It all began while I was attending college in India. One of our Life Science labs involved cutting a window through the shell of a newly fertilized hen’s egg. As part of the same lab, we dissected the embryo from another fertilized egg that was further along in its development. We then grafted these embryo parts onto what is known as the ‘blood island’ of our first egg, working through the window that we had cut into its shell. The coolest thing about the lab was being able to see the grafted heart still beating after a day or two!
The cogs in my brain began turning almost immediately after the first time we did that grafting lab. I said to myself, ‘if we can cut square windows into a chicken’s egg, why can’t I cut any other shape?’ And so I did. Believe it or not, the very first 'other' shaped window that I cut out of an eggshell, was a heart! Perhaps in part because the image of that beating heart stayed with me for very long time!
After that, I began 'eggsperimenting' with various types of eggs, cutting crosses and all sorts of other shapes. And here's the important part - you do not discard the contents of the egg... you do what you normally would, cook it and eat it. The only difference here is the time it takes you to access what's edible!
Step 1: Some Background on Shells and Blades
Before we get into what you need for this craft, here’s the lowdown on various shell types. I’ve found that turkey eggs are a little thicker and have a smoother surface than a hen’s egg. They are also somewhat conical, so lend themselves nicely to teardrop and heart-shaped windows. Soon after I took to this hobby, a friend of my dad’s brought me double-yolked hen’s eggs. These were longer than a regular egg and I was able to do some cool stuff with those. But I like duck’s eggs the best since their shells are porcelain-like. Also, the membrane on the inside is tougher, which not only affords the shell much better protection while it is being cut but might just save the finished product from curious hands - both little and big... Ask me how I know!!
And here's a bit about the blades used for cutting. When I first started out, I was using my mother’s kitchen knives which got dull pretty fast and probably did not make her too happy... but she was extremely encouraging of all my crazy pursuits and never really complained. I also used my dad’s razor blades, which made for some stubborn stubble when he later tried to shave with them! I found that while kitchen knives, as well as the hacksaws and scroll/jigsaw blades which I later started using, made relatively quick work of cutting the shells, they were best used on eggs that were essentially being sliced in two - be it equal or unequal pieces. But on heart-shaped windows, crosses and such, razor blades produced a much cleaner edge, albeit taking more than double the time to cut the shell.
Step 2: Materials and Tools
The Main Ingredient comes from: "Eggs, eggs, all kinds of eggs; eggs that are little and small; Thin ones and tall ones and big ones and small ones and eggs that are not eggs at all!" Seriously, you can use any kind of eggs - Hen/Chicken/Fowl (most easily available), Duck (Porcelain-like), Goose (large, hard to find), Turkey (Conical). But they must be Whole and RAW.
For Marking the Egg:
A) For slicing into two pieces: Flattish rubber band of perfectly even width (about 1/8th’’) and pencil OR
B) For symmetrically shaped windows: Paper, pencil, scissors, and water
For Cutting the Egg:
1) Patience: It's about the only thing you really need, as this craft does not necessarily involve any special skill...
2) For relatively rough cuts of the shell: Hacksaw, Scroll saw blade, Jigsaw blade, (Kitchen knife, if nothing else is available)
3) For fine cuts of the shell and for cutting the membrane: Razor blade, Utility cutter
For Cleaning the Egg:
1) For removing stains from the shell - preferably before cutting: Toothpaste and old toothbrush
2) For soaking the shell after cutting, to get rid of the ‘eggy’ smell and protect from critters: OxiClean, Pine-sol, orange oil, bleach, white vinegar
For Decorating the Egg:
1) Acrylic spray paint
2) Spray varnish, clear or gloss
3) Magazine and catalog pictures of flowers or whatever takes your fancy
4) Scissors - preferably curved like those used for embroidery
5) Painting supplies: Acrylics, brushes etc.
6) Colored pencils that can be moistened and used like paints
7) Felt-tipped markers and gel pens
8) Discarded/broken junk jewelry, trinkets, knick knacks etc.
9) Embroidery floss in various colors; 1/16'' Metallic cord
10) Glues: Slow drying, flexible, liquid glue that can be brushed on and quick drying glue
For joining the two halves of the shell or attaching the window:
1) Jewel box hinges - if you can find them…
9) and 10) from above
Step 3: Preparing the Egg to Be Cut
1) Wash the shell and take off any stains using toothpaste and a toothbrush
2) Mark your pattern to be cut. Depending on whether you want to merely slice the shell in two or create a window, you will go about this slightly differently.
