Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pysanki-method colored eggs

I learned how to make pysanki -- Ukrainian, colored eggs -- in a class at Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Pennsylvania about 35 years ago. Traditional pysanki are made with poisonous dyes that must be handled carefully and kept away from food and food preparation areas. To make the designs, a stylus called a kistka holds melted beeswax in a tiny funnel. The beeswax is used to create a design by blocking dye with  successive layers of wax. When the egg is finished, the wax is removed by heating the egg in a candle flame and wiping the eggshell to reveal the design. My teacher said it is not necessary to remove the egg from the shell before making pysanki, but many practitioners do this. Real pysanki are nothing like the eggs you see here. Pysanki are incredibly detailed, complex and beautiful. You can learn more about pysanki at

For my pysanki-style egg dying I used food coloring instead of poisonous dye, paraffin instead of beeswax, and a small, child’s paintbrush instead of the kistka. I used vinegar in boiling water as a method of fixing the color on the egg.

Tools and materials:
  • 1-2 dozen jumbo-sized eggs
  • 4 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 to 3 oz. paraffin
  • McCormic food color and egg dye sold in a package of four quarter-ounce vials
  • small double-boiler
  • small, clean inexpensive paint brush
  • old towels, dish towels or rags to cover work surface and use on eggs
  • Scotch-Brite plastic scouring pads
  • rack for eggs
  • four 12-oz. cups or mugs to hold food-coloring bath
  • four large spoons
Cook eggs:
  1. Cover the eggs with water in a large pot and bring to boil.
  2. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the eggs cook in the hot water for 20 minutes.
  3. Carefully drain the hot water and cover eggs with cool water and let sit until the eggs are no longer hot, about 10 minutes.
  4. Pour off water and move eggs to dying table. 
Prepare dye:
  1. While the eggs are cooking, cover the dying table with clean rags or paper and boil a quart of water.
  2. Empty four food coloring vials, one each into four 12-oz mugs. Be careful not to splatter.
  3. Add one tablespoon of vinegar to the dye and fill the mugs HALF FULL with boiling water.
  4. Have a large spoon available for each mug.
  1. Beginning with a white (or light colored) egg, paint swirls of paraffin on an egg. The area you cover with paraffin will appear white (or the lightest color) on your finished egg. You can paint a name or words, if you like. Try not to put globs of paraffin on the egg, because you will have to remove it all in the end. Don’t try to remove any wax if you make a mistake.
  2. Dip your egg into the lightest colored bath, remove and dry.
  3. Paint your egg with more paraffin swirls, dots, lines or whatever you like. Everything you wax will remain the color of your first dye bath.
  4. Dip your egg into the next color of dye. Remove and dry. 
  5. Paint your egg with more paraffin decorations.
  6. Dip into the final color of your dye choices, remove and dry.
Note: To avoid muddy colored eggs, dip in progression of the color wheel – for example: white, to yellow, to green, to blue; or white, to red, to purple. Avoid dipping eggs into opposites on the color wheel – for example: don’t dip a red egg into green.

Once all your eggs are dyed, scrape excess wax off each egg with your fingernail and polish off the rest of the wax with a Scotch-Brite plastic scrubbing pad.