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Picture of Pysanky - Ukrainian Egg Dying
Pysanky is a traditional craft in Ukraine and Poland. The method is similar to batik - patterns are drawn on the egg with wax, which then protects the covered areas from the dye that is applied. By repeating this process with different colors of dye, a multi-colored pattern is built up. Finally, the wax is removed to reveal the colors that were covered up at each stage. A layer of polyurethane can be added over the finished egg to protect the dyed design and to give a gloss finish.

Traditionally, the eggs were left whole. They would eventually dry out and become light. Some of my eggs are left whole, in keeping with tradition. Some of my eggs are blown to allow them to be hung as ornaments.

to see many other examples of these eggs, check out my Pysanky gallery on Flickr
 
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Step 1: Materials Needed:

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Eggs
Pure Beeswax Block
Candle
Kistka
Dyes
Pencil
Heat Tool (optional)
Paper Towels

Before you begin, WASH YOUR HANDS! Oils on your hands can get on the egg shells and cause uneven dyeing. It helps to make sure your hands are clean before you start handling the eggs.

always start with room temperature eggs. cold eggs will sweat marring your pencil lines or your dye.

Step 2: Designing

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Draw your design guidelines on your egg in pencil. When the wax is removed later, it will remove these pencil lines with it. If you make a mistake, Do Not Erase! Erasing can scratch the egg shell surface causing uneven dying.

Step 3: Waxing

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Heat the funnel of the kistka in the flame of the candle& being careful to keep the tip of the funnel out of the flame. Soot from the flame can clog the tip if it is held directly in the flame. Soot from the flame will collect on the surface of the kistka (blackening it). With the heated kistka, dip into the block of beeswax. The heat of the tool will melt the wax into a little puddle. Scoop molten wax from this puddle into the funnel of the tool. Soot on the kistka will mix with the wax and darken it as you continue to use the wax block. This is helpful, as the blackened wax is much easier to see than the natural wax while working on the egg shell.


Step 4: Caution!

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Do Not Leave the Hot Kistka in the Wax Block!

If it is left in the hot molten wax and then the wax hardens, it is difficult to remove the tool without damaging it.

Step 5: Draw on the egg

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Once your tool is full, you may need to reheat it. In order for the wax to flow well, the tool must be hot enough. Use the tool just as you would a pencil to draw on the surface of the egg everywhere that you would like the egg to remain white. It can be helpful to keep your pinky anchored on the egg surface to steady your hand

Step 6: Dying

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Carefully lower the egg into the dye with a spoon. Do Not Drop the Egg into the Dye! Dropping the egg can cause it to crack. Sometimes these cracks are not visible until the final wax removal stage after hours of work have been put into an egg.

The amount of time to leave an egg in the dye varies depending on the color of dye... if it is being dyed over another color... the quality of the shell surface... the age of the dye... and even more factors. So the only rule that can be used is to check often . Some dyes will make a decent color in just 15-20 seconds. Others take 5-10 minutes. For a strong color, you may have to leave an egg in the dye for quite some time!

Step 7: Remove the egg

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When your egg reaches the color you are looking for, remove the egg from the dye by lifting it up with the spoon... and then picking the egg up off the spoon with a paper towel. Do not roll the egg off the spoon onto the paper towel, as this pour excess dye left in the bottom of the spoon into your hand as well. Always use a clean paper towel for each egg. The same paper towel can be used for successive dye baths on the same egg... but if you used a paper towel on an egg that is contaminated with colors you have not already used on that egg, you can transfer dye from the towel onto your egg, marring it. Pat the excess dye off the egg.

Step 8: Clean your spoon!

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Make sure to wipe off your spoon after putting an egg in or taking an egg out of a dye pot. Check before using a spoon that it is not covered in dye from a previous use. This excess dye can contaminate a dye pot, changing it's color.

Step 9: Repeat for multiple colors

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Repeat the Waxing and Dying steps for each color of dye in your design. Remember that the areas you are waxing are going to stay the color they are at the time you apply the wax. There is no need to apply wax over the final color of the design.

