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How to Make Beautiful Pysanky (Ukrianian "Easter" Eggs)

I learned the traditional art of pysanky both from my grandmother and at school.

Pysanky are traditional Ukrainian painted eggs.

Pysanky are traditional Ukrainian painted eggs.

What Are Pysanky?

Pysanky are part of a beautiful, symbolic, Eastern-European tradition that originates in Ukraine. Unlike traditional Easter eggs, which are typically hard-boiled then dyed, Pysanky are decorated when raw and age naturally, which allows the yolk and white to become dry. As long as there are no cracks and the pysanky are not damaged, they last indefinitely. "Pysanka" is the singular form of the word (referring to a single decorated egg), and pysanky is the plural (referring to two or more decorated eggs). In this article, I'll share my experience with pysanky and discuss the materials and procedures necessary to create them.

My Pysanky Experience

I was introduced to this beautiful tradition through my grandmother's collecting of outstanding pysanky. I believe most of the pieces in her collection were made by a member of my grandfather's Ukrainian family. They were so delicate and ornate that I was never allowed to handle them as a child, but I was inevitably attracted to them.

My grandmother kept her collection in a crystal bowl and in an open-air hutch where they received plenty of ventilation and were protected from direct sunlight. In seventh grade, my class made our own pysanky at Easter time. This is when I was first introduced to the methods. Although mine wasn't traditional, my grandma placed it in the crystal bowl with the other eggs in her collection.

Since my introduction to pysanky, I've been fascinated with the traditions, patterns, symbols, and history of the craft. Every year around Easter time, I seek out more information about this beautiful art form.

The History of Pysanky

For more than 3,000 years, the people of modern-day Ukraine have been making symbolic, decorative dyed eggs in early spring. The word "pysanky" comes from the word "pysaty," which means "to write."

Historically, pysanky-making was a ritualistic practice. Both scientifically and religiously, the egg is the ultimate symbol of fertility. In early spring, when the first eggs were laid, farming families would save them to make symbolic pysanky. Women and girls would decorate the pysanky under the cover of night while singing protective songs. Pysanky decorating was done in private to prevent someone with the evil eye from tainting the auspicious decorations.

Today, anyone can make pysanky, and they have lost much of their spiritual significance. Nevertheless, the craft is still rich with history and symbolism. To learn more about the history and legends surrounding the craft you can visit the LearnPysanky website.

Pictured above are several different types of kistky.

Pictured above are several different types of kistky.

Tools and Supplies Used in Pysanky-Making

  • Fresh, uncracked eggs
  • Kistka (stylus)
  • Candle
  • Beeswax
  • Glass jars
  • Dye tablets
  • Egg dippers
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper towels
  • Soft work surface or egg stand

Note: Traditional Easter-egg dyes can be used, but they should not be diluted fully, as pysanky are traditionally decorated in brighter and stronger colors than Easter eggs. Reactive acid dyes typically used to color fabrics can also be used to create strong, vibrant colors.

As with any art or craft project, you can buy the supplies little-by-little or you can purchase a simple kit that gives you everything you need to get started. This one also includes basic designs that you can do free-handed or with help from rubber bands.

What Is a Kistka?

A kistka is a tool used to draw thin beeswax lines on pysanky eggs. These lines resist the dye and later become part of the design. Traditionally, kistky have wooden handles and copper funnels. The metal part is heated using a candle before being used to scrape beeswax. Then, it can be heated again to let the melted wax flow through onto an egg.

The Pysanky-Making Process

If you're familiar with batik fabrics, you probably understand the process for using dye resists. This advanced process allows the pysanky maker to capture a wide variety of colors. To create a particular design or preserve a color, the area is covered with a beeswax resist.

The Dye and Beeswax Resist Process

In most cases, the first resist lines are created in white. This can be done by wrapping rubberbands around the equator of the egg and tracing the outline. Many professional pysanky artists draw their initial design lightly in lead pencil so the lines can later be traced with the stylus.

