Saturday, April 07, 2012

Charlene Raddon: Ukrainian Egg Dying

Long time author friend, Charlene Raddon has a special talent (besides writing great stories) that I couldn't wait to share with you. Prepare to be impressed!

Dying Ukrainian eggs is tons of fun and a good way to take a break from writing for a while. I got hooked on these eggs at least twenty years ago when a friend invited me to dye Easter eggs with her and her daughter. There I was introduced to the dyes and a bit of the techniques of dying with a wax resist method.

The dying of eggs, called Pysanky, for Easter has been a Ukrainian custom for generations. They were given as gifts and were believed to ward off evil since spirits fear roosters and chicken eggs. Oddly enough, the word Pysanky means “to write”.

These are examples of the eggs Charlene has made

Every facet of the dying is symbolic. Eggs that were mostly white were given to young people because their lives are yet an open book, while the darker eggs were reserved for older people. Numerous symbols are used: trees, triangles, birds (wishes), flowers, ladders (prosperity), crosses, suns, moons, stars, animals (wealth and prosperity), curls (protection from evil), fish (Christ), and various forms of the unending line representing the continuity of life. 

Colors are also symbolic. White is purity, of course. Gold-spirituality, orange-endurance, red-happiness, purple-royalty, brown-earth and harvest, and black-the center of earth, eternity. I’m only giving you a taste here. There is much more to be said on the symbolism of Psanky.

First you must obtain a good egg. I like to go to poultry producers to get double-yokers because they’re larger and often stronger. Duck and goose eggs are larger and excellent for dying. I have also done an ostrich egg. I use a drill to put a small hole in the shell. Then I insert a piece of wire to break the yoke. There are various ways to blow the contents out of the egg. For dying, I use non-edible aniline dyes dissolved in boiling water with a tablespoon of vinegar added. A large selection of colors is available at online stores. The first step is to decide on a design. 

Basic lines can be drawn on the egg lightly with a pencil. Beeswax is applied in a thin line using a tool called a Kistka, sort of like a pencil with a tiny metal cup on the end filled with melted wax. This is the traditional Kistka. I cheat and use an electric one with interchangeable heads. Once the wax has been applied wherever it is desired to keep the egg white, the egg is placed in yellow dye, or whatever is the lightest of the colors you plan to use. Thus you dye from light to dark, ending usually with black.

When an egg is finished, it is time to remove the wax. This can be done in an oven set at a low temperature with the eggs placed on nails driven through a board. I simply use a candle, wiping the wax away with a dry, clean cloth as it melts. A final cleaning is done with cleaning fluid before the egg is lacquered to strengthen it and make it shiny. Then the egg is placed on a suitable stand and placed out of the sun where it will be safe from breakage. 

There are several online sites for buying Ukrainian eggs and dying supplies. The interest in Pysanky seems to be growing. 


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