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Pysanky Ukrainian Easter Eggs

Many European immigrants to the Pittsburgh region shared the tradition of egg decoration, but Ukrainians are especially famous for their one-of-a-kind designs. "Egg writers" divide their eggs into geometric areas and fill them with traditional symbols and patterns. Patterns are drawn with wax then dipped into multiple layers of color dye to create incredibly detailed designs. No two designs are ever alike!

Pysanky are too precious to eat; instead they are exchanged with family and friends on Easter morning. The writer takes great care to select symbols that are just right for the person receiving the egg: flowers of love for a fiancee, wheat to wish a farmer a good harvest; birds of fertility for newlywed couples.


Drawing of bridge detailDrawing of bridge detailDrawing of bridge detail

Materials:

  • Raw eggs (at room temperature).
  • Votive candle (any candle can be used, but short, squat candles are less prone to tipping)
  • Beeswax cake
  • "Kistka" stylus or traditional Speedball® lettering pen
  • Ukrainian egg dyes or cold water fabric dyes
  • Vinegar

    Supplier for kistkas and dyes:

    Hanusey Music Co.
    244 W. Girard Ave.
    Philadelphia, PA 19123

Procedure:

Pysanky designs are traditionally drawn freehand directly on the egg, but beginners may prefer drawing light pencil lines on the egg.

Divide egg into sections (traditional ways are pictured above) and fill with geometric patterns or symbolic designs.

The resist principle

On unwaxed areas a new color of dye will cover previous colors. Where wax has been drawn or painted, any colors already on the egg will be protected.

The waxing and dyeing process

bullet Heat the stylus or lettering pen over the candle flame.

bullet Dip stylus into cake of beeswax.

bullet Reheat stylus briefly over flame.

bullet Draw on the egg with wax all the parts of the design that are to remain white.

bullet Reheat stylus and recharge with wax as needed to complete design (carbon from the candle will darken the wax, but will not effect the final design).

bullet Dye egg in strong solution of lightest color for several minutes.

yellow

bullet Repeat the process for each color working from lightest to darkest, applying wax to protect colors that are to remain part of the design.

For greatest effect, use the dyes in this order. Almost never are all dyes used on one egg--choose a color scheme that won't give muddy results!

orange
green
red
blue
purple
black

bullet Remove wax by holding the egg near the candle flame until wax is soft. Wipe with a paper towel. (Raw eggs will dry out eventually.)

Step-by-step eggs
The steps in finishing an egg from start to finish

 

Applying wax with kistka
Applying the first layer of wax on lines that are to remain white in the finished design.

Applying second later of wax over yellow dye
Applying the second layer of wax on areas that are to remain yellow in the finished design.

Egg writer with candle and beeswax
Candle and beeswax setup

Wiping wax off the finished egg
Removing the wax after gently heating the egg.

Finished egg
The finished egg!

Photos: Pennsylvania Ethnic Heritage Studies Center, University of Pittsburgh


Photos: Pennsylvania Ethnic Heritage Studies Center, University of Pittsburgh; Text, Susan Donley, A Sampler of Ethnic Crafts, Pennsylvania Ethnic Heritage Studies Center, 1990.


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