Pysanky is a traditional craft from Ukraine. The method is similar to batik - patterns are drawn on the egg with beeswax, which then protects the covered areas from the dye that is applied. By repeating this process with different colors of dye, a multi-colored pattern is built up. Finally, the wax is melted off to reveal the colors that were covered up at each stage.
I've only taught this lesson once years ago and to be honest, it was a bit stressful. Using an open flame which sometimes produces smoke was a bit sketchy and I was stressed that the fire alarm would go off in my school, haha. But this year a Grade 9 student asked if we could try it and I already had the supplies from the previous lesson so thought I'd give it another shot.
I learned how to make Pysanky in school because I come from a town with many Ukrainian immigrants and the whole town is centered around that culture (food, Ukrainian dancing, language and crafts). So I grew up making these and really enjoy the detailed process.
The supplies I bought were: beeswax, a mix of votive and tealight candles (theses are low candles and don't tip over), kitskas (the traditional tool used to apply to beeswax), vinegar, paper towels and kleenex and pysanky dyes. You could also use food colouring but pysanky dyes are much stronger and vibrant. I also made a handout of different pysanky designs.
Two art supply stores in my city sell pysanky supplies, again, because we have a large Ukrainian immigrant population in my province. You can also find supplies online or ask at any Ukrainian Orthodox churches in your city.
Oh, and hard boiled eggs! And buy extra because some do break. When shopping for your eggs, you want to find ones as smooth as possible. Free range farmers market eggs are the best and strongest.
I hard boil mine at home and then bring them to school. Blowing the yolk out takes way too much time and the eggs are very fragile after so I've reverted to using hard boiled eggs only. The egg inside eventually shrinks and dries up.
It's good to give the eggs a wipe down with vinegar first to get rid of any lingering oils.
Students draw on their designs with pencil. About half went freestyle and made up their own designs. The other half liked the structure of following a step by step handout. It took about two 40 minute period for the kids to really get the hang of using the kitska: how long to heat it up for, how to get a steady thin line and how to work on a curved 3D surface. Alot of the kids got really frustrated and didn't have the patience required. It's a really tedious and time consuming process and many kids these days (ugh, I sound old) just don't have the patience. I had originally asked all of them to commit to working on the eggs for a double period and after that they could decide if they wanted to continue.
Every class, there's about two or three kids who drop their eggs. They usually don't want to re-start unless they really enjoy it, so I have a back-up project for those kids.
So the kids draw their designs then go over all the lines with the beeswax.
They all work on a large sheet of photocopy paper because there's always drips of wax.
They can also test out the kitska on the paper.
Before they start with the candle, I go over the 'safety rules' and my 'dealbreakers'. Any fooling around with the flame results in the end of the project for them. Always keep the kitska beside the flame and not in the flame, as the wooden part of the kitska can light on fire. This happened to two students this time. One was definitely an accident, the other one was not! So I always circulate to make sure they're using the tools safely. By the third class, the kids are pretty comfortable with the technique and I don't need to supervise as much. I just walk around and re-light any extinguished flames (none of the kids knew how to use a lighter! It was so funny watching them try, though!)
Once they've made a decent design, they can dye their egg in the first colour.
Just work from lightest colour (yellow) up to the darkest (black).
Some students layer many colours, others just do one or two.
Pat the egg dry then continue drawing on with the beeswax.
Then dye the next colour and continue that process.
I keep my dyes in low mason jars and label the colour on the jar with tape.
These dyes keep forever! I keep them in the lid of a photocopy box.
I buy specific Pysanky dyes.
They're a powder and very inexpensive- about $1.70 per colour.
I whipped up this spray board (for varnishing the eggs) at the last minute:
toothpicks into a styrofoam tray.
Not for long term use as it's already falling apart, haha.
Normally it's nails in a piece of wood.
When they're happy with their design, you hold the egg beside a flame and gently wipe off the wax with a soft tissue. It reveals the pattern underneath and is really exciting!
Once the wax is all melted off, I spray varnish them to make them shiny and protect the pattern.
I keep each class's eggs stored in the egg container and just write the name of the class on top.
You can see below the different paces the students work at.
Many students aren't finished but here's some results after about 4 - 6 classes: