My very first exposure to dyeing wasn’t on yarn, or fiber, or even fabric. It was on eggs. Sounds pretty average, right? Hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, dye pellets? But I’m Czech and Ukrainian (with a wee smattering of Irish and Scottish), so these were not your standard, American Paas Easter eggs, with crayon drawing and pastel colors (We did those too, so that we could play with them and eat them!). My first real dyeing was on Pysanky, traditionally decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs.
Pysanky is basically batik on eggs, a wax resist dyeing process. A small cupped stylus (a kistka) is heated with a candle flame and used to apply thin lines of beeswax, and the eggs are dipped in a series of alkaline dyes between layers of wax, from the lightest colors to the darkest. Then the dye is melted off with a candle flame, and the eggs are sealed with glossy varnish. This is all done, at least with my family, on intact, raw, room temperature eggs. I think you can tell from that description that this would NOT be considered a kid-friendly process these days, but I grew up in a non-coddly household and learned pretty early on not to stick nasty work materials in my mouth and to respect fire and sharp objects, or else.
So now the smell of melted beeswax brings on instant childhood nostalgia, thinking of all those happy hours with heads bent over our work at the kitchen table, learning to melt the wax without creating too much soot, applying delicate lines of wax, learning which colors layered best. And the magic of holding your wax covered egg next to the candle flame, and wiping away the beeswax to reveal your brightly colored creation. I learned all of this from my mom, who taught classes on Pysanky, and created amazingly detailed eggs.
My Grandma Tarasovich used a different method, sticking a straight pin into the eraser of a pencil to make a stylus, then dipping it into a candle to gather wax, making teardrop shapes in pattern, and then dyeing the eggs in solid colors, like this:
Image: Better Homes and Gardens
So began my love of pattern, color, and appreciation of handcraft and a bit of elbow grease. Oh, and obsessively detailed work. Thanks, Mom!
Interested? The lovely folks at Learn Pysanky have online tutorials and links to suppliers and workshops.