19 March 2009

Pysanky: A kind of, sort of visual "How To"

Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs. They've been a tradition in my (mostly Ukrainian and Russian) family for generations. My grandmother actually used to help make ends meet by selling them around Easter time. The eggs she made are beautiful, with lines so straight you'd think they were machine generated. Unfortunately, she doesn't make them anymore, but my mother and I know how, and this year we decided to drag out the supplies and start again. Once upon a time, pysanky used to be a yearly tradition in our house. My mother and I used to sit at the table and work all day on them after I'd get home from grade school. Actually, my first and only totally completed pysanky was in second grade while I was home with an ear infection.

Eventually, that ear infection turned out to be misdiagnosed by my doctor at the time, had developed into mastoiditis and blown back into my mastoid bone. If my brother's pediatrician (a different guy from mine at the time) hadn't stepped in, within about 24 hours it probably would have blown back even farther, and I could have lost my hearing. Needless to say, after he saved such an important sense (especially for a young musician), I gifted it to my brother's (who was also mine after this incident) pediatrician. So I don't have it anymore.

But I digress. So anyway, as my brother and I got older, and we all got busier, pysanky kind of fell to the wayside, and our poor supplies sat on top of our kitchen cabinets gathering dust. I decided about three or four months ago that I was going to resurrect (pardon the Easter pun) the tradition, and began looking for supplies and doing some research. This year is actually the first time in nine or ten years that we've made them.

Needless to say, I'm a bit out of practice (the ones in the front with the near perfect lines are my mom's, not mine). I mixed up the dyes no problem, got the egg sectioned off with the pencil, no problem. But the kitsky? Damn, am I shaky. The kitsky is the stylus that is used to transfer melted wax to the egg, covering the bits that you want to stay the color that the egg currently is. For example, while the egg is still dye free, you draw over any parts that you want to stay white.

And then, you plunk it into the dye. The egg turns that color, but everything under the wax is still white. It works like batik, I guess.

You repeat the wax-dye-repeat process, until you've used the last color, which is usually black.

At this point in the process, the egg doesn't exactly look like something you'd want on display. And then, off comes the wax, which I think to be the most gratifying part. There are several ways to do this, but what we do is we heat a pan (that we don't use for food) on the stove. Then we take a folded up tee-shirt (men's soft undershirts work best for us) and let it sit in the pan until it's warm. We then use the warm cloth to gradually and gently wipe off the wax.

But one needs to be careful not to wipe too hard! If your egg is a somewhat sub-par egg, than the dye could wipe right off if you wipe too hard. My first egg of the year (above) was not the best quality egg, as I knew I was going to be rusty, and my lines would be wonky, crooked, and of inconsistent width. As a result, the dye did not take to the egg perfectly. That, combined with my over-eager wiping, smeared the black dye, and I ended up with some odd little blotches.

But that's okay. It's only a practice egg. Next one will look much better!

Well, off to work on my next egg!



zcrescendo said...

Bravo for keeping tradition alive! I don't know much about pysanky, but your egg looks sensational to me.

Megan said...

Your egg looks awesome to me. Way better than any egg I've ever dyed. I can't wait to see what you do after you're not "rusty" anymore!

adrienne said...

Very cool, they're gorgeous! I learned how to make pysanky in grade school, but I haven't made them since...

lara griffiths said...

oh my... these are wonderful!

DrChopSuey said...

Oh so cool! Thank you for sharing a bit of your family history/tradition. And those eggs are beautiful! :)

Lupie said...

Think it is just beautiful!!!!