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Learning how to dye eggs, Ukrainian style

Artist Lesia Sochor explains the dying process. (Charlie Wallis-Martel/YJI)

Lewiston, Maine, U.S.A. – Maine Ukrainian-American artist Lesia Sochor does a yearly workshop at Bates College to teach curious citizens the art of the pysanka, or how to decorate eggs in the traditional Ukrainian way. 

Sochor explains the steps in making pysanka. (Charlie Wallis-Martel/YJI)

At a session this month, she welcomed the participants saying that pysanky is a tradition that she learned from her mom when she was growing up.

She said she wants to continue the tradition of making pysanky.

Eggs made with the art of pysanka are considered talisman, a protected item that’s said to have magic powers, according to Sochor.

People would put them in thatched roofs to protect their houses, or near animal troughs to make sure there would always be water. They would also put them in beehives to make sure there would always be honey.

Sochor told participants about a legend of a monster that’s chained up. If people decide to slack off one year and not make many pysanky, the chains on the monster will loosen. If they stop making pysanky entirely, the monster will escape and destroy the world, Sochor explained. 

“This is more poignant than ever,” she said, with Russia’s war on Ukraine, and added that she hoped “by making these eggs we can just bring peace.”

Sochor also explained that pysanka is singular and pysanky is plural, or multiple pysanka.

After talking about some pysanky history, Sochor gets to how you do it.

“Farm eggs are best,” Sochor said, if available. She added that if you can, you should use duck eggs because they’re bigger.

Sochor started by telling participants to check their eggs carefully for cracks. Then she urged participants to take care of their eggs.

“It’s your little jewel today,” she said. “Be very mindful of that egg.” 

She taught participants about the kistka, the tool used to make pysanky. The ones she gave participants were small wooden dowels with a tiny metal funnel on the end. Nowadays, some kistka are plastic sticks with metal tips.

Warmed by the candle flame, the kistka melts a small pool in the block of beeswax. (Charlie Wallis-Martel/YJI)

After that, she taught participants the process of putting designs on the eggs.

First, you heat the tip of the kistka in the candle flame and touch it to the beeswax, creating a small pool of wax. Then tip the point into the beeswax and use it to draw designs on the egg.

Once you get the designs you want to be white or brown – depending on the color of the egg you have – you dip the egg into the dye and start from the beginning again.

You can do this for as long as you like.

The author uses the kitska to draw designs on her egg with wax. (YJI photo)

“It’s a constant process of heat, dip and draw,” she said, referring to the steps of making the pysanky.

When dying the egg, Sochor said, if you want any yellow, it should be the first color.

Sochor also said you should never dye the egg red after putting green on because it’ll come out a yucky brown.

You should move from lighter to darker colors as you change the color, she said.

Sochor advised participants not to overthink the process and put their eggs in colors they like.

Eggs are often decorated with drawings of animals, flowers, the moon, sun and stars, Sochor said.

Later – after pysanky was adopted as a Christian practice around Easter – crosses and fish were added to the symbols people used on the eggs.

The author gently scrubs the wax off her egg. (YJI photo.)

To make lines on the eggs, Sochor said, you can put rubber bands around them and draw the outline of the rubber band.

When participants were finished with their eggs, Sochor instructed them on how to take the wax off.

You take a rag or washcloth, dampen the washcloth with some paint thinner and carefully scrub the wax off. When you finish, all the colors you used should be seen somewhere on the egg.

To put an extra sheen or gloss on the finished egg, varnish can be applied, but Sochor told participants that they should wait a year before applying a clear top coat.

Sochor’s painting of hands holding an egg with the art of the pysanka, along with other eggs she decorated, on display at the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Augusta. (YJI photo)

According to Sochor, there is evidence in the area that is now Ukraine of people making pysanky that dates to 5,000 BCE.

“It’s really, really old,” she said. “The egg is an ancient talisman. People really believed in the power of this egg.” 

Sochor said that pysanky represents “the rebirth of the Earth.” 

The making of pysanky is a holy act, Sochor said, one that women would do it alone at night.

Unlike some Easter eggs, traditional pysanky are not hard boiled or hollowed out, according to Sochor.

People generally leave the eggs raw, she said, because they used to view the egg as a symbol of the universe. The yolk is the sun and the white part is the moon, so they wouldn’t want to remove that, Sochor explained.

Eventually the insides will dry out and you’ll be able to hear a soft rattle when you shake the egg, Sochor said.

Charlie Wallis-Martel is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

Read more from YJI about pysanky:

Read more from YJI about artist Lesia Sochor:

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