How to Decorate Easter Eggs Ukrainian Style!

comments (6) April 16th, 2014     

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JenniferStern Jennifer Stern, contributor
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After I set up, I realized there were a few steps I had to do before I could start dipping those eggs.
Here are my first two finished eggs. Although they dont look like the eggs pictured on the cover of the kit, Im happy. The more you make, the better youll get at it. (Im just warming up!)
This is the cover of the original kit we used to decorate eggs when I was a kid.
After I set up, I realized there were a few steps I had to do before I could start dipping those eggs.

After I set up, I realized there were a few steps I had to do before I could start dipping those eggs.

Photo: Jen Stern
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Decorating eggs was one of my favorite crafts when I was growing up...and they weren't just for Easter-we made them year-round! We would all gather around a table covered with a plastic drop cloth. It was a kid's crafting paradise. In addition to the bowl of eggs, jars of different-colored dyes, spoons, stacks of paper towels, and little cone-shaped metal writing tools, there were a couple of candles burning...and I couldn't wait to get my hands on them! Normally we were not allowed to play with fire, but to decorate the eggs you had to scoop the softened wax into the cone of the writing tool to draw your design. (Thinking back, I am surprised that none of us got burned...or worse.) I remember the glow of the flame as it played on the glass jars-it was magic! 

I haven't decorated eggs in years, so I decided it was time, especially because it fits into this month's theme of Craft by Nature. I got really excited about doing this project. I dug out my old writing tools (technically, they are called "kistka"). They come in different sizes-the larger ones have larger holes to make a thicker line of wax. I didn't have any dye left, so I went to the grocery story and bought some Paas egg decorating kits. I was surprised to see that they included all kinds of fun stuff in addition to the dyes, like colored sand and stickers. (I'll save that for the girls to have fun with later!) The downfall to these kits is that you are limited to a few basic colors-green, red, pink, blue-and they don't work as well for this technique because you actually dye the same egg over and over with different colors as you draw more details with the writing tool. Happily, my mother came to the rescue...she had a couple of "authentic" Ukrainian easter egg decorating kits, so I ran right over and scooped them up. Now I have exciting colors like royal blue and scarlett! If you want the real deal, you can visit the Ukrainian Gift Shop; they have all the supplies you need to make beautiful eggs!

One more funny thing...as a kid, I just remember decorating my eggs; I didn't realize that there was some advanced preparation involved. I sat down with my egg decorating kit, all excited to get going, then I read the directions. I needed eggs at room temperature; mine were still in the fridge! I took them out to warm up and continued to read. I needed boiling water, so I put a pot on to boil. Then I read that distilled water worked better, so I had to go to the grocery store and get some. Finally, I sprinkled each color dye into a wide-mouth mason jar and added 1-1/4 cups boiling distilled water and 1 tablespoon of vinegar (I got lucky there). The final kibosh to getting started was that I had to wait for the dye to cool to room temperature! (This experience has given me a new love and appreciation for my mom, who always made our crafting adventures seem effortless and instantaneous when I was little!)

Here's what you'll need:

  • One Luba's Ukrainian Easter Egg Decorating Kit, which includes dyes, writing tools, and beeswax (I highly recommend getting one of these kits because it's filled with tips and design ideas)
  • Wide-mouth glass jars that are easy to get eggs in and out of
  • A candle that you can use to heat the writing tool
  • A good supply of tissues
  • A pencil

Start by making the dye as described above and get those eggs out of the fridge to warm up to room temperature. Here's a picture of my hot dye...I moved them outside to cool faster.

Hot dye   Many of the color dyes look black. To make it easy to tell if you are dipping your egg in green or blue, label  the jars. I cut out the color from the packet and taped it to the outside of the jar.

Many of the traditional designs are drawn in segments that repeat around the egg to create an overall design. If you want to give it a try, draw guidelines around your egg. First, draw a line around the center (tip to tip) or around the middle (like a belt). Decide how many segments you want to work with, and draw lines circling the egg on the diagonal. 

You can also draw little shapes like flowers or stripes instead.

Draw guide lines for your design   Don't worry about the pencil lines; you won't see them after the first couple of dips into the dye.

Next, draw on the pencil lines with melted wax using the writing tool. Light a candle to heat the writing tool. (I use the leftover tapers from my advent wreath.) If you don't have a stable candle holder, use a big piece of aluminum foil and mold it around the bottom end of the candle.

  • Heat the metal cone attached to the end of the writing tool.
  • Scoop some beeswax* into the open end of the cone.
  • Reheat the writing tool until the wax is liquid. 
  • Dab the tip on a tissue to get it going.
  • Start writing with the melted wax. 
  • Reheat the writing tool as needed to keep the flow of wax coming and scoop more wax as needed.

*If you don't have a cube of beeswax, you can use the wax from the tip of the candle...it's easy to scoop because it's softened by the flame. (Just be careful not to tip over the candle!)

The end of the writing tool becomes black with use-making the wax black as well. I like the fact that the wax turns black because it makes it easy to see what I'm drawing.

Draw with melted wax   Plan on having a few extra eggs to work with because it takes a few to get into the "groove" of creating a nice smooth line. This is my first attempt...not too smooth.

Oops...I was talking on the phone while I was working on this egg. The conversation got a little "racy" and I squeezed my egg too hard and broke it!

oops   Raw eggs are surprisingly durable, but they can break, so be careful!

Ok, here is try #2. I'm repeating the steps outlined above to draw my guidelines. While I was working on the first egg, I realized that I was being a little too ambitious with the number of lines I started with. So to simplify, I'm going to start with two intersecting lines.

Everything that you draw on the egg before dipping it into the first color will be white.

draw with wax again..   Notice that my line has already gotten smoother compared with my first attempt.