The kistka or pysanky stylus features a small hopper. Traditionally, this is made from copper. The stylus is heated in a candle flame, and the hot metal cuts though the beeswax block. The stylus can then be heated again to liquefy the beeswax and create fine resist lines on the egg. After the initial lines are created, the egg is dipped in the first color of dye, which is usually the lightest.

After the first layer of dye is applied, the pysanky maker creates a second layer of resists. If the first dye color is yellow, designs applied at this time will be the same color. Once the second series of resists is applied, a second layer of dye is added. This process continues until the egg is completed or the darkest dye color is added.

The Removal of the Beeswax Resist

Once the egg is dyed and all the desired designs are added, the beeswax resist is removed. This is accomplished by gently heating the egg in the candle flame. The egg is held to the flame for a brief second, and the softened wax is buffed off with a paper towl. This process is repeated until all of the beeswax is removed and the beautiful design is magically revealed.

Completion and Storage

Once the wax resist is removed, many artists coat their pysanky with varnish, lard, and other substances that produce a lovely shine. Because pysanky are raw eggs, they must be stored in a well-ventilated location. If stored properly, they will last for decades or longer.

For best results, pysanky should be handled carefully and never rattled or shaken. Many experts recommend turning the eggs approximately twice per year. My grandma always kept hers out of direct light. The UV rays in sunlight fade colors and may also lead to gas buildup, which could lead to exploding rotten eggs. Many specialty companies sell wooden egg stands and gilded stands for displaying your prized pysanky.

The colors used in pysanky making are symbolic.

The colors used in pysanky making are symbolic.

Dye Colors and Symbolism

  • Red: The color red traditionally symbolizes life, joy, and the sun.
  • Yellow: the color yellow represents wealth, fertility, and bountiful harvests.
  • Orange: Orange is frequently featured in pysanky. This color is said to represent strength and passion.
  • Brown: Warm brown hues are used to represent the fertile soils of Mother Earth.
  • Black: Black is a powerful color found on many traditional pysanky. It often represents death, respectful remembrance of the dead, and the darkness of eternity.
  • Green: The color green is said to represent spring and and the bounty of plants. Many pysanky makers were farm families.

These dyes were traditionally prepared in clay jars using natural materials, such as willow leaves, apple twigs, or oak bark. Dyes were created using secret family recipes. However, chemical dyes are the norm today. You can read more about the symbolism of pysanky colors at the House of Ukraine.

Symbolic Pysanky Motifs

Symbolic motifs featured on traditional pysanky include a variety of page, pre-Christian motifs, and universal symbols found across the world. Like many cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and North African region, people in Ukraine are somewhat obsessed with the malevolent forces of the evil eye and are always devising ways to protect themselves and their families from its power.

Popular pysanky symbols include geometric symbols, animals, plants, and celestial motifs like stars and medallions that represent the sun. Like many pagans, Ukrainian farmers had the utmost respect for Mother Earth, so the majority of symbols are centered around nature

The Sun

The stylized sun represented as a circular medallion is one of the most important symbols and represents the life-giving power and warmth of the sun that ripens the crops and makes the flowers bloom.

The Broken Cross

The broken cross or swastik motif is another benevolent symbol frequently featured on pysanky eggs. Tripods with branching hooks that capture evil spirits are also featured frequently.

Trees

Trees or branching tree-of-life motifs are also found frequently in main designs and decorative borders.

Plants and Animals

Stags, roosters, horses, and birds are also popular symbols. Beautiful geometric stars and rosettes are used alongside leaves, flowers, and other botanical motifs.

Christian Symbols

Christian symbols, such as crosses, churches, and fish, were added later.

Pysanky-Making Tutorial

Resources for Making and Learning about Pysanky

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Deborah Minter from U.S, California on March 31, 2018:

Beautiful designs! Ive' seen pysanky before, but didn't realise what they were, or how they were made. A beautiful tradition!

Pat Goltz on March 10, 2013:

A wonderful lens! Thanks for sharing!

MelloKnitty LM on March 03, 2013:

What beautiful eggs!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on July 19, 2012:

@Kathleen Hiler: Certainly, you could. I believe people paint wooden and ceramic eggs with these designs. Thanks for stopping by.

norma-holt on April 18, 2012:

Congrats on LOTD. This is great information and a well done lens. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012 and also on Squidoo LOTD Lenses 2. Hugs

CarlittoDunaway on April 18, 2012:

I have a hard time believing that these are real eggs!

julia007 on April 13, 2012:

Very interesting Lens! And the photos are really beautiful!

