Pysanky Making On-Line Class (Ukrainian Easter Eggs); Tips on perfecting your pysanka making



This online guide of helpful hints and tips for making beautiful pysanky is intended to help pysanky artists of any level--from the beginner to the very experienced artist.
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Here is a list of topics currently included*:
Working with Blown Eggs
Problem:  Not Getting Bright Colors, or Dyes are Not Dyeing Well
Problem:  Getting Spots, 'Freckles,' or Marks
Taking Care of Your Dyes
Clogged Kistka

Removing Wax from the Pysanka at the End of the Process

Working with Blown Eggs
Whether or not to empty the egg before or after the process of writing your pysanka is a matter of personal preference.  There are advantages to both.  However, working with an empty egg occasionally presents extra challenges.  So, we have compiled some helpful hints.

1.    Make sure the egg is dry.  After you empty the egg and rinse it inside, you want to make sure that the egg is completely dry inside before beginning the wax and dye process, preferably a day or two before you begin.  When drying the egg, make sure the drainage hole is down.  Placing it in a warm place may speed up the process.
2.    Plug the drainage hole with beeswax. Once you are ready to begin, plug up the drainage hole by taking a small piece of beeswax, and gently placing it over or partially into the hole.  Then take a heated kistka and touch it to the wax so it melts over the hole, and plugs it up completely.  This prevents any dyes from getting into the egg, and then seeping out through the pores of the shell later.  If you learn to form a neat circle of wax over the hole, then it will look neater after the pysanka is complete.
3.    Do not leave the pysanka in the dye for long. Once you remove the contents of the egg, there is no longer a membrane which coats the inside of the egg shell, so the shell becomes more porous.  Therefore, you do not want to leave a blown egg in the dye for more than a few minutes (3-4.)  Leaving it too long may cause the dye to seep into the egg, which may cause it to 'freckle' later when the moisture seeps out through the pores.
4.    Submerging the pysanka.  Once the egg is emptied, it naturally does not want to sink down into the dye.  There are two methods that you may use to submerge the pysanka into the dye.  One is to gently push the pysanka down into the dye with a slotted spoon.  Then secure the handle of the spoon to the neck of the jar with a clothes pin, so that the pysanka stays wedged down into the dye.  A second method is to simply push the pysanka into the dye and hold it down yourself with the spoon.
5.    Removing the pysanka from the dye.  Release the pysanka gently so it won't pop up from the dye too quickly.

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Problem:  Not Getting Bright Colors, or Dyes are Not Dyeing Well
Uncontaminated dyes when kept in a sealed glass jar and stored in a cool dry place will typically last a long time.  Here are some suggestions for minimizing contamination and hopefully getting bright colors for a long time.

1.    Do not use grocery store eggsEggs purchased from the grocery store are often processed, and have chemical residue.  So even eggs from the same batch may do well once and not very well again.  And it is possible that some of the processing residue could 'contaminate' the dyes.  Eggs straight from the farmer dye the best!
2.    The best water to use.  Regular tap or well water should be avoided in mixing the dyes.  Filtered tap water to mix the dyes is alright, but distilled water works the best.
3.    Examine the egg and clean it before you begin. Examine the egg for cracks.  Hairline cracks can allow egg contents to seep into the dye and contaminate it.  Also, make sure that the egg has been cleaned (with vinegar) before you begin the dyeing process.  Dirt on the egg shell can also contaminate the dye.
4.    Check the dye for contamination.  Check that your dye is uncontaminated.  Make sure you see no egg matter (or fuzz) in the dye, and it appears to be 'clear'.  For lighter colors, you should be able to see this.  For darker colors, try scooping the slotted spoon in the dye and see if any egg matter comes up.  Also, use the smell test.  The dye should not have a bad odor.  Any hint of the rotten egg smell is a sure sign not to use the dye.
5.    Maximum time in the dye.  Do not leave the pysanka in any one dye for more than 4 or 5 minutes (3-4 min. if the egg has been emptied before the process.)  This prevents seepage of the egg contents into the dye.
6.    Lukewarm water dye 'bath' for preventing muddy colors. Use of many colors can occasionally cause the dyes to clash, thus making the pysanka a muddy or gray color.  For example, when using yellow, orange, red, pink, then green.  Sometimes, the use of a lukewarm water 'bath' between colors will lessen the impact or clashing of colors.  Simply fill a small cup or jar with lukewarm water, and dip the pysanka into it, holding it and moving it gently in the water for a minute or two.  (You should see some extra color wash out.)  Incidentally, this is also a great way to get lighter shades of some of your favorite colors!
7.    Test the dye.  Not sure your colors are working?  Try testing an egg that you do not plan to decorate.  If you need to test several colors, try the water 'bath' between colors (as just described in #2 above.)
8.    Freshen the dye with vinegar.  If the dye appears uncontaminated, and you tried the methods mentioned above, yet the color still seems less bright, try adding another tablespoon of white vinegar to the dye and stirring.  Sometimes this will help freshen it.
9.    How old is the dye solution?  If the dye solution is more than a year old, and you have tried the suggestions above without positive results, then you may need to mix a fresh dye.
10.  NO Vinegar added to Orange and Gold.  Orange and Gold are presently the only dyes to which vinegar is NOT added to the solution.  If you add vinegar, it typically makes muddy clumps or black flakes.  Unfortunately, there is no way to salvage this orange to which vinegar has been added, and you will have to start over.  There may be some hope for the Gold to which vinegar has been added, but you may get unwelcome black flakes.
11.   Stir the dyes before dipping the egg.

