Ukrainian Easter Eggs
For more than 50 years, Eva Tomiunk has been making pysanky -- intricately decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs. Eva learned the art form (which originated around A.D. 980) when she was just eleven years old, and today, her creations are treasured around the world.
The process involves applying multilayered designs to the surface of an egg using hot beeswax and a stylus, then dipping the egg in a series of dye baths, progressing from lighter to darker hues. One egg may take anywhere from three to 11 hours to complete. Each image and color has a specific meaning, and the finished pysanky symbolize life, hope, happiness, and rebirth.
- Hot beeswax
- Kystka or electric stylus
- Dyes, room temperature
- Cotton swab or small paintbrush
- Small paintbrush
- Rubber ear syringe (optional)
- Fine wire, for hanging
Using a pencil, draw faint lines on the egg to serve as guidelines for any areas of the design you want to leave white. Hold the egg on a table with one hand, and draw with the other. Don't erase pencil marks, as this may scratch the egg.
Apply beeswax to the egg with a kystka, following the pencil marks. Heat the kystka's head in a candle's flame, then scoop up a bit of beeswax. (An electric stylus does not have to be heated.) Keep the kystka at right angles with the egg so that the wax flows evenly. Refill as necessary.
Using a spoon, dip the egg in the lightest dye you will use on the egg. Keep the egg in the dye for 5 to 7 minutes. The area where the wax was applied will resist the color of the dye.
Reheat the kystka, and draw the lines that you want to appear in the lightest color, then dip the egg in the next lightest color. Repeat this process for each dye color, working from the lightest to the darkest. To fill in a space that is larger than the hairline width of your stylus's line, use a cotton swab or a small brush to dab the area with dye. Pat dry with a tissue, then cover the newly colored areas with wax, using the kystka.
When you have completed your pattern, hold the egg to the side of the candle's flame for a few seconds until the wax starts to melt. Don't hold the egg directly over the flame; the egg will turn black from the carbon. Use a cloth to wipe away the melted wax, a bit at a time, revealing your design.
Apply one coat of varnish to seal the color.
Blow out the egg: Make a small pinhole at one end of the egg and a slightly larger pinhole at the other end, making sure the pin breaks the yolks. Place the egg over a bowl, and gently expel its contents using a syringe or by blowing with your mouth. When dry, give the egg a second coat of varnish. To hang, insert a fine wire through the pinholes.