Deadicated LM on April 12, 2012:

Great Lens, a lot of good information and photos; you do beautiful work.

goo2eyes lm on April 10, 2012:

i have not done it. since it is made from fresh eggs and there is a possibility that they will explode because of gas build up, i'd rather cook the eggs first and paint. nobody has to know that i used hard boiled eggs. blessings and congratulations for winning the purple star. check your you tube title again. thanks for sharing and i learned a lot.

Vicki Green from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on April 10, 2012:

Pysanky eggs are so beautiful and it was fascinating learning about the origins of the tradition. Congratulations on LOTD.

Alex Graham on April 09, 2012:

This was wonderful and beautiful!

I sent it through on fb and google+

Thanks,

Alex

LaurisB LM on April 08, 2012:

Great lens! We still have some of these incredible eggs which my husband's sister made over 50 years ago! They are amazing! I've never tried to do it myself but am thinking this would be a fun project to learn next year.

kayla_harris on April 08, 2012:

Very useful articles!

flycatcherrr on April 07, 2012:

I've given this a go once, many years ago, but these are so beautiful I'm inspired to try again. Thanks for a gorgeous and information-packed lens! *blessed*

blue22d on April 06, 2012:

Beautiful. Seen these but didn't know what they were called. Great share!

anonymous on April 06, 2012:

Absolutely gorgeous! Congratulations on LOTD!

Blessed

bossypants on April 05, 2012:

Beautiful and informative lens, well deserving of LOTD! Congratulations! I remember seeing these eggs as a child. And, once we understood that you could use non-hardboiled eggs, we decorated some eggs that way (although not in traditional Pysanky), and they did last -- without smelling badly -- for many years! (No one believed it, at the time.)

Clairissa from OREFIELD, PA on April 05, 2012:

Congrats on LOTD! Pysanky is beautiful. I have always admired these and someday I will make them. Thanks to you. :) Blessed!

AJ from Australia on April 05, 2012:

A beautiful tradition - thank you for sharing this. Easter blessings to you.

Vikki from US on April 05, 2012:

Congrats on lotd!

SophiaStar LM on April 05, 2012:

I have never made a pysanky before they are beautiful! And I love the meanings behind the colors. Congratulations on a wonderful lens and LotD!

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

No I haven't, but my best friend was a beautiful artist and she made the most beautiful eggs. She tough her son, and since he was little he has given my mother one every Easter. Blessed!

BeatMaker2020 on April 05, 2012:

Wow, incredible lens. The fact that I can relate to this, being a russian orthodox christian myself makes it all the more interesting to read. :)

DebMartin on April 05, 2012:

Stunning! d

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

this is beautiful! thanks for sharing

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

this is beautiful! thanks for sharing

JZinoBodyArt on April 05, 2012:

Impressive lens! I really have to try this now!

PennyHowe on April 05, 2012:

Fantastic lens. It looks very interesting and at some time I really would like to try it. The eggs are absolutely gorgeous. Thanks again for sharing. Congrats on your Lens of the Day award!

Perrin from South Carolina on April 05, 2012:

I had never heard of it. Very interesting! Thanks for educating us. Congrats on LOTD!

Frankie Kangas from California on April 05, 2012:

How very beautiful. I've never heard of pysanky so am grateful for the education. Blessed. Bear hugs, Frankster

FactoryGirl777 on April 05, 2012:

Very interesting! The pictures are beautiful!

MelonyVaughan on April 05, 2012:

A beautifully-written lens. The history adds to the content and the descriptions are beautiful! Well done!

secondhandrose lm on April 05, 2012:

Excellent lens. The designs are absolutely beautiful. Polish designs are very similar. I also paint wood and pottery eggs with the designs. Although the paint is not as bright as the dyes, there is no danger of breakage.

Kathleen Hiler on April 05, 2012:

No..but am wondering if I can use a ceramic egg to do this with.

