contaminate your work area. Liquids can be cleaned with a soapy sponge and paper towels. Dispose of all cleaning rags and paper towels in a tightly-tied plastic bag.
    CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65: This regulation requires special label on products that contain even trace amounts of potential carcinogenic material. Household items such as rubbing alcohol are on the list, as well as copper, cigarette smoke and bracken fern. So a Prop 65 notice on your dye or mordant package is no cause for alarm but merely to create awareness of a possible danger.
    DISPOSAL: Most mordants are not environmentally harmful, but they are minerals and their safe disposal should be considered. Alum solution can be poured down the sink or on any plant in your garden. Copper mordant can be poured on copper-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons. Iron solution can be poured on trees but not on smaller plants. Ask your local nursery about which plants will welcome these mineral. If in doubt ask a waste disposal agency for neutralizing and disposal information.


    POISON IS: Any substance that causes unintended symptoms: (1) Solids; (2) Liquids; (3) Sprays; (4) Gases or vapors. Dyers need to worry about (1), (2), (4): Never leave an unattended stove, especially if children or pets are in the area.

    ACCIDENTS: Millions of people are poisoned every year; most of these accidents could have been prevented. Even talcum powder can be fatal if inhaled; sawdust can be deadly to human lungs.

    CHILDREN AND PETS: Teach children to recognize the skull and crossbones symbol and to report finding such labels. If you suspect a poisoning, call 911. Prompt attention is crucial to save a life.

    SKIN: Never touch chemicals with bare hands Prevent skin contact with impervious protective clothing, closed shoes (no open-toed sandals!), gloves, lab coat, apron or coveralls.

    EYES: Use chemical safety goggles and/or full face shield where dusting or splashing is possible. Do not work with unprotected eyes; do not wear contact lenses around chemicals. Corrosive chemicals can work inside, permanently damaging cornea.
    EYE CONTACT: Check for and remove contact lenses. Gently flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Lift upper and lower eyelids occasionally while water is flowing into eyes.
    VENTILATION: If working indoors, including in the garage, have a good ventilation system to keep chemical dust as low as possible. A ventilation hood can prevent dispersion into work area. Failing that, place an electric fan on floor or in window where it can’t blow across your work table, with the fan blowing out of (away from) the work area.

    RESPIRATORS: For occasional handling of powders, a paper dust mask will suffice; if handling a quantity of powders, a half-face dust/mist NIOSH-approved respirator is best. These respirators do not protect in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

    FIRST AID: Stay calm! Call 911 so help is on the way. Call doctor and Poison Control Center to find what to do next. Do not induce vomiting unless told to do so by a medical authority. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.

    INHALATION: Remove victim to fresh air while someone calls for medical assistance. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. Rinse affected parts with water.

    INGESTION: Loosen tight clothing. Wash mouth out with water or milk.

    SKIN CONTACT: Alkali can burn long before symptoms appear. Flush skin with water 15+ minutes. If acid, apply paste of baking soda. Remove contaminated clothing or shoes and thoroughly clean before reuse.

    FIRE: While most dyes and many chemicals are not a fire hazard, some can flare in combination with other materials. Gas can be released from a chemical fire.

    EXPLOSION: Some chemicals can explode if handled carelessly, stored near heat or mixed with an opposite type of chemical. If there is danger of a chemical explosion, get out of area quickly.

    EXTINGUISHERS: Always have a fully-charged fire extinguisher and functioning water hose with cut-off faucet valve in easy reach of work area. Use any means suitable to extinguish fire.

    SURVIVAL: Call 911 to report a fire and give address before hanging up. If possible to fight the fire without personal danger, do so; otherwise, get out of area.

    IF POISONING OCCURS: Have the following information ready to give:

    1. Your name, phone number and address (do not hang up without giving this information!)
    2. Victim’s current condition
    3. Age of victim
    4. Weight (if child or pet was poisoned)
    5. Name of product and ingredients (if listed)
    6. How much of the product was ingested or inhaled
    7. Time that exposure or ingestion occurred
    8. Vital signs (temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, muccous membrane color)

    Post these in work area, and near household telephone:

    1. Your fire department
    2. Family doctor
    3. Your veterinarian
    4. Regional poison control center (see inside cover of any phone directory)
    5. Poisoning emergency: 1-800-222-1222 if victim is conscious
    6. National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423 or 1-900-680-0000
    7. Chemical Emergency numbers, 24-hours, 7 days: Infotrac: 1-800-535-5053 or Chemtrec: 1-800-424-9300; International Chemtrec assistance: 703-527-3887

    KEEP IT SAFE & FUN: Don’t let this long list scare you! It is only to tell you how to deal with dyeing in
    general. Safety precautions are just common sense, once you learn to apply them. Keep an eye on
    everything in the dye area, and enjoy the day!