Last Monday evening Hollie was kind enough to welcome us around the harvest table in her lovely home to try our hand at traditional egg decorating. Since I was a kid, Easter has been my favorite holiday. There's very little pressure, it comes with spring AND there's chocolate...what's not to love! With spring - and a late Easter, for those inclined - around the corner, eggs were on our brains and had us thinking of the very impressive craft of pysanky (pih-SAHN-kee). Traditionally, Ukrainian woman would create effortless-looking decorative eggs by drawing resists in beeswax on the surface of eggs and successively dipping them into various dyes, layering intricate pattern over intricate pattern. While some of us remembered childhood attempts at this or similar egg dyeing crafts, none of us really knew what we were doing at all. And let us tell you...it's hard! We were not as instantly expert at this as we thought we would be, but it was a lot of fun!
The endeavor began with a trip to The Ukrainian Store in Dundas. When you go in it's hard not to get distracted by all the fresh locally made specialty foods, after all, they boast the "best perogies in town"...a statement that has since been tested by Beehive members and met with much satisfaction. The owners were extremely friendly, fully stocked in every thing we needed and willing to patiently translate the directions on the bright packages of dye.
The supplies needed were candles, dyes, beeswax and kistkas (KIST-kuh - a simple stylus made from a cone of metal fastened to a small wooden dowel with wire). The Ukrainian store has a variety of sizes of kistkas that produce different thickness of line with the beeswax. They even supply electric ones for the expert hand! Dyes can also be made naturally using plants and vegetables like beets. We gathered onion skins to make a yellow dye using just the same method as for fabric dye.
The Hamilton Public Library was full of beautiful books on the subject, and proved invaluable for inspiration.
We mixed the dyes according to instructions and laid out everything we needed to get started. each of us had a little candle in front of us and our egg to decorate. Some times you can blow out the yoke in your egg ahead of time or - as per tradition - leave it to slowly dry out over a few years.
You start by heating the metal part of your kistka until you can easily scoop out a little beeswax, filling the larger open end. With further heating, the wax should run down into the cone, getting ready flow out onto the egg's surface. I found I had to heat my tool often to keep the wax flowing and TOO often we would heat it too much and a large flow of wax would blob out the end of our tool, muddying our attempts at perfect designs! We had to ditch our pride and realize that straight lines and symmetry come with years of practice.
Where the wax is drawn on a resist was made on the egg so that those areas were left white when we dipped them into our first dyes. After you take it out and pat it dry you can add more wax before dipping the egg in a second color, and so on. Wherever the wax has been put on, the last color dyed will stay resisted until the end. We worked from light colors to dark ones. When we finished, we gently scraped or melted off the wax resists revealing all the bright colors we had captured in our squiggly patterns!
I think we were SUPPOSED to be having a meeting too...but I'm not sure we ever got round to discussing anything.
Some of us have since become addicted to the beautiful end results of this craft, and this week for Knit Night we left our needles and hooks at home and filled a whole table with dyes and candles and set to work on some more eggs. I love our folksy (albeit a bit wonky) attempts!
Photos courtesy of Hollie