Step 10: Removing the wax

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The traditional way to remove wax from the eggs is with the heat of a candle flame. Hold the egg close to the candle flame until the wax softens and then wipe the melted wax away with a paper towel or a tissue. Be careful NOT to hold the egg in or directly over the flame! Holding the egg in the flame can transfer soot onto the surface of the egg. This soot will be almost impossible to remove and can ruin a beautiful egg.

Because of the danger of soot marring the egg, my favorite method of removing the wax is to heat the egg with a heat gun designed for rubber stamping. This method also allows me to remove the wax more quickly. There is a slight bit of cooking of the egg innards... but it doesn't interfere with blowing the egg.

Step 11: Finished? or not Finished?

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Voila! Your done! Well, at least you can be... you can stop here and have a 100% authentic traditionally dyed egg. Eggs left whole (unblown) will eventually dry out over time. As the egg dries out, it releases gasses slowly through the shell. If the egg is kept in a open area with good circulation, this helps it age safely. If the egg is kept in an enclosed space (or sometimes just out of spite on the part of the egg) the gasses can build up and cause the egg to "pop" cracking it's shell and ruining it. Exploding eggs do not smell good... are not fun to clean up... and can scare the heck out of you at 2 am. How do you avoid them?

Option 1: start with blown egg shells to dye. While this avoids all the potential problems of working with whole eggs, there is a major downside. Blown eggs float. In order to dye a blown egg, you need to plug the hole(s) with wax to keep it from filling with dye. This means that the blown egg acts like a balloon and needs to be constantly held below the surface of the dye. Whole eggs have the advantage of sinking in the dye and not needing supervision. Another disadvantage of this method is that the untreated dyed egg shell surface can be damaged by moisture and is more likely to fade.

Option 2: (our preferred) start with whole raw eggs to dye. After you are finished with the dyeing process and have removed the wax, coat the eggshell with a layer of oil-based polyurethane. It must be oil-based, because a water based polyurethane will run the dyes. The polyurethane will protect the dyed pattern from moisture and help prevent fading in strong light. It is still not advisable to store eggs in direct sunlight to prevent fading. The polyurethane also adds quite a bit of strength to the fragile egg shell. Once the egg is sealed, it can be blown without the egg innards marring the dyed design of the shell. As a final step, to make sure that any remaining egg inside the shell dries out, bake the finished egg in a low oven (somewhere around 150-175 degrees) for about an hour.

Step 12: Tips, Tricks, and Variations

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  • There are 3 different colors of Kistka handles. The white handles are the smallest size funnel opening. These are good for very fine detail work. The blue handles are the medium size and are used for most applications. The red handles have the largest opening and are very handy for filling in large areas of color.
  • A good way to get clear colors is to start with your lightest color first and work to darkest. It can be difficult to dye a light color over a dark color.

  • Working in one color family (yellows to reds or shades of blues) helps keep clear colors as well. That said, interesting effects can be obtained by breaking all the rules. Sometimes colors interact in surprising ways.

  • You can get an interesting "acid washed" look by rubbing the egg dry instead of patting when you remove it from the dye pot

  • A light bleach solution can be used to remove colors from all non waxed sections of the egg, letting you have a white background color or giving you clear colors in future dye baths. Be careful, dyes don't always give exactly the same color or saturation on a bleached shell.

  • Vinegar can be used to etch an egg's shell. Used instead of dye, the vinegar will remove thin layers of shell creating a raised effect where the waxing is done. On a brown or green shell, the etched areas will be lighter and lighter shades fading towards white. multiple color tones can be created by waxing and etching repeatedly.

  • Vinegar etching can also be used to remove a layer of dying and give you a white shell again.

  • Another traditional method of applying wax is the "drop-pull" method. This method uses a pin instead of a kistka to apply the wax. A stainless steel straight pin is inserted into the eraser of a pencil to give it a handle. Colored wax is melted and the pin is dipped into the molten wax. While the wax is still liquid (you must work quickly) the pin is touched to the egg shell and pulled to form a drop of wax pulled to a tear drop tail. There are an amazing variety of patterns that can be formed just by creating dots and teardrops.