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Problem:  Getting Spots, 'Freckles,' or Marks
Once you have already begun the dyeing process and you are still getting spots, 'freckles', uneven colors, or marks, although you know that your dyes are of good quality (according to the suggestions mentioned above), there is not much you can do to improve the way in which your pysanka will take colors.  So, in order to minimize or avoid these potential problems for future pysanky, try these suggestions.

1.    Maximum time in the dye.  Do not leave the pysanka in any one dye for more than 4 or 5 minutes (3-4 min. if the egg has been emptied before the process.)  This prevents seepage of the dye into the egg through the pores, which can later seep out and cause spots or 'freckles.'
2.    Examine the egg before you begin.  Spots or 'freckles' can result from many things, including hairline cracks which allowed dye to seep in and later seep out, an egg shell that was processed with chemicals, such as those purchased in a grocery store, or dirt on the shell.  Our best suggestions are to find eggs straight from the farmer or farmer's market, examine the egg closely for cracks and marks, and clean the egg (with vinegar) before you begin the waxing and dyeing process.
3.    Test the egg.  Before applying any beeswax, you may want to proceed with your lightest color such as yellow or orange as part of your design.  Often you can determine how your pysanka will take colors from examining how it takes the first color.

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Taking Care of Your Dyes
Dyes which are well-stored and handled will often give you good results for a long time.  Although there is no set or guaranteed time they will last, you should get good results if you follow these suggestions.
1.    Store dyes at room temperature away from heat, sunlight, or any extreme temperatures.
2.    Glass canning jars (especially wide-mouth) work the best.  Never re-use the jars for any other purpose, once they have stored dyes.
3.    Store in places where they will not be bumped, knocked or broken.
4.    See section above:  "Not Getting Bright Colors, or Dyes are Not Dyeing Well."   Before beginning on any pysanka, check the dye for contamination, test the dye, stir the dye, and if needed, freshen it with vinegar (orange and gold excepted), especially if the dyes have sat in storage for any length of time.
5.    Take great care of any pysanka that you dip in your dyes.  Use clean eggs, farm-fresh eggs, and check for cracks before dipping in the dye.  Likewise, use clean spoons to lower nd raise your pysanky into and out of the dyes.
6.    Please be kind to our planet!  Do not pour old dyes down the sink drains or toilets, or throw in the trash, but dispose of as you would motor oils and batteries.
7.    Keep dyes away from children and pets!

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Clogged Kistka
Sometimes the beeswax does not flow evenly or freely from the kistka.  Here are some questions to ask and hints to consider.

1.    Only use pure beeswax.  Natural or dark beeswax, such as the wax that we sell, often gives the best results.   Beeswax melts and cools more quickly than other types of wax.  Paraffin wax or any wax other than pure beeswax is not recommended because they often contain more flammable chemicals, such as petroleum products, or other ingredients such as beef tallow.
2.    Is the wax heated enough?  Consider that beeswax melts quickly, but it also cools and hardens very quickly, and can give the appearance of a clog.  So, perhaps you are not leaving the kistka in the flame long enough.  A simple way to test this is to heat the kistka as you normally do, then try writing first on a piece of cardboard or stock paper before trying it on the pysanka.
3.    Where do you place your beeswax and kistka when not in use?  Setting the wax or the kistka down on material, such as tissues, paper towels, or cloths that have many fibers, can cause the fibers to work their way into the wax, thus into the kistka.  An old clean ashtray is ideal for placing your kistka and beeswax, but an old coaster or small glass bowl will also work.
4.    Turn the kistka sideways when heating.  Make sure that when you heat the kistka, the well and metal tip are turned sideways or at an angle in the flame, not with the hole pointing straight down into the flame.  And make sure that you are moving it a little from side to side in the flame, rather than holding it stationary.
5.    Avoid overheating or 'cooking' the kistka.  (Be watchful!)  Do not leave the kistka in the flame