A) To slice the egg in two, you will use the ‘rubber band’ method. For this, you place the rubber band on the egg with one edge defining the ‘seam’ along which you would like to cut the egg. Run your thumb-nail along the edge of the rubber band to gently nudge it into place until what represents the cutting line looks straight and smooth. When you are satisfied with the way it looks, trace along this edge with the pencil
B) To cut a symmetrical shape like a heart, do the following:
1. On paper, draw your desired shape and make it slightly larger than you would like the window to be.
2. Cut out the shape.
3. Fold this cut-out shape in half and trim off any sections where the edges overlap. You want the entire length of you half-hearted (hehe) shape to be defined by one line. You can make another pass just to smoothen out the shape.
4. Unfold your shape and dip it in water to make it pliable.
5. Drape it over the eggshell at the location where you would like to make your window and trace the outline with your pencil.
Step 4: Sawing the Shell and Cutting the Membrane
NOTE: Do NOT blow out the contents, rather cut an intact egg. I believe it helps absorb any mechanical shock associated with the cutting process. And don’t boil or otherwise try to cook the egg either, because you will NEVER be able to get the contents out through a window! Though, now that I think about it, if you are merely cutting it in half, boiling might just work - though I’ve never done it that way. If anyone tries it and is successful, let us know.
1) Grip the egg in your non-dominant hand, just firmly enough to keep it steady while being cut but not with so much pressure that you crack it! Start sawing in one spot. This initial part is the most tedious because until you ‘find your groove’ - and the one that has finally formed on the shell - the blade tends to keep slipping. You have to really concentrate to stay on your pattern. Have patience, you’ll get there - eventually!
2) As soon as the blade stops trying to get derailed, you will find it much easier to progress along the pattern - which is what you need to do. Do not cut all the way through in any one spot, without having first sawn through the shell - and only the shell - along your entire outline. You might have to make several passes to get here.
3) Keep sawing away until you can barely see the membrane all along the pattern. At this point, you use a very sharp blade to slice through the membrane. This should be a new blade or one that is saved for this purpose alone.
NOTE: If you attempt to cut the membrane too early, the contents of the egg will start oozing out and not only make the rest of the sawing process really messy but almost impossible without resulting in disaster. The first problem related to the mess is obvious - it becomes very difficult to grip the egg as it wants to slide around in your hand. But more importantly, once a little of the white is out, the rest of it kinda tries to escape and that creates some pressure at that very small opening. This could lead to the shell cracking or breaking open. Translation - ruined project!
P.S. If you're wondering why you don't see the egg white starting to ooze out while I'm cutting the membrane (second video), it is because I had bought these ducks eggs a while ago and they were sitting in the fridge, where the contents got pretty much dehydrated!!
Step 5: Treating the Cut Shell
Soak the cut egg shells in strong detergent or cleaner for at least an hour - the longer the better. It will keep critters from destroying your handiwork, especially if you live in the tropics! Washing them with soap and water like I used to do initially, was not enough and I lost a couple of my creations to lizards whose keen sense of smell attracted them to the shells! Yeah, those old adobe homes in Goa/India have very high roofs that are not sealed because they serve as natural ventilation. But they can also let in some unwelcome guests…
Step 6: Decorating the Egg
This is up to your imagination. You can paint or draw with markers, gel pens or colored pencils. You can do decoupage or decorate with rhinestones, Swarovski crystals or old trinkets. You can decorate with braid alone, by fashioning it into any shape using glue. Once it is dry, you can attach it to the shell. You can combine any of these methods - whatever takes your fancy!
Two of the eggs that I have included here were decorated with recycled materials - one with decoupage using pictures from some catalog that landed up in my mailbox and the other with a heart that was once a piece of junk jewelry from my youth or childhood...
I often combine acrylic paint with decoupage where it helps to blend/hide the cut edges.
Step 7: Joining the Two Halves
Some of the eggshell halves or windows are joined together using jewel box hinges that I cut in half, while I connected most of the others with metallic cord or braided/twisted embroidery floss. To do this you start at one point about midway up the edge of one half-shell and glue the braid to the edge. Keep gluing till you reach back to where you had started. At this point, hold the other half of the shell in position and continue gluing the metallic cord or floss onto the edge of this piece, following a figure of eight path between the two shells.
Don't panic if you accidentally get glue on the outer edge of the braid (between the two egg shell halves) resulting in a window that is permanently sealed! It can be easily fixed by gingerly running a razor blade between the half shells once the glue is dry.
The egg shown here was a casualty of curious little hands that sadly, were able to reach the egg while being carried by a parent! :( In this case, the metallic cord was purely decorative and the heart window was attached with a jewel box hinge that had been cut in half.
Now may I egg you on to vote? :)