Check out the gallery of Jen's Pysanky:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/esmecat/sets/72157594232833262/

And the gallery of pysanky made by guests at out annual Egg Dying Days:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/esmecat/sets/72157594232833262/

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HollyZ21 days ago

the pencil lines stay on the egg after wax is removed making an ugly finish

HollyZ21 days ago

Wow! I have never heard of this before. But this is beautiful. How can this art be dying? It's such a waste to let something this beautiful just die. :(

My interest in the Ukrainian culture started just about a week ago. I met a Ukrainian friend who shares a lot about their culture and history. He sometimes even cooks Ukrainian cuisine for me! Salo and Solyanka, and his favorite, Olivier. I put in more effort to know more about their culture by enrolling my self in http://preply.com/en/ukrainian-by-skype where I take Ukrainian classes online. (Okay, since I mentioned Ukrainian food earlier, I am suddenly craving. I hate it when this happens..)

He's told me a lot about Ukraine, but this is one thing he never mentioned to me. Maybe because men don't really do this sort of stuff? I don't know. But I'm sure if he mentioned this earlier, I would've pestered him to get me those materials. Haha!

Anyway, I would like to try to make some of these. I hope I can get all the materials needed. Thank you for sharing this!

Thank you for the instructable. I was given one of the decorating tools but had no idea how to use it.

JuliaS44 months ago

Aamazing.

Ukrainian's Pysanka is so wonderful!

BestPysanky8 months ago
For the largest selection of pysanky Ukrainian Easter eggs decorating supplies go to http://www.bestpysanky.com/Pysanky-Supplies-s/60.htm
Traditional and electrical kistka, egg dyes, beeswax, egg stands and already decorated Easter eggs are for sale.
flashtuchka2 years ago
"Kistka" means "Brush", btw =)

Actually, it means "little bone." Current theory is that the first tools were carved from chicken leg bones.

kistka_translation.jpg
rosane621 year ago

Nossa que lindo, mas nã vou conseguir fazer, bem a gente tenta né, mas os ovos não tem que tirar a gema e a clara, como furar ?

nanaverm2 years ago
Beautiful! You have a lot of patience and a steady hand!
robbadooz2 years ago
WOW! Nice!
olynyk2 years ago
The instruction series were well done. Check out the site Ukrainianeggs.com for ideas of various designs and supplies.
PhilKE3FL2 years ago
Thanks so much. My Russian Grandmother used to do something very similar melting colored wax, crayons, and dipping a large head pin, head first, into the wax and using that to make the designs. Dots, Lines that were fat & then tapered out, etc.
HollyHarken4 years ago
Where did you get the clear rings to display your eggs? I did pysanky eggs many years ago after taking a class, and never found a good way to display them other than egg cup holders. I love the look of the clear plastic ring to display the egg. Beautiful work!
You could also get a clear poly tube and cut it using a coping saw or similar to make your own. It depends on how many you are going to do. You can also get the rings esmecat used at a lot of geology stores. People use them to display geodes and whatnot.
esmecat (author)  HollyHarken4 years ago
those rings are another item available from the ukrainina gift shop... check out tier website for tons of display ideas....
monsterlego2 years ago
Cool! my mom does this :)
NightFire2 years ago
I was gifted an egg nearly identical to the black one with the deer on it, over 20 years ago. It's one of the few things that I still have that has survived all of my travelling.
mrneasthope2 years ago
If you don't use the whole dye right away. Can you put the liquid in a jar and use it the day later. Do you need to reheat it?
grannyjones3 years ago
We've been doing this for years, using first the traditional tools , made by my father-in-law from the cut up side of a soda can wired onto a stick, and more recently the electric kistky from Ukrainian Gift Shop in Minneapolis.
LucDaRocka13 years ago
where do i get beeswax?
esmecat (author)  LucDaRocka13 years ago
you can get beeswax in craft stores like Michaels in the candlemaking section. you can usually get a better price through by ordering from places online geared toward making your own beauty products.

