How to Make Pysanky, Ukrainian Easter Eggs
What are Pysanky?
Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs and can be stunningly beautiful works of art. They are made by "drawing" on eggs with hot wax and dyeing the eggs a succession of colors. At the end, when the wax is melted off, the patterns and colors beneath are revealed, and the results can be amazing.
Now you can learn how to take part in this great Eastern European tradition. Pysanky is a wonderful hobby that can be done year-round, and you can show off your creations at Easter with pride. Even kids can enjoy making pysanky, with adult supervision. Follow the steps outlined below and discover a unique artistic tradition.
Drawing with a kitska
Pysanky requires some special tools, and there are several kits available online that will get you started. The main tools you'll need include:
- kitska, your drawing device (a metal funnel attached to a plastic or wooden stylus)
- beeswax (either in stick form or block form)
- dyes in various colors (use dyes specifically for pysanky, and store in jars)
- raw eggs at room temperature
- paper napkins or rags
- pump to suck out the egg's innards at the end
Optional tools include:
- drying rack
- electric kitska
Some great resources to learn about pysanky are the books Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs with Wax and Dye by Jane Pollak and Ukrainian Easter Eggs and How We Make Them by Anne Kmit, Loretta L. Luciow, Johanna Luciow, and Luba Perchyshyn.
You will need to let some raw eggs sit out until they are at room temperature. Cover your table with newspapers or some type of drop cloth because you're sure to make a mess with melted wax and dyes. Have plenty of paper towels or rags at hand to wipe up spills and set the eggs on while they dry.
The pysanky process involves starting with the lightest color desired and working your way from lightest to darkest. So most designs usually start with white (the egg's natural color) or a coat of yellow (the lightest dye) and end with a dark color such as dark blue, black, or scarlet.
To begin, hold the end of the kitska and heat the funnel end over a flame. When it is hot enough, the wax will melt into the funnel. Blot the point of the funnel on a napkin to avoid getting large blobs on your egg. Now you can begin "drawing" on the egg. Whatever lines or spaces you cover with wax will remain that color.
Once you have finished the first layer, select the next color dye, a darker color like light blue, orange, or green. Carefully lower the egg into the dye jar with a spoon and let it sit in there for a few minutes. The longer it remains in the dye, the richer and darker the color will be, so experiment a little. When you have the desired shade, pull the egg out with the spoon and let it dry on a napkin. Pat it dry to get off the excess dye and begin drawing with the kitska again. Continue this process, going with a darker color for each stage, until you finish drawing the design. Then, dye it one last time with your final color, and let it dry.
The next step is to melt the wax off the egg, which will reveal all the colors hidden beneath. Carefully hold the egg to the side of a flame. The wax will become shiny or runny as it melts. Use a rag or napkin to wipe it off. This can take a while, depending on how much wax is coating the egg, so be patient and give your eyes a break from staring at the flame! You can use your fingers to feel for any wax residue on the egg. You can now see the colors, patterns, and designs previously hidden beneath the wax. You are almost finished!
The final stage involves draining the inside of the egg. Pysanky eggs will last for a time with the yolk inside, but they will eventually rot. To save your egg, you need to use the pump, or egg blower. Hold the egg over a sink and poke a small hole into its base with the thin needle attached to the pump. The needle will break up the yolk inside. The pump acts as a bellows, pumping air into the egg and forcing the insides to come out through the tiny hole. When the egg is emptied, pour water into the pump to flush the inside of the egg. Let the egg dry, hole-side down, for a day or two. You can then add a varnish coating if desired and put it on display!
Lightly trace out your patterns with a pencil before using the kitska.
There are several books that show traditional pysanky designs you can try. Truly, there are no limits to what designs you can create. Experiment with diamond and circular patterns. Draw rings around the egg, horizontally or vertically. Go for symmetry, or let loose with freestyle patterns. Most pysanky have thin, precise lines, but see what happens when you pour wax from the wide end of the funnel, creating splatters and blobs of color.
If you're struggling to come up with a design, try copying a fabric pattern. You can display the egg with its matching cloth.
Never get too attached to an egg, because some are bound to break. It's sad and frustrating, but it happens. Store them in a safe place, in a basket or on individual egg stands.
If you want the egg to have dark outlines, you can do the pysanky in reverse, from darkest to lightest colors. Start by dying the egg black and draw the design you want. Dip the egg in bleach to return it to white and rinse the bleach off. You can then dye it a series of lighter colors and fill in the black outlines.