When you're finished drawing everything that you want to be white, dip your egg in the lightest color in your palette. (As you go, plan your design light to dark. My colors are yellow, pink, light blue, red, light green, and royal blue.)  

Use a spoon to lower the egg into the dye. If the egg is not completely submerged in dye, roll it around gently with the spoon to cover the entire egg with dye. The first couple of colors don't require a lot of time in the dye, but as you go, you might have to leave the egg in for 5 to 15 minutes to get the new color to overtake the previous one. 

Dip in yellow   I left my egg in the yellow dye for about 15 seconds.

Put the egg on a paper towel or tissues and pat it dry.

Pat dry   Don't rub, just pat!

Now I have a nice yellow egg with black lines on it. I'm going to add some flowers to my design and I want the centers of the flower to be yellow, so I'm going to draw them next.

Draw more dip pink   See the little dot on the left of the black line? That is one of the yellow centers for my flowers that I'm going to draw on the pink dye. 

After drying my egg after the pink dye bath (again a quick 20 seconds), I added the outline of the petals around the yellow centers. Then I dipped my egg in blue.

draw more dip blue   I filled in the petals in wax so that they would stay blue before I moved on to the next color.

Here is the amazing part...my blue egg actually turns red. After drawing the blue detail, I put my egg in the red dye and left it for about 5 minutes. It takes a longer time for the red to overtake the blue, but look how well it worked...I'm always surprised by this!

Red   See the little blue petals...

While I was waiting for the red dye to take, I snapped a couple of pictures of the girls. They came home from school and wanted to get into the action.

Abby getting into the act   Abby loved helping me dip the eggs.

Anna didn't want any of her design to be white, so she dipped it in pink before she started working with the wax. You can pick any of the light colors and start with that (instead of white).

...and Anna   Anna patiently worked on her design.

After making my red flowers, I wanted to add some green leaves, so I dipped my red egg into the green dye. After 7 to 8 minutes, the transformation was complete.

draw on green for green details   If I had left my red egg in the green dye for a longer period of time (15 minutes or so), the egg would be a more vivid green color.

When you have run out of colors, the last step is to melt the wax off. Heat the surface of the egg with the flame of your candle and gently rub off the wax. Keep melting and rubbing until the colors are nice and crisp and there is a shiny clear "varnish" covering the egg. 

I was planning to photograph eggs that I had made when I was a teenager...I remember seeing them displayed in a glass dish last Easter. When I asked my mom for them, she informed me that they finally cracked and she had to throw them out. They lasted for more than 20 years before they broke (I wish I had thought to take a picture of them before.) I guess it's time for a new collection!

Melt the wax off, rub gently with a tissue to polish   As the black wax melts away, the vivid colors of your design are revealed. It's surprising to see how they came out!
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posted in: Ukrainian Egg decorating

Comments (6)

416 writes: I think Ukranian eggs are beautiful. I have colored them before. The wooden eggs were a great icebreaker at one of our family reunions. Everyone took an egg when they came. They colored it with markers and signed it. Just before leaving the site, the eggs were voted on and the winner got a prize, had his/her picture taken with the egg and the whole celebrity thing. Each person took their egg with them or exchanged with someone else. It was a fun time.
Posted: 8:47 pm on April 18th
sewinggal1 writes: Although the traditional way of doing this is fun, if you don't have time for all the preparations, or if you can't afford the tools, but still really want to decorate eggs, you can buy a handful of wooden eggs. Just prime, sand, and paint the base colour the day or event the weekend before. Then all you have to do is pull out some permanent markers, paint markers, or, if you have the skills, fine brushes and paints, to decorate in traditional style. You can also do very modern styles too.

The nice thing about wooden eggs, is that they aren't as likely to get broken, so you have a long lasting hand decorated egg that can be passed down through the generations.

While I have one egg that my grandmother decorated in the traditional way, its not in great shape and may not end up getting passed down, whereas the wooden ones I did with my daughter will be around for much longer.

I think its great to do both if you can, but if life is just too busy, rather than skipping it altogether, you can still do it using alternatives, like we did.
Posted: 5:41 pm on April 10th
mjbains writes: I've been making these eggs - both traditional designs and some of my own - for more than 30 years now. It is a fun thing to do and I'm enjoying teaching people from my church this great art.

The distilled water does not have the minerals that some city water does. Boiling will take out the chlorine, but not the minerals that can sometimes interfere with the egg taking the dye.

I'm sure the kits will tell you, but it is important to note that the dyes are poisonous, so do not use them on boiled eggs you intend to eat.

But you can use Paas or other regular dyes and do simple designs on boiled eggs. Putting names on them can make great place cards for an Easter dinner.

Also, the beeswax is important because it sticks better to the egg than the paraffin in a candle. Lines are likely to flake off if you use the regular candle.

This site

http://www.pysanky.info/PYSANKY/Pysanka_Home.html

has everything you would ever want to know about this fascinating art.


Posted: 7:22 pm on April 4th
diyday writes: I wonder, why distilled water? Less impurities? Would boiling the water beforehand serve the same purpose?
Posted: 8:56 pm on May 9th
designerdiva writes: We hold an "Eggstravaganza" at my church each year, which include egg dying for the little ones, and pysanki egg decorating for the older crowd. I find decorating the eggs very relaxing.
To mimimize the eggs cracking, both while we work on it, and later, we always use organic eggs instead of the regular grocery store eggs. They typically have a thicker shell.
If you want to keep your egg for many years, you will need to rotate it periodically (monthly) until the insides dry up.
Posted: 3:50 pm on April 7th
marie99 writes: i started making these eggs when i was a child and as you haven't done them for many years.......my baba won awards for her eggs and embroidery.........those were the days
Posted: 12:29 am on April 2nd
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