Saturday, January 26, 2013

How To Make Pysanky

      Each region, each village, and almost every family in Ukraine had its own special ritual, its own symbols, meanings and secret formulas for dyeing eggs. These customs were preserved faithfully and passed down from mother to daughter through generations. The custom of decorating pysanky was observed with greatest care, and a pysanka, after receiving the Easter blessing, was held to have great powers as a talisman.
Examples of Ukrainian pysanky, modern and traditional.
      Pysanky were traditionally made during the last week of Lent, Holy Week in the Orthodox and Greek (Uniate) Catholic calendars. (Both faiths are represented in Ukraine, and both still celebrate Easter by the Julian calendar.) They were made by the women of the family. During the middle of the Lenten season, women began putting aside eggs, those that were most perfectly shaped and smooth, and ideally, the first laid eggs of young hens. There had to be a rooster, as only fertilized eggs could be used. (If non-fertile eggs were used, there would be no fertility in the home.)
      The dyes were prepared from dried plants, roots, bark, berries and insects (cochineal). Yellow was obtained from the flowers of the woadwaxen, and gold from onion skins. Red could be extracted from logwood or cochineal, and dark green and violet from the husks of sunflower seeds and the berries and bark of the elderberry bush. Black dye was made from walnut husks. The dyes were prepared in secret, using recipes handed down from mother to daughter. Sometimes chemical dyes (of unusual or difficult colors) were purchased from traders along with alum, a mordant that helped the natural dyes adhere better to eggshells.
A variety of styluses, from traditional to modern
      A stylus, known as a pysachok, pysak, pysal'tse, or kystka (kistka), depending on region, was prepared. A piece of thin brass was wrapped around a needle, forming a hollow cone. This was attached to a small stick (willow was preferred) with wire or horsehair. In some regions, mostly in Transcarpathia, a simple pin inserted onto the end of a stick was used instead (drop-pull technique).
The pysanky were made at night, when the children were asleep. The women in the family gathered together, said the appropriate prayers, and went to work. It was done in secret––the patterns and color combinations were handed down from mother to daughter and carefully guarded.
      Pysanky were made using a wax resist (batik) method. Beeswax was heated in a small bowl on the stove (піч), and then scooped into the stylus as needed. The molten wax was applied to the white egg with a writing motion; any bit of shell covered with wax would be sealed, and remain white. Then the egg was dyed yellow, and more wax applied, and then orange, red, purple, black. (The dye sequence was always light to dark). Bits of shell covered with wax remained that color. After the final color, usually red, brown or black, the wax was removed by heating the egg in the stove and gently wiping off the melted wax, or by briefly dipping the egg into boiling water.
      Boiled eggs were not used, as pysanky were generally written on raw or, less commonly, baked eggs (pecharky). Boiled eggs were dyed red for Easter, using an onion skin dye, and called "krashanky". The number of colors on an egg was usually limited, as natural dyes had very long dyeing times, sometimes hours. Pysanky would be made–and dyed–in batches.
An unfinished pysanka ready for the
 black bath of dye. It bears the
Ukrainian Easter greeting: "Christ is risen!"
      Alternatively, in Transcarpathia and other ethnic Lemko areas, a pinhead was dipped into molten wax and then applied to the shell of the egg. Simple drops were made, or there was an additional pulling motion, which would create teardrop or comma shapes. These drops were used to create patterns and designs. Dyeing and wax removal proceeded as with traditional pysanky.
      Pysanky continue to be made in modern times; while many traditional aspects have been preserved, new technologies are in evidence. Aniline dyes have largely replaced natural dyes. Styluses are now made with modern materials. Traditional styluses are still made from brass and wood, but those made with more modern plastic handles are gaining in popularity. An electric version of the stylus has been commercially available since the 1970s, with the cone becoming a metal reservoir which keeps the melted beeswax at a constant temperature and holds a much larger amount than a traditional stylus. These newer styluses (whether electric or not) also sport machined heads, with sizes or the opening ranging from extra-fine to extra-heavy.

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      Pysanky are typically made to be given to family members and respected outsiders. To give a pysanka is to give a symbolic gift of life, which is why the egg must remain whole. Furthermore, each of the designs and colors on the pysanka is likely to have a deep, symbolic meaning. Traditionally, pysanky designs are chosen to match the character of the person to whom the pysanka is to be given. Typically, pysanky are displayed prominently in a public room of the house.
      In a large family, by Holy Thursday, 60 or more eggs would have been completed by the women of the house. (The more daughters a family had, the more pysanky would be produced.) The eggs would then be taken to the church on Easter Sunday to be blessed, after which they were given away. Here is a partial list of how the pysanky would be used:
  1. One or two would be given to the priest.
  2. Three or four were taken to the cemetery and placed on graves of the family.
  3. Ten or fifteen were given to children or godchildren.
  4. Ten or twelve were exchanged by the unmarried girls with the eligible men in the community.
  5. Several were saved to place in the coffin of loved ones who might die during the year.
  6. Several were saved to keep in the home for protection from fire, lightning and storms.
  7. Two or three were placed in the mangers of cows and horses to ensure safe calving and colting and a good milk supply for the young.
  8. At least one egg was placed beneath the bee hive to insure a good harvest of honey.
  9. One was saved for each grazing animal to be taken out to the fields with the shepherds in the spring.
  10. Several pysanky were placed in the nests of hens to encourage the laying of eggs.
      Everyone from the youngest to the oldest received a pysanka for Easter. Young people were given pysanky with bright designs; dark pysanky were given to older people.
      A bowl full of pysanky was invariably kept in every home. It served not only as a colorful display, but also as protection from all dangers. Some of the eggs were emptied, and a bird’s head made of wax or dough and wings and tail-feathers of folded paper were attached. These “doves” were suspended before icons in commemoration of the birth of Christ, when a dove came down from heaven and soared over the child Jesus.

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