Pysanky are pretty big in the part of Canada I grew up in (we even have a giant pysanky to go with the giant pierogi), and skilled pysanky are absolute stunning pieces of art. Pysanky (singular pysanka) are highly-decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs, made the same way batik is – using wax to cover layers of dye to make designs. There’s a lot of tradition in Ukraine over giving pysanky during the Easter season and a lot of meaning carried by the designs, and the art has been carried through the Ukrainian diaspora. They’re more than just decorative like the dip-dyed Easter eggs you make as a kid.
I’m going to try making pysanky for the first time! I’m a total novice, so I ordered a pysanky kit from This Folk Life – dyes, beeswax, candle, and a kistka (the stylus to draw wax with). All I needed was a few eggs, and egg piercer (the one from my egg steamer) and some boiling water and vinegar. It really helps to put newspaper down as well – I was also glad I have a black kitchen table.
It helps to sketch patterns on the eggshell with a pencil. I found some really helpful step-by-step beginner patterns at LearnPysanky.com and a general tutorial from the Capital Ukrainian Festival here in Ottawa. You work from lightest to darkest colours, using the candle to melt the beeswax into the kitska.
Once the dyeing is done, if you want to keep the egg, you’ll need to empty it. It’s a delicate process but between a needle to poke holes and a bobby pin / paperclip to break up the yolk, you can blow the insides out without breaking the shell.
If you want to keep your egg, you have to empty it before getting to the really fun part, melting the wax (or else you’ll have some hardboiled egg inside). You use the side of the flame and wipe gently with a paper towel, and it’s really fun to see your design emerge.
It’s very rudimentary, but I’m really proud of my very first pysanky!
I had a couple more eggs, so I played around with patterns and different colours. It takes some practice to not “sketch” the lines in wax and just commit to one line, and filling in larger sections with wax so there’s no gaps is tricky. I got creative with an impressionist (that’s what I’m calling it) Ukrainian sunflower.
This was super messy, super fun, and I think I’m hooked. The dye will keep, so I may go get some more eggs and see practice some more!