Itaya Lightbourne from Topeka, KS on April 05, 2012:

Very beautiful! Congrats on getting Lens of the Day for this wonderful article! :)

ifeelgod lm on April 05, 2012:

I am stunned! I have NEVER seen these before and they are beautiful. Thank you for a great lens and congratulations on your LOTD designation

In Him,

JMb <><

http://ifeelgod.org

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on April 05, 2012:

wow, beautiful pysanky! I have seen it, but never have seen how to do this before. really amazing lens.

vintagefiori on April 05, 2012:

The Ukrainians really have some beautiful ancient rituals and culture.

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

Never heard of it before but it does look interesting.

tryme1 on April 05, 2012:

I would simply have no idea how to even conceive of things like this, let alone have the creativity and ability to make them.

AliciaMae on April 05, 2012:

I'd be worried about the exploding egg possibility! I've seen amazing things done with blown out eggs, too, though. My aunt used to make fairy scenes inside them, putting the cut out portion on hinges to open it.

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

Very beautiful art :) I've never heard of it before reading this lens.

andreaberrios lm on April 05, 2012:

These are very beautiful and it looks like fun! Thanks for sharing.

Bercton1 on April 05, 2012:

interesting and fun stuff! Thanks for sharing!

futureme lm on April 05, 2012:

Will remember to try this for the future, when my youngest children are a little older!

JoshK47 on April 05, 2012:

How positively beautiful! Thanks for sharing this with us, well deserved LotD and blessings from a SquidAngel!

Matt Warren from Cheshire, UK on April 05, 2012:

great stuff!

sousababy on April 05, 2012:

Beyond my skill set . . but lovely to behold. Congrats on LotD!

dahlia369 on April 05, 2012:

These traditions are very special and well worth being presented like this, thank you!! :)

nuddenhashim on April 05, 2012:

Master!! Teach me...

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on April 05, 2012:

Nice lens. I think this take a lot of patience an a steady hand.

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

These are beautiful, what a wonderful display, gorgeous colors, wonderful lens. Thanks for sharing

aquarian_insight on April 05, 2012:

I have never made pyansky before but these are gorgeous. Congratulations on LoTD.

writerkath on April 05, 2012:

Congratulations on your LOTD! Ochyn Xoroshaw! (phoentic as best as I could to say "Very Good" in Russian! :) *Blessed!*

jwcooney on April 05, 2012:

Fun lens, congrats on LOTD! It was fun to read about these eggs, and I especially liked reading about the symbolism of the pysanky colors.

agoofyidea on April 05, 2012:

Congratulations on LOTD! The detail on these eggs is amazing.

anonymous on April 05, 2012:

Great lens, thank you!

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Cindy from Pittsburgh Pa on April 05, 2012:

I've seen these pysanky eggs but have never tried it, they're spectacular. Congrats on your feature!

hypermomma on April 05, 2012:

Beautiful lens :)

suzy-t on April 05, 2012:

I had never heard of them before. What a wonderful tradition and a great lens. Congrats on LOTD. Blessed...

Julia Morais on April 05, 2012:

First time I've ever heard of pysanky. Great lens.

SquidooMBA on April 05, 2012:

Great job and congrats on LOTD!

jlshernandez on April 04, 2012:

I have never heard of pysanky but these are exceptionally beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Blessed*****

pheonix76 from WNY on April 04, 2012:

Interesting -- thanks for sharing this tradition and congrats on LotD! Have never made pysanky before, but maybe will try one day.

intermarks on April 04, 2012:

No, this is my first time learn about pysanky. It is beautiful. Thanks for creating this lens.

dumutu on April 04, 2012:

Those designs are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Happy Easter.

gatornic15 on April 04, 2012:

The eggs are really beautiful. Congratulations on lens of the day...and Happy Easter!

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on April 04, 2012:

These eggs are beautiful! What a lot of work it takes to make one Pysanky egg!

Mim Art on April 04, 2012:

Never tried - but would love to. You make it look incredible!! Great lens! Congrats on being Showcased in the Spring and Easter Crafts. Happy Easter!

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