Use common kitchen ingredients to make lively dyes
Color your toys beautifully and safely by dyeing them with natural berries, spices, and plants. These safe, nontoxic dyes are easy to make and fun to apply, and will tint your toys with a wash of transluscent color. Natural dyes are best used for big blocks of color, like the castle; acrylic paints work better for details, such as faces and costumes.
Many common kitchen ingredients make lively dyes. To make yellow dye, mix 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric with 1/4 cup of boiling water and let cool. For orange dye, use paprika instead of turmeric. If your princess would prefer a purple, pink, or red castle, crush 1/2 cup of raspberries or blackberries and heat until warm. Strain the berries and reserve the juice. You can also open a can of beets and pour the juice into a bowl. To use any of these dyes, simply paint them on, let them dry, and brush off any dried spices or seeds. You may need to apply multiple coats of natural dyes to achieve the shade or depth of color you want.
Leaves are a wonderful source for shades of green. Spinach leaves provide a deep olive green, whereas wild violet leaves give a bright spring green. Feel free to experiment with leaves from your yard, such as dandelion or grass, but consult a field guide to make sure the leaves are not poisonous. Cook the leaves with water until they are soft, let them cool, and then rub the leaves onto the wood. To color something brown, rub the wood with wet coffee grounds. Let the wood dry thoroughly, brush off any leaf or coffee residue, and then sand lightly.
Natural dyes aren’t colorfast, so you need to seal the toys with wood polish. Commercial varnish isn't always safe for kids, but you can easily make your own nontoxic polish using two parts beeswax and one part jojoba, flax, or walnut oil. (Don’t use olive oil, which can turn rancid.) Gently melt the wax in a double boiler over water or in the microwave, and then stir in the oil. Let the polish cool, and then rub it into the wood with your hands—a cloth can embed fibers in the finish. Applying the polish is safe and fun, so encourage your children to help.
To care for toys colored with natural dyes, simply wipe them with a damp cloth. Use a gentle soap like Dr. Bronner’s or Ivory if necessary, but do not submerge the toys. After the toys have dried fully, reapply a light coat of wood polish.