Ever heard of pysanky? Yes? No? Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs. (You can find more information here and here.) They are made using a wax resist technique much like batik. Every year around this time, St. John the Russian, a Russian Orthodox church in Ipswich, offers a few pysanky workshops. I was able to make it to both of them this year, once with some friends, and once with my eldest daughter. Check out what we made:
At the beginning of each workshop, Julianna and Xennia Scheider explain some of the history and technique behind making pysanky. They both have decades of experience, and it’s really amazing to see the eggs they and Julianna’s sister, Seraphima, have created over the years.
To decorate the eggs, you begin with white eggs and a small tool called a kistka that is like a stick about the length a pencil with a very small funnel attached to the end. You heat the funnel over a flame and then scrape beeswax into it, heat it again until the wax melts, and then use it to draw whatever you would like to remain white onto your egg. Once you’ve done that, you put the egg into the lightest color of dye you plan to use. After a few minutes, remove the egg, dry it, and cover whatever areas you want to remain the color you just used Then submerge it into the next color, and so on, until you finish with the darkest color you want to use. It involves a bit of planning backwards and a good combination of aiming for a certain design and letting go of creative control. You never know quite how the colors will come out.
In the picture above, you can see the three eggs I made over two weeks on the left. The fourth from the left was a Jackson Pollock inspired collaboration between my daughter and myself. She made the two eggs on the right. The first egg on the left I had planned to make purple, but in the end it became a deep blue. The next one over was going to be green, turquoise, and royal blue, but it came out a little different. If you can approach the process with a little planning and a little letting go, you can really enjoy making the eggs and seeing the surprise of how they turn out in the end.
There is a lot symbolism you can incorporate into your eggs, or you can just experiment. This year I used some of the example pictures they gave us to cobble together designs I liked. The collaboration egg was pure experiment. My daughter’s red egg was her trial egg, and she made the Batman egg for my husband. Her first version smashed on the floor, but she put aside her disappointment and started again, finishing with plenty of time.
Once you go through the process of drawing with the wax and dying the egg, you put your egg on a rack of some sort in a warm over to soften the wax. When it has softened enough, you wipe the wax off, revealing your creation! It’s so exciting to see everyone’s eggs coming out of the oven and being revealed.
You can see a faint “S + L” that my daughter drew on the egg we worked on together.
I have yet to buy a kit and try this at home, but it wouldn’t be hard to do. You can find kits in many places, including amazon. Julianna told me that the dyes will usually last about three years if you add a bit of vinegar to top them off each year. You can also find all kinds of books with examples of amazing eggs at your library or online. One of the oddest parts for me was that we didn’t blow these eggs out. Xennia said that over the years, it just feels like the insides turn to dust. If you aren’t comfortable with this, however, you can blow them out first. If you choose not to, just make sure you store them where air can circulate around them or they may crack (and stink). I learned that lesson the hard way last year after storing the ones I had made the year before in a Ziploc bag. Eggs may make us think of spring, but that smell certainly won’t remind you of a flower-filled day.
Have you ever tried this? If you never have, I hope you do, but watch out! It’s pretty addictive. 😉