but with either of those options you are probably going to have to buy by the pound. for pysanky, you need only a very small block of wax. if you check out any of the pysanky shops online, you can get small blocks of wax... but more expensive per ounce than the by the pound route.

my favorite online shop is the Ukrainian gift shop. http://www.ukrainiangiftshop.com/
thanks.......
apasek2303 years ago
We have the same thing in Poland :) Its pronounced the same I guess but spelled "pisanki." Nice tutorial too.
marki_marku4 years ago
what kind of dye do you use please? is it food colouring or clothing dyes?
esmecat (author)  marki_marku4 years ago
not food coloring. food coloring doesn't give vivid colors.

this is a special dye for pysanky from the ukrainian gift shop. it is an aniline dye and not food safe (so no eating the eggs after!)
Evan6064 years ago
Not to sound dumb or anything but where do you find the black dye?
esmecat (author)  Evan6064 years ago
all the dyes are available from the ukrainian gift shop - just google and you'll find them. these aren't the same as the egg dyes you get in the grocery store at easter... to get the vivid colors of these eggs, you need the non food safe (ie don;t eat the eggs) aniline dyes.
the designs are gorgeous. have you tried similar techniques on anything more permanent? like wood cut to the shape of an egg? i'd like to try this, but using something other than eggs.
esmecat (author)  dweebcentric4 years ago
actually, the eggs are permanent. these dyes are not food safe and the eggs are meant to be kept, not eaten. i have eggs (even whole raw eggs) that are more than 20 years old. actually, the whole eggs tend to last longer than the blown ones,because people tend to handle them more carefully. a layer of polyurethane(oil based) to protect the dyed shell surface does a lot to strengthen the shells.

there is also a tradition of painted wood eggs from Russia and the Ukrainian. you could definitely transfer these design ideas onto a wooden egg. i'm not sure the wax process would work so well though... seems to me the wax would stick in the porous grain of the wood when you went to remove it... plus the dyes would wick along the grain under the wax.....

to me, the wooden eggs and other replica style eggs lose something... the spirit of ephemeral and delicate nature of the eggs is lost. they feel heavy and clumsy in comparison.

good luck with your experimentations!
dobr4 years ago
nice eggs, in Ukraine is possible to purchase the same :)
siggleputz4 years ago
Another option: After blowing the eggs, put some of the vinegar solution into them with a syringe, give them a gentle shake and re-blow them, to rinse out the inside of the egg... never had a smelly egg.
lakramer5 years ago
This is so cool! I'm definitely going to try this! Thank you for the great step-by-step instructable!
sarahfish5 years ago
 Where do you get the kistka and dyes?  Perhaps I've just never seen them at a craft store, or are they online orders?  Also, what are the parameters on the dye? Would something line PAAS egg dyes work?
 Oh, and also these are brilliant!  the ones on flickr are gorgeous! My mom and I have been blowing eggs and hand painting for years (actually, she's been doing them since she was a kid)  but these are a whole new level, I can't wait to do them with her!
esmecat (author)  sarahfish5 years ago
thank you!
esmecat (author)  sarahfish5 years ago
most big chain craft stores won't carry these. i have one shop locally that does... but they specialize in gourd craft and use the dyes on gourds...

the major source (where anyone local would be getting them anyway) is the Ukrainian Gift Shop. the dyes are aniline dyes like those used for silk and bond to the protein in the shells. while you concievably could use the paas dyes, they are very light to begin with and would most likely fade very quickly. seems like a lot of work for something that won't last...
jerryofdc5 years ago
Wouldn't a hair dryer be as effective?
esmecat (author)  jerryofdc5 years ago
no actually. a hair dryer blows a LOT of air. a heat gun blows very little air... and much more heat.
Bubcia6 years ago
Sorry but this tradition comes from POLAND not Ukraine. It's called "pisanki". I make this every year, I'm Polish though ;)
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