Eggs are traditionally associated Easter and spring as symbols of new life and plenty. Pysanky eggs (pysanka – singular) are a beautiful, traditionally decorated eggs inscribed with motifs that communicate specific well wished to the recipient. These eggs are typically made to be given to loved ones and as symbols of respect. Giving a pysanka egg is to give a symbolic gift of life, which is why the egg must remain whole. The designs, motifs and colors used to create these eggs all have a deep, symbolic meaning and are selected with the message and recipient in mind.
The Hutsuls, an ethnic group who live in the Carpathian Mountains, believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka egg. As long as the egg writing custom continues, the world will exist. If this custom is abandoned for any reason, Evil, represented as a terrible serpent chain to a cliff forever, will take over and consume the earth. Yearly, the serpent sends minions into the world to count the number of pysanky that have been created. If the number is too low the serpent’s chains are loosened and he can freely to wander the earth creating misery and mayhem in his wake. However, if the number of pysanky has increased, the well wishes cause the chains to tighten restricting the freedom of the serpent allowing peace, love and prosperity triumph over the course of the year.
If you’d like you’d like to create a little peace, love and prosperity this spring, read on below for some basic instructions to create your own pysanka.
- Fresh Egg
- Thin Strips of Paper long enough to wrap around the egg
- Tea candles
- Beeswax chunk
- Vinyl or nitrile gloves
- Check for hairline cracksin the egg before you begin. A cracked egg is more likely to break during the blowing process, and more likely to burst if you leave it intact. More on this at the end.
- Only use raw eggs. If you use boiled eggs, the design will spoil after only a few days.
- Only use room temperature eggs otherwise, the wax won’t stick when the egg sweats as it warms up. Let the eggs arrive at room temperature gradually.
- The designs can get pretty complicated so I encourage you to pick something SIMPLE for your first go around. For some example designs, check out this link.
- To begin blocking your design, cut a thin strip of paper that is long enough to go around the egg lengthwise. Wrap the paper around the egg at the fattest, longest part of the egg and then overlap the ends. Mark and cut the strip so that it wraps perfectly around the egg with the two ends lining up. NOW you have the ability to measure distance around your egg without actually measuring!
- Fold the paper into quarters, marking the fold with the pencil, and then wrap the paper back around the egg. The visible marks can help find the center point of the egg all the way around the fattest part of the egg.
- Using a second strip of paper in the same way, wrap the paper around the width of the egg (where the previous marks are!) and trim it to size. Fold this piece of paper into quarters, sixths or eights to create a specific design.
- LIGHTLY sketch out the design you would like to create on the egg. The reference marks created above allow you to be mindful of spacing even though the egg is clearly a complicated shape.
- Now to practice a bit with the kistka, the stylus used to apply the wax. It isn’t hard but getting nice lines doesn’t happen on the first try. Practice making straight and curved lines on just a strip of paper for a few minutes. To use the kistka, you will:
- Light a tea candle (if you are a kid or a clumsy adult, please find adult supervision).
- Heat the head of the kistka in the flame of the candle for 20-30 seconds.
- Scoop a little beeswax into the funnel of the kistka. Reheat the kistka in the flame until the wax is melted.
- If you leave the kistka in the flame too long, it might catch on fire. Don’t worry, it is a tiny flame and you just blow it out!
- Test the wax flow from the kistka on paper (before writing any wax lines on the egg).
- Occasionally, from over-filling and/or overheating, the kistka will let out a large blob of wax. If this should happen on the egg, there is nothing you can do. The wax bonds instantly to the eggshell; even if you try to scrape the wax off, the blob will still appear in the final design. Do not feel badly if this happens – even the most experienced egg artist has the occasional blob in their designs. If at all possible, try to incorporate it into the design. If you can’t, remember: any art made by humans is going to have mistakes in it – that’s what makes each egg truly unique and beautiful.
- Pro tip – Try to use long, straight strokes when applying the design—it’s hard to do that at first sometimes, but it definitely gets better with practice! Using too short strokes can give a messy, jagged appearance to the egg.
- Mix up your dye batches. You can use store bought or homemade dyes, but for deep, rich, dark patterns consider getting traditional egg dyes. They can be stored for quite some time, so one batch can last months.
- Now let’s get to work! Wear a glove on the hand which holds the egg, to avoid leaving oil on the egg, which blocks the egg’s pores also keeps your hand clean of dye. Use the kistka to apply wax to the egg like you practiced. The process of applying the wax and dye may be confusing at first because you are working in reverse. For the instructions below, you will just be using white (the natural egg color), a light color and a dark color.
- In the first dye batch, EVERYTHING except the places you drew lines of wax will be dyed in the lighter color leaving the first wax lines white. In the second dye batch, EVERYTHING except the places they put NEW lines will dye to the darker color. REMEMBER:
- The dye will not go anywhere you apply wax.
- The longer you leave the egg in the dye, the darker or brighter the color will be.
- You don’t need to re-apply wax every time you dip it in a dye; just apply the new lines for the color.
- Remember to apply the wax on BOTH SIDES of the egg.
- The pencil lines are just guides, and you won’t be covering all of them with wax.
- After applying the wax for a color, double check your egg to make sure you didn’t miss any lines.
- As you are dying, regardless of how many colors you are using, the dye sequence is from light to dark.
- After about 15 minutes in the dye bath, remove the eggs with the spoon, and dabdry with tissues. If you rub, you may remove softened shell and color too. Do not leave the eggs in any dye for longer than 45 minutes. It creates a bubbly texture on the egg, and the colors look smudged in the final design.
- When done, blow out the candle, empty the wax from the kistka onto the wax block.
- You’re done dyeing. Now what? When your design is complete, your egg will be covered with wax and your design will be hard to see, making this step tricky. Take the egg, and hold it near the side of the flame. DO NOT hold the egg over the flame, because carbon will collect on the shell, and darken the design. This can also be accomplished by a hair dryer on high setting.
- Wait until the wax looks wet (only a few seconds, usually) and wipe the wax off with a clean tissue or paper towel. Try to always use a fresh side of the tissue (or a new tissue) for each wipe.
- When the wax is totally removed, put a couple drops of Goo Gone in the palm of your hand, roll the egg in it, then gently dry the egg with a tissue. This not only removes any remaining wax, but also soot and most pencil marks. Goo Gone (citrus oil) is non-flammable, so it’s safe for this project. Wash your hands after as it may leave an oily residue on surfaces.
Now that your egg is completed, you have two options for the next step. Both are tricky. Traditional pysanka are left complete. The liquid and gas in the egg slowly evaporates out of the several thousand microscopic pores all over the surface of the egg. This can take months and there is an exciting period of time where the gas inside the egg that has been building up as the yolk deteriorates puts pressure on shell. If things go well, the gas escapes and the pressure lessens. If things go poorly, the pressure builds up beyond the limits of the shell and it may… explode.
The second option you have is to “blow” the egg. You do this by creating a small hole in the bottom of the egg and poking around in the hole with a wire or toothpick to break the yolk. You then take a non-medical syringe (a good source is your local feed store) and you slowly push air into the egg thereby displacing the yolk and forcing it out of the egg and hole. If you are not patient with this process, you can also crack the egg by creating too much pressure in the shell.
We’d love to see your eggs, so please post your creations on Instagram and tag us with @hmns!