An egg-cellent idea

Don’t get me wrong, I really like chocolate. But I’m not a fan of the mass produced Easter eggs all too present in the shops at this time of year that contain very little ‘actual’ chocolate. I’m also tight, so I tend to wait until afterwards and then get the really good quality Fairtrade ones half price 😉

Anyway, I digress. I’ve always wanted to try natural egg dyeing, but never got round to it. This year, however, I had an incentive: the school Easter egg decorating competition. Once I found out glitter had been banned (really?!), it paved the way for giving it a go.

My five-year-old needed a bit more persuasion though, especially when I started diving head first into the compost bin to retrieve a head of red cabbage that had been in there a few weeks.

I wouldn’t advise using mouldy vegetables for this project, but needs must sometimes and after all, no one was going to eat it, so no harm done. (The smell of cabbage cooking is often bad at the best of times;  it wasn’t really all that noticeable, honest).

Along with the red cabbage (blue), a sweep of the kitchen uncovered some turmeric (yellow), spinach (turquoise apparently) and, there is a theme here, some cranberries at the bottom of the fridge left over from Christmas (allegedly pink). The blue and yellow worked great (see below), the other two not so much.
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You need to place your dye material in just enough water to cover it to make the colour as strong as possible. Boil gently for about 30 mins to an hour, until you get a rich colour, then add one tablespoon of white vinegar for every (US) cup of dye.

The eggs need to be hard boiled for 10 minutes and then cooled. For. Ages. I made the mistake of trying to do it too soon and have no fingerprints left.

Children will love collecting all sorts of foliage and flowers from the garden to press onto the eggs. It’s a bit fiddly when you place them on though. You need a square from an old pair of tights/stockings, place your flowers etc. on the egg and then tie it around before placing in the dye. NB: Alternative swear words will be necessary at this point. There was a lot of ‘fiddlesticks’ involved before it was all over.

Place the eggs in jars of dye and soak for about 4hrs if you can. Don’t be too impatient to remove the tights after taking them out – the eggs need to dry out almost completely or the dye will ‘bleed’ into the white parts.

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The theme was a scene from a story and more by fluke than design, I think the final pattern on the blue egg looks a little like a mermaid with some fish around her and the yellow one a bit like a sun. So we sort-of-cheated and made the story fit the eggs, rather than the other way around. (Little Mermaid when she comes up from the ocean to see the sun for the first time, if you were wondering.)

When I saw the eggs on display with all the other (pretty amazing) entries my heart sank: they were crushed beyond recognition. My daughter rather sheepishly admitted she may have ‘accidentally shut the lid a bit too hard’ on them while showing her friends.

I’m all for giving credit where credit’s due and I wish I’d come across this site before I started on my egg dyeing adventure. There’s lots out there but this one makes it pretty simple and has nice clear photos where children can easily make the link between the dye material and the resulting colour: Mommypotamus Blog

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Let there be light

autumnleafjarlit
I have a love/hate relationship with autumn; loving it for its gorgeous hues and crisp, cold mornings but resenting the onset of darker nights, bringing with them far fewer hours to potter in the garden.

One of the best things about autumn though has got to be the leaves. You may already know this, but it was a revelation to me recently that the leaves actually contain most of those colours all year round, but they’re masked by the chlorophyll. As the light levels fall, the leaves stop producing chlorophyll and so the green disappears and the other colours take centre stage. A perfect antidote to shorter days if ever I saw one.

So, in the absence of things to pick or grow (although there are a few autumn raspberries and apples still around if you know where to look), this month’s blog is all about bringing a little more light into the world.

All you need is an old glass jar, some glue, a paintbrush and some autumn leaves, the more colourful the better. We cheated a little and used grape leaves from the greenhouse to make this lantern as most of the ones in our garden have become a sodden mush over the past week.

If you can’t find any leaves, torn coloured tissue paper will work just as well, but you won’t get the extra dose of fresh air from collecting them (unless you walk a long way to the shop to buy it).

How to make your lantern:

  • Thin out some PVA glue with a little water to create the kind of consistency that will leave a thin layer all over the jar (we accidentally added glitter too, but it looked lovely so it stayed!)
  • Once you’ve covered the whole jar, gently arrange the leaves onto it and then brush the glue mixture over the top of the leaves as well.
  • Don’t despair if they keep coming off – they will stick eventually! The trick is to use fairly small leaves if possible as larger ones will curl up as you try to put them on the jar.
  • If you’re using tissue paper, the same technique applies but just tear it up into little pieces beforehand so you create a collage effect. Little hands are definitely an advantage if you can get them to do it slowly and carefully enough!
  • While it dries, you can tie string around to help hold the leaves in place.
  • Then pop a tea light in (you may need a taper to light it depending on how big your jar is) and sit back and enjoy all those lovely autumn colours shining through.

I have also managed to take advantage of the sun shining last weekend and managed to get a few jobs done in the garden.

My three-year-old, who was following me around looking for something to do, looked crestfallen when I told her there weren’t many things we could sow outside at this time of year. As usual, she didn’t believe a word I said and had to find out for herself (a trait definitely inherited from her dad) and marched into the shed to find the seed box.

Now unless she’s been hiding it from me, she can’t actually read many words yet, so I was pretty amazed when she came out clutching a packet of grazing rye (a green manure and one of the few things you can sow outside this time of year) and asked ‘what about this?’ So, there you have it: gardening know-how can be acquired purely by osmosis.

It’s true though that there isn’t much you can sow now, but there’s always the living salads I mentioned in an earlier blog which will do fine on a windowsill indoors year round. You can also sow garlic bulbs this month, but if your ground is prone to water logging, then it’s best to put them into trays of compost undercover somewhere cool like an unheated greenhouse or cold frame and transplant them in Spring, otherwise they might rot.

 

Flower child

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It’s that time of year when you really need to be out in the garden enjoying the sunshine, not reading blogs about being outside on a computer (or for that matter, writing them 😉 So, this post is short but sweet, but makes the most of the gorgeous flowers you can find in hedgerows and gardens this time of year.

Making a fresh flower headband is an activity which you can help even very young children to do, and by the age of three, many will be able to do most of this themselves.

Cut a thick strip of paper or card that is long enough to go around your child’s head (we used white but anything you have to hand will do just fine). Either put double sided sticky tape along the entire length or cheat by doubling over regular selotape, which is a bit fiddlier but will still work.

Wander around your outside space looking for flowers and leaves that catch your child’s eye, and arrange them on the sticky side of the headband, filling as much or as little as they like until it’s finished.

Make slits in the bottom of one end and the top of the other so they slot into each other when it meets at the back of the head or simply selotape it together and you’ve got a simple but effective headband that can be made within even the shortest of attention spans!
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If you have a little more time and are inspired to do some more flower projects, why not try making flower prints? You will need a small rubber mallet for this, but it’s very simple to do.

Just take two pieces of old white cotton and cut it into squares of equal size (it doesn’t matter what size, but probably no bigger than A4 is a good idea). Gather some flowers and leaves and arrange in a picture on one of the pieces then lay the other piece of cotton on top. Give it a good bash with the mallet until you start to see the colours come through and then peel off the bits of flowers and leaves to reveal the masterpiece beneath.
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It’s a bit of trial and error to get the right flowers and leaves – ferns work really well and any white flowers tend to end up as a brown mush, from my experience!

I still haven’t quite worked out what to do with all the fabric pictures yet, although they would probably look quite nice in a frame. I did hear of one woman who made her entire wedding dress using this technique, but I don’t think my skills are up to that standard quite yet!