April 08, 2012

Happy Easter!

When I was a kid, my Nana had a Queen Anne style china cabinet in her dining room.  It was jam-packed with stuff - sour balls, calculators, pens and pencils, decks of cards, paper, chocolate bars past their prime (what up wit dat?!) - the junk you'd usually find relegated to a desk drawer.  Near the back of a shelf sat a Ukrainian egg, dull black with fine lines and crosshatching.  I'm not sure who decorated the egg - it wasn't my Nana - but I do know that I was to keep my hands off.  I coveted this egg.  To my young eyes, its stark beauty was captivating.  I decorated eggs every Easter with my mother and brother but I had a hard time making such delicate lines with my crayons and my creations were not china-cabinet worthy.

Back in 1999, I was doing a co-op at the National Library in Ottawa.  Someone told me that I could learn how to make Pysanky (Ukrainian eggs) at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral.  I practically sprinted to the church to sign up for the workshop.  Here's the VERY first pysanka that I made:

I am surprised that the egg has lasted this long.  Maybe it's because I rarely let people handle it.  Invariably, they want to give it a shake.  I suppose they're curious about whether the egg's innards have dried up (they have - the egg is light as a feather).  I store my imperfect work of art in a tiny bird's nest that my Mom found on her property.  The egg fits inside the nest perfectly, which makes me think that the nest's original inhabitant must have been wee!

Last weekend, I hosted an egg decorating party for some friends and their children.  Some of the people that attended were new to egg decoration.  I love watching people's reactions as they begin to melt and remove the wax from their egg. It's like they are watching a baby being born.

The process is illustrated in the cheat sheet below.

A kistka (seen in the first picture above) is a pen with a copper funnel.  You heat the kistka in a candle flame and then use the funnel to "scoop" up some beeswax.  The wax instantly liquifies and you can draw lines (like the ones on the egg below) or make dots and other designs. You usually begin with a raw white or brown egg.  The first lines of wax that you apply will be appear white on the finished egg. The next step is to dip the egg in yellow dye for 5-10 minutes, depending on the intensity of colour that you desire.  After the egg has been removed from the dye, you begin to apply more wax.  These lines will be yellow on the finished egg.  The next step is to apply the green, and so on.  This is what the egg looks like once it has been completely covered in wax.

Here, I have begun to remove the beeswax from the egg, which is the magical moment. You can see that half of the wax has been removed.  To remove the wax, you hold the egg adjacent to the flame (not in the flame because your egg will turn black from carbon) and once you see the wax begin to melt, you wipe your egg on a paper towel. Repeat process.  In the picture below, you can also see the kistky in the background.  The traditional ones are made of wood and copper and newer versions are plastic.   The red kistka produces a heavy line and the blue a medium line. You can also see a hunk of beeswax in a saucer near the kistky.

Here is a picture of the finished egg.  All the wax has been removed.   Tada!

Happy Easter, everyone!