Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church

Craft: Pysanky (Decorated Ukrainian Eggs)

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 61 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

The procedure for making pysanky is the same for each egg. The designs vary from egg to egg. Making pysanky is not difficult, but it does take a lot of practice and a special tool called a kistka.

The kistka, a hollow brass cone with a pinhole that is attached to a wooden rod, is the tool used to draw with hot beeswax onto a raw (uncooked) or blown egg. The kistka, Ukrainian for "little bone", has progressed from a small bone strapped to a stick to a copper or brass cone. The wax in the tool is heated either by the flame of a candle or by electricity. You may be able to create a kistka-type tool yourself, with a pencil, wire, and a small cone of metal. A second-best alternative I have used is a toothpick to paint the melted wax onto the egg. Results are best with a real kistka.

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Kistkas and pysanky dyes, which come in a wide range of colors from yellow to black, are available at Ukrainian supply shops, often in shops at Ukrainian churches, and are also available online at: http://www.yevshan.com/main.asp .

It is also important to try to get beeswax, which sticks to the egg better and prevents the dye from seeping under the edges onto areas where you do not want it. Between steps, you may leave the egg resting on a cake rack or on toothpicks stuck into thick cardboard. Pysanky can take several days to make.

Making Pysanky

Step One Starting with a raw (uncooked) or blown egg, lightly sketch with pencil the main division lines on the egg. All the patterns are drawn freehand on the egg.

Then, heat the kistka, melting the beeswax, so that it flows freely and forms thin lines of wax. All lines that you want to remain white are drawn first on the egg with melted beeswax. The wax acts like a protective covering, keeping the areas you have covered white when you put it into the first dye bath. Successive additions of wax and dyes will create your patterns.

Once all the lines that are to be white are covered with wax, dip the entire egg into the yellow dye bath. Any part of the eggshell that is not covered with wax will turn yellow.

Step Two Next, all parts of the pattern that you want to remain yellow get covered with wax to seal in the yellow color.

When you have covered all the yellow spaces in the pattern, dip the egg into the orange dye bath. The wax covering the white and yellow parts of the design is still on the egg. The wax needs to stay in place until all the designing of the egg is done.

Step Three As before, all parts of the design that are to remain orange now get covered and protected with wax while the egg is orange. When this is complete, dip the egg in the red dye bath. Be careful not to rub or knock any of the wax covering off.

Step Four The red color on the egg should be the most predominant color in a pysanka. All aspects of the design to carry the red color are covered with wax. This will probably be most of the remaining space on your egg. Then the egg is dipped into the last and darkest dye bath, black.

Step Five Once the egg is removed from the black dye bath, it will look like this. Now, the exciting part begins.

All the wax that was applied from the very beginning can now be removed. By holding the egg next to a candle flame, slowly melt the wax off. Be careful not to hold the egg over the flame; it will become blackened with candle soot.

You may gently heat the eggs in the oven on a rack made of nails driven halfway into a board. Watch them closely so that they do not get too hot.

Rub the egg gently with a soft absorbent cloth to remove the wax, frequently switching to a new spot on the rag. Old t-shirts and flannelette pajamas work well here, not paper towels, which can leave fibers stuck in the wax.

Step Six The vibrant colors of the completed egg shine through. Apply a coat of high-gloss varnish (your fingers work best for this job) for preservation and the finishing touch. Your pysanky will last for generations. (If children under fourteen have made the pysanky, an adult should take care of the final step of varnishing them.)