Pysanky-Panky: Eggin' with the Craftin' Cousins
b y b e c k y  h a y c o x

The Family that Crafts Together... Mary, Pizza and EggMy cousin Sally and I share some pretty crafty genes. Although we've admired each others' various projects (including Sally's handmade furniture!), we never crafted together, until now. I have long loved her intricate, Ukrainian-method dyed eggs (and have been too intimidated to try that particular craft solo,) so when Sally asked if I'd be into coming down peninsula and trying my hand, I didn't hestitate. She must have read the psychic crafty cravings. Rounding out the craft-on was my step-cousin Karen, and Sally's little cutie Mary (right, with pizza and Pysanky,) who is an experienced egger at a tender age.

Eggs GaloreI can see why Sally got hooked. She's been doing Ukrainian Easter egg dying, or Pysanky, off and on since 1969. Her eggs are incredible and technique impeccable. At left are some of her and Mary's masterpieces. These aren't some sucky third-rate Easter eggs, no sir!


Pysanky in an Nut Shell--Wait, Make that Egg Shell Pysanky is an old Ukrainian tradition. Each design on a traditional egg is comprised of various symbols, like diamonds=knowledge, spiders=patience, dots=tears of Mary, etc. Doesn't that make you want to know more Ukrainians?

Sally prefers hollowing eggs before applying the dyes, although some crafters hollow their eggs after decoration, so that the eggs sink into the dye. 

Hand and KistkaMelted beeswax is drawn on the egg using a kistka, a pen-like tool with a reservoir and small tip. Being the pro, Sally had a wide range of tip thicknesses and even had a couple electric ones, capable of very fine wax application. 

Candle and EggThe egg is dyed a light color, dried, then more wax is applied to any areas that one wants to keep that particular color. The process is repeated using progressively darker colors, building up lots of layers and colors. When finished, the wax is melted with a candle and rubbed into the surface of the egg. Other Pysanky techniques include bleaching dye from the egg and using varnish to gloss and seal the egg. Goose and ostrich eggs can also be used. 


The Novice Learns Some Fast Lessons Colors, my god the colors!I'm no stranger to the wax-resist concept, after a few years of batik. But I was unprepared for how satisfying this craft is. Wax and dye application can be as intricate or as broad as you wish, gratification is fairly instant, and my god, the colors: after years of trying to push Paas Easter Egg Dying Kits to their very limits, I couldn't believe the depths of these tones.

By the time Karen and I arrrived, Sally had already mixed the dyes. There was a full spectrum there, including black. These are special high-intensity chemical powdered dyes that are mixed with boiling water and vinegar.

Sucking Eggs, the Easy WayEggs needed hollowing, so I got busy putting a hole in the end of each egg using a Dremel drill. A light touch is key here, as I discovered after cracking several shells. Sally then demonstrated the little needle-and-pump egg goo extraction device (left) that made short work of emptying the eggs. I was somewhat relieved that modern technology has freed us from the queasy concept of blowing yolks by mouth! 

As for design, Sally had plenty of inspiration lying around, including a book of folk art, Jane Pollack's book "Decorating Eggs", and some Pysanky postcards. You can see one of Sally's fabulous poppy designs in mid-process below. She had a couple of dragon line drawings that she was thinking about adapting to the egg. How cool is that? 

PoppyI saw a couple of quasi-Navajo designs that got me into a swirly mood, and I just jumped in, freeforming. After a semi-successful mosaic session a few weeks before, I knew to not think too much about the design. Indeed, my first egg, done without preplanning, was my best of the day. Who knew white, green, yellow and black was my new favorite color combo?

Wax application is tricky; again, a light touch is what it's all about. I was unable to get a uniform, thin line, so I just worked the blobs into my design. My own personal Pysanky design symbology was the same on all my eggs: blobs=made by a novice. Oh well. I'm definitely intrigued enough to give it a go again. Maybe this time, solo!


Smiles = Satisfied! In true "teach a crafter to craft" empowerment move, Sally gifted me with "Luba's Ukrainian Easter Egg Decorating Kit," complete with two kistkas, 10 packets of assorted dyes and wax. What an honor! Her parting advice was valuable, too: keep going; don't sweat one little design, or a mistake, or a breakage…just pick up another egg and move on. Crafty words to live by!

The three cousins

That's me with Swirly Egg, Karen with Black and White Tribally Egg, and Sally with Poppy Egg.


Pysanky Resources Here's a mere few. Try a web search of the word "Pysanky," and blow yourmind!

Web Sites on Pysanky/Ukrainian Easter Eggs
This page, maintained by Dr. Myron Hlynka, offers copious web link sto other Pysanky sites.

How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs
This web site will tell you everything you need to know about the basics of making Pysanky. Pages include list of suppliers and other resources, explanation of symbology, and design templates.

Ukrainian Egg-Cessories: Supplies for Pysanky Easter Eggs
Supplies, links, downloadable pictures. Supplies offered include an egg-blowing apparatus that works with a vacuum cleaner!

Ukrainian Gift Shop
(612) 788-2545
This is where Sally gets all her supplies, including "Luba's Ukrainian Easter Egg Decorating Kit"

Decorating Eggs : Exquisite Designs With Wax & Dye
Pollak, Jane. Sterling Publications (Hardcover), August 1996.
The modern Pysanky crafter's bible.


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