Psanky - Ukrainian Easter Eggs

How you can decorate your own Ukrainian Easter Eggs

by Christine Norstrand

Ukrainian Eggs (Psanky) are created in a reverse process, not unlike batik:

Supplies

You need at least one kistka (a stick with a small metal funnel at the end for applying the beeswax. They are available with larger and smaller funnel openings. Use kistkas with small openings for fine lines and details and those with the largest openings to fill in largers areas.

In addition, you need squares of beeswax, a candle for heating the wax, some tissue or paper towels to dry the egg, white vinegar, dyes, and an egg. The dyes last approximately a year and come in seven or eight traditional colors, and as many as 20 nontraditional colors. You can save them between projects in 6 ounce plastic containers with tight lids.

You can buy psanky books and supplies online, as well as beeswax. Another list of suppliers by state is available here. You can also contact Daria Chaikovsky at the Ukrainian Art Center--Gallery of Fine & Folk Art (4315 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, California, USA 90029 )Phone: (323) 668-0172. They accept mail order or can refer you to a source in your area.

The Process

Prepare the Egg

  1. Choose a smooth chicken, duck, or goose egg.
  2. Wash your hands to remove any excess oils -- these can cause patterns to form when the egg is dyed.
  3. Blow the egg, using the smallest hole you can. You will fill the hole with wax before you dye the egg the first time. Wash the egg with water and vinegar, and dry the egg. The vinegar helps the dyes to adhere so don't leave it out.

Draw the Pattern

  1. Don't rush this step in order to get to the dying. Sketch a pattern lightly on the egg. You can use a clean rubber band to form a guideline. Erasures cause the dye to adhere poorly so write lightly and try not to erase. Worse, the wax may develop a bubble over the erasure and dyes may seep into the bubble, thus ruining your pattern.

Wax and Dye

  1. Cover the lines and sections of the egg that you want to remain white (or the base color) with bees wax. Colors that are covered in wax do not change thereafter. If the kistka stops drawing, reheat it. When the kistka is hot, you can melt off a bit of the beeswax cube by using the kistka as a spoon.
  2. Dip the egg in the lightest color dye, which should be no warmer than room temperature. The longer you leave the egg in the dye, the more intense the color. The traditional dyes are poisonous.
  3. Let it dry. You can pat the egg to dry it but take care not to rub it.
  4. Cover the parts of the egg that you want to keep the last color with beeswax. This preserves the second color.
  5. Continue applying wax and dying/drying until you have used the darkest color.

Remove the Wax

  1. Without getting the egg too hot, warm the egg over a candle and wipe off the warm wax to expose the underlying colors. Hold the egg near the flame but not above it (to avoid smoke stain). When the wax softens and melts, wipe off the wax.
  2. If you wish, you can varnish the finished egg to protect it.

Colors

Traditional colors are reds, oranges, browns, and blacks. If you decide to use greens and blues and oranges and red, use a marker or watercolor to dye that section and color it. Oranges and reds do not adequately cover the greens and blues and the overall egg color comes out looking somewhat murky.

If you prefer not to use a marker in the case that you absolutely must have a certain color, you can dip the egg in bleach after covering the green and blue sections. This is not the traditional process, however.

Traditional Symbols

Traditional psanky carry mythic and Christian symbols (symbols list. The egg itself symbolizes Christ and his Resurrection, and the rebirth of new life in spring. Wavy lines indicate the waters of forgiveness. Circles can mean the sun or moon. Those that circle the egg remind us of eternal life. Triangles represent the Trinity, and crosses Christianity or the crucifixion. Fish represent Christ and the nourishment of the spirit. Sheep point toward the Good Shepherd. Horses, reindeer, and deer promise prosperity. Birds, especially birds in flight, represent freedom. Fruits, grains, and baskets represent fertility. Pine needles mean for health and youth. Other plants stand for happiness, joy (especially when combined with bright colors), and plenty.

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