learning a new craft :: pysanky eggs

There is a wonderful shop called Pinecones & Needles in Belmont, MA with the sweetest owner named Anne. She recently shared a photo similar to this one of beautifully decorated eggs on their Facebook page. I was immediately intrigued by her Pysanky eggs so my daughter and I popped into the shop one rainy morning to learn more about the process.  Anne was eager to walk us through each and every step (and had the utmost patience when working with our 5-year-old!), and kindly let me take as many photos to document our experience.  So are you ready to learn about this super cool technique or what?!

I need to back up a little bit though and mention that Anne had already poked a hole at the top of each egg and removed the yolk, cleaned the eggs, and had them ready to go. We could pick between a white or brown egg. The way that this egg decorating technique works seemed a bit backwards to me, so it took a while before I could really grasp the concept as she explained the process. I guess normally when I’ve decorated eggs, I would think of the medium being applied to the egg to be the part that is visible at the end of the process.  Right?  Like if I used a Sharpie and decorated an egg, I knew I’d see the colors I picked in the design I drew.  Well this is where you have to sort of flip your logic: with Pysanky, the wax that you draw your design with will be the color of the dye that it is currently colored and will resist the color that you dye it with next.

(Now let that stew around in your mind for a minute.)

So this was an important factor when deciding between a brown or white egg because the first set of lines or designs that are drawn on the egg would be brown or white.  E and I both went for white eggs.

A Pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg (Pysanky = plural) decorated using a wax-resist method.  The designs are made using beeswax.  The tool that is used to write or draw on the eggs is called a “kistka”.  It has a small funnel that holds a tiny bit of beeswax.

For this you’ll need one votive candle and the beeswax. The kistka is heated by the flame of the votive candle, then you scoop out a little bit of the beeswax, reheat the funnel with the votive flame, and then apply the beeswax onto the egg.

The key thing to remember is that the funnel should always be held upward with the writing tip down.  Otherwise the melted beeswax can pour out and ruin your design! Oh and one more thing: you have to seal up the hole with wax, otherwise the dye will go inside the egg and that’s not a good thing.

Ready to see how I worked on my egg?  Here we go!

So here we are with a white egg, my blank slate.  I applied the beeswax as two scalloped lines, one on each end of the egg.  Then I decided to dip it into the light green dye thinking I wanted it to be mostly green in the end. Then I drew vertical lines and scallops, and then dipped it into the light purple dye.  Of course I did not remember to take a photo of the bright, kelly green colored egg so you’ll just have to take my word for it because it certainly didn’t look any shade of green after the light purple dye!

Next I drew some funky diagonal lines and triangles, and filled in some triangles where I would want it to remain light purple.  Then I dipped it into the scarlet dye.  And it was no longer light purple!

Then for my last round of wax I colored in the parts knowing that the final application of dye would be black, so therefore any parts I did not color in would be dyed black.

(Aren’t those drying “racks” made with wood and nails brilliant?)  And then the hardest part was waiting for it to dry enough before the final reveal.  Anne showed me how to remove the wax so we could do it at home a couple of hours later.  We carefully transported the eggs home and then the time finally came when I could see how it all came together.

Basically the removal process is done by melting the wax and rubbing it away.  It took a few minutes until it was all finally off and then voila!  Our decorated eggs!

Again as mentioned earlier, I wanted mine to be a lot more green but now that I understand the order of applying the wax and dyeing the egg I can plan better next time. E drew an Easter basket, some eggs, and hearts on hers.

Not too shabby for our first time around, right?  I can see why it would be important to make sure you have good coverage in the areas if you want a very clean design to show through.  It’ll certainly take a lot of practice for me before getting the hang of using a kistka smoothly!  I bought the kit from Anne’s shop so I’m looking forward to working on some ideas going through my head (beware if you search for “pysanky” on Pinterest!) and to be able to work on them at home where I can really take my time (and not be worried about a bored child waiting for me to finish!).  All in all I believe we spent a total of 3 hours at the shop working on these from start to finish (yikes!).

You can store the dyes in mason jars for a couple of years so this is definitely a craft you can work on continuously. I think it would be a great meditative sort of craft because you really need to focus on the work and think of the design as you go along.  I can’t wait to try my hand at decorating more eggs with this technique!  A huge thank you to Anne for being such a fantastic teacher!

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