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Pysanky: The Beautiful Tradition of Ukrainian Easter Eggs and How to Make Your Own

Jessica Stewart

The start of spring means that Easter is on the horizon, which for many people means one thing, it’s time to start decorating eggs. But did you know that in Ukraine, Easter egg decorating is an important art form that dates back centuries? Known as pysanky, these Ukrainian Easter eggs are decorated using the wax-resist (batik) method. Covered in stunning motifs often taken from Slavic folk art, you’ll also find these decorated eggs in many parts of eastern Europe.

Creating these precious eggs takes focus and attention to detail, but the results are stunning works of art that are traditionally given as gifts to family members and community leaders. In fact, pysanka is so important to the culture that it’s thought that it was even produced in prehistoric Ukraine. Archaeologists have found decorated ceramic eggs to back up this theory and, according to folklore, pysanky can help ward off evil from overtaking the world. Later, this blended with Christian beliefs, though many people still feel that the decorative eggs work to scare off bad spirits from the home.

So how does one create a pysanka? The word itself is taken from the Ukrainian word “to write,” which gives a hint into how it’s done. After designs are drawn in pencil around the raw egg, it’s hollowed out by drilling a small hole in the top and bottom and letting its innards seep out. Wax is then applied across the lines with a tool called a kistka, and the egg is dipped in the first dye. Just as in batik, the wax helps seal off the lines so that they remain free of the dye. Wax is continually added, and the egg is continuously dipped in different colours to achieve the desired design. Once dry, the beeswax is melted off with a candle, revealing the colourful pattern. Pysanky are then varnished to preserve them before being displayed on special stands.

For many families, creating pysanky is an important cultural ritual that brings them together each Easter. It’s the perfect creative project for all ages, so whether you want to pay homage to your Slavic heritage or simply take your Easter eggs to a new level, why not give it a try? Many community organizations also run workshops on how to decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs or you can try an online pysanky class.

Pysanky Supplies

If you want to get started creating your own pysanky, it doesn’t take much to get started. It’s even possible to find a wide range of pysanky kits that provide all the supplies you’ll need. Here are the essential tools you’ll need to start making your own Ukrainian Easter eggs.

Kistka – This special pen has a receptacle for hot wax, allowing you to draw your designs across the egg. Traditionally made from a stick and a piece of brass around a needle, these days there are electric kistka that will hold more wax. They’re readily available in craft stores or online. But, if you are extra crafty, you can even make your own kistka. Tips of different widths are also available to produce a variety of lines.

Beeswax – You’ll fill your kistka with melted beeswax in order to trace over the lines of your pattern prior to dipping the egg in each colour of dye. In this way, the colour below the wax is preserved, allowing you to create complex, colourful designs. Once the dying process is complete and the egg is dry, simply melt the wax away with the flame of a candle.

Drop Pull Tool – In some Eastern European countries like Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic, pysanky are made using a different stylus. This method, called drop-pull, uses pinheads dipped into hot wax to apply designs to the egg. This tool can be used both for the wax-resist method and to create embossed eggs.

Egg Blower – Traditionally, pysanky are created on raw eggs that have had the interior yolk and white drained. To do this, you’ll need to poke a small hole on the ends and blow out the inside.

Pysanky Stand – After all the hard work in creating your decorative egg, you’ll want to show it off. You’ll find stands that you can set your egg in or others that allow you to hang your pysanky if you decide to add a tassel and loop through the hole.

Ukrainian Easter Egg Dyes – Traditionally, pysanky dyes were created from plants and minerals, making it necessary to soak eggs for several hours in order to achieve a strong colour. These days, synthetic dye drastically cuts down on time. You’ll want to pick up dye specifically made for pysanky rather than traditional Easter egg dye in order to achieve the vivid colours that these eggs are known for.

Motifs are often taken from other Slavic folk arts and can be found throughout pottery, embroidery, woodwork, and metalwork. These provide important clues to understanding what ancient pysanky must have been decorated with, as the eggs are too fragile to survive.

Different motifs can play on religious iconography, such as a commonly featured triangle symbolizing the Holy Trinity, or symbolize the changing seasons and societal roles. Different villages may have specialized in particular motifs, but some of the most common imagery includes depictions of the sun, birds, a ladder (to symbolize prayers making their way toward heaven), the tree of life, flowers, and geometric designs.

Colour Meanings

The colour palette used in pysansky eggs is equally important to the design. While in the past, using two colours was more common, over time, people have tried to incorporate more hues into the design, under the belief that a more colourful egg would mean more good luck.

Some colours and colour combinations are more popular than others. Red, for instance, symbolizes love, hopes of marriage, and life-giving blood; white is associated with purity, light, and virginity; yellow is associated with the moon and stars as well as the harvest; and black is regarded as a spiritual colour related to the afterlife.

Take a look at some modern pysanky to see how common patterns are being interpreted today.

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