Sunday, April 17, 2011

How To Make Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs)

I made these pysanky last year

HOW TO MAKE PYSANKY (Ukrainian Easter Eggs)
(pysanka - singular, pysanky - plural)

I was taught how to make pysanky by my father John, who was a first generation Ukrainian-American. My grandparents were from the Carpathian Mountain region of Lviv, Ukraine. Designs on the eggs are fundamentally traditional, passed down generation to generation, and differences in styles are mainly regional.

What are pysanky?
Pysanki, or pysanky (pronounced: puh-sahn-key) are Ukrainian Easter eggs. They are made from real chicken eggs. The most interesting thing about them, aside from their intricate, beautiful designs, is the way they are made: The designs are not painted on, but are done in a wax-resist technique using hot bees wax. The process is similar to batik.

How do you make pysanky?
Basically, you start with a plain white egg. You begin by drawing designs on the egg in hot bees wax with a pen-like tool called a kistka (stylus) and whatever areas you cover with wax will remain white. 

When you are finished covering the areas that you want to keep white, the egg is then dipped into a dye bath of the lightest color, such as yellow. The white areas that you have covered in wax will not absorb the yellow dye and will remain white because they are beneath the wax. 

 Once the egg is the desired shade of yellow, you remove it from the dye, dry it off completely, and then, again using the kistka and hot wax, you cover the areas of the egg that you want to keep yellow. 

Then the egg goes into the next, darker dye, such as orange, and the process is repeated until you reach your final, darkest dye bath…and so on and so on until you have finished your design in wax. 

In the end you will have an egg that has a lot of wax on it! The last step is the most fun: you carefully melt away all the wax and the colorful design is revealed!

You do not need to use many colors, but traditionally the main colors used are: yellow, orange, red, brick, brown, and black. 

Nowadays you can buy the egg dyes in many shades such as green, purple, blue (light, dark, royal), turquoise, pink, fuchsia, scarlet, etc. 

One important note: you MUST use dyes made especially for pysanki. These dyes are poisonous and should not be used around or by children. 

Also, the egg should never be eaten.

Sometimes I will use only one dye bath, such as purple. First I will wax the areas that I want to keep white, then dip the egg in purple, then the result will be a purple and white egg. Two-tone eggs are beautiful!


Supplies Needed:

Many paper towels
Mason jars or large peanut butter jars with lids
boiling water
regular white vinegar
large spoons for mixing dyes and dipping eggs
pysanki dyes
a candle for heating kistka and also for removing wax from egg when finished
matches or lighter
Block of beeswax made specifically for pysanky
kistka (stylus)
pencil with eraser for sketching designs on eggs
chicken eggs
optional: pysanky how-to book with designs and instructions
straight pin and tool for blowing out inside of egg

Gathering supplies:
I have found that my local AC Moore carries pysanki supplies, but only seasonally, and the dyes tend to sell out fast, so when I see them I stock up! 

To do the day before: Make your dyes

Mix dyes according to package directions. It is best to prepare the dyes the day before you are going to use them, because most directions instruct you to use boiling hot water, and it takes the dyes while to cool down. Be sure to follow the mixing directions exactly, especially when making the orange dye, in which vinegar is NOT added. Vinegar IS needed for most of the dye colors. Pysanky dyes are PERMANENT and if you spill them they will stain just about any surface including clothes and tabletops…use with caution!

Prepare your eggs:
I use large or extra large chicken eggs. You can use whatever size you like. Try to purchase ones that do not have dates stamped on each shell, as that stamp will usually show through your finished design. Use only raw eggs, and be sure to remove them from the refrigerator for a few hours before you begin working with them so that they are room temperature. Cold eggs will sweat and be impossible to work with! Do not attempt to warm them by putting them in warm water or by any other method. Just remove them from the fridge the night before and let them naturally become room temperature. Do not keep them in Styrofoam egg cartons, as these will retain moisture. Use only cardboard egg cartons to hold and store your eggs.

The Kistka (stylus)

Kistkas come in three basic sizes, fine, medium and heavy.

Traditional kistkas

The size of the kistka refers to the thickness of the line that it draws. Traditional kistkas are like pencils with wood handles and a copper end that is held over the candle flame and heated, then held gently against the beeswax. The beeswax will melt and fill the kistka and then the wax flows through the opening and can be applied to the egg. Nowadays many professionals use electric kistkas, which are great because they maintain temperature and are a lot faster to use than the traditional kistkas, but they also take a lot of practice to get used to. I use both types but always find myself going back to the traditional type of kistka. I highly recommend learning to make pysanky with traditional kistkas.

Beeswax block

A natural colored beeswax block is used with the traditional kistka, and black colored beeswax is used for the electric kistka. This is because the electric kistka will not blacken the wax when heating it, and the candle flame will.

Traditional kistkas

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my post on Batik:
Beautiful Batik: What it is & How it's made

Have you ever made pysanky? 
Please leave a comment below! 

I hope you have a great week! 


My broken china jewelry is always available for purchase at