Making pysanka eggs is like a meditation, says Maria Salahovs. “You get lost.”
On her iPad, she has pictures of intricately detailed and brightly coloured eggs, and a guide to the symbols patterned across them.
The eggs are a staple of Ukrainian folk culture, made in the run-up to Easter. The energy you put into them can bring good luck, says Salahovs.
This Friday, she and her friend Lyuba Sichkar – and shop-owner Kaethe Burt-O’Dea – are planning to show others how to make them.
Their pysanka workshop is scheduled for this (Good) Friday at Stoneybatter’s Bí URBAN.
Pysanka originates from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty”, meaning “to write”, says Sichkar. The eggs are made using a method similar to batik.
Sometimes people use commercial food dyes. Other times it’s natural dyes like red onions, beets, turmeric and purple cabbage.
Dying an egg with a beet takes half an hour, says Salahovs. These days, ready-to-go dyes from Polish shops are popular.
White eggs are best, especially for young people, says Sichkar, because “their life is a blank sheet ready to be filled”.
Technically, white eggs are also easier for creating a pattern, says Kaethe Burt-O’Dea, owner of Bí URBAN, where the workshop will be held.
On a recent Saturday, she showed how the process works. She warms up some beeswax pellets in a double boiler, and mixes some dyes with vinegar on the side.
As an artist, Burt-O’Dea has been using batik for many years. It’s how she discovered pysanka eggs. So, when she put out a call to people for workshop ideas, and Salahovs came forward, it was a perfect fit.
“The pysanka egg technique is a resist technique,” says Burt-O’Dea. “You use the beeswax as a resist for keeping the dye off the eggs.”
When the wax is liquid, she dips a kistka – small metal cone, tapered into a fine point and fixed to a small wooden rod – into the bowl. It’s like a pencil, at a right angle.
She draws circles and lines and dots and spirals. When the wax is set, she lowers the egg into a glass of red dye, where the patterns are held by the wax and the shell colours bright red.
She pats the egg dry, and starts over, this time dipping it in blue dye. “You start dying with the lightest colour and move towards the darkest colour,” she says. She repeats the process several times, until the egg is knobbly with wax, and covered in red, blue, and purple designs.
They got great feedback last year, including from the Ukrainian ambassador, who brought her children.
“She had never made one of these eggs, so she was absolutely over the moon having done this,” says Burt-O’Dea.
Behind the Patterns
When Salahovs was in school, she learnt once how to make pysanka eggs. It’s mostly a skill in rural areas – in villages and more mountainous regions. Sichkar is from central Ukraine and says last year’s workshop was her first time making them.
Last year, their friend Olga Chyketa led the workshop; she had learnt how to make the eggs from her mother.
Go back far enough and pysanka is a pagan tradition, but patterns vary with regions, and you’ll often find a lot of mountain or floral imagery, she said.
“Many symbols of those times survived and were adapted to represent Easter and Christ’s resurrection,” says Sichkar. “Now every design and colour has its meaning.”
If you give one particular pattern to your man, it means he will never cheat, says Salahovs. That’s a popular one, but there are many others.
“If you put oak leaves on your pysanka, you’ll be healthy and strong all year,” she said.