Meet pysanky: the Ukranian Easter eggs you can only eat with your eyes.

By Vanessa Greaves
March 20, 2015
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Credit: Vanessa Greaves

A few years ago, a friend asked if I wanted to decorate Easter eggs, but she wasn't talking about using the usual dye kits we grew up with. Instead, she introduced me to the art of pysanky, a Ukrainian folk art dating back to the 1st century A.D. It's a multi-layered wax and dye process (think batik) that results in intricate, vivid, non-edible eggs that you can keep forever. Not being Ukrainian ourselves, we felt free to borrow the technique but use our own designs. And to honor the old-world tradition of passing along the craft from hand to hand, I recently got a couple of other friends together to teach them how to make pysanky, too.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

Meet Gina Tolentino, a painter and illustrator who co-owns Bar del Corso, and Dana Neely, a photographer and smokin'genius behind Girls Gone BBQ. They're going to help me show you step-by-step how to make pysanky.

How to Make Ukranian Easter Eggs

1. Lightly pencil a design on an uncooked white egg.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

2. Draw melted beeswax on the parts of the design that should stay white. The wax will keep the dye off in the next step.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

3. Dip the egg in lightest dye color in your design and pat dry.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

4. Wax the parts of the design that should stay dyed (pink in this case).

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

5. Dip the egg in the next darker color and pat dry. Wax areas as needed.

6. Repeat until you dye the final background color.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

7. Melt the wax off the egg to reveal the design.

8. Admire your egg!

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

To preserve this masterpiece, I sprayed two coats of varnish on the eggs, then carefully drilled tiny holes in the top and bottom, and used an egg blower to extrude the white and yolk out of the egg. This was the most nerve-wracking part because I've been know to crack an egg after all that work. It's not pretty.

What You Need to Make Pysanky

First, you'll need a few special tools and dyes. Luckily you can buy inexpensive kits that include all the basics:

  • 3 sizes of kistka (a stylus with a small funnel tip, used to hold and draw melted beeswax onto eggs)
  • 12 powdered dyes
  • Beeswax
  • Detailed instructions and design ideas

You'll also need some household items:

  • Raw eggs, the smoother the better
  • Lidded glass jars to hold the dyes
  • White vinegar for making dyes and prewashing eggs
  • Newspaper to protect your workspace from the dye
  • Pencil
  • Blank paper for dabbing wax from the kistka funnel
  • Candles for heating the kistka and melting wax (a taller candle stub works better than a tea light)
  • Spoons for dipping eggs
  • Paper towels for drying (you'll need lots)
  • Soft tissues for wiping melted beeswax off eggs
  • Small soft towel for cradling the egg so it won't roll away
  • Paint thinner to wipe soot and pencil marks off the eggs before varnishing

To preserve your beautiful eggs for posterity, you'll need:

  • Spray varnish (not water-soluble)
  • Drying board (a 1-inch grid of thin nails in a small board works well)
  • Egg blower (I use Aunt Marge's Egg blower, but you can find others at a craft store)

Google pysanky and you'll find loads of websites and videos with detailed instructions and designs. Start with something simple and learn as you go.

Give it a try, and share your new craft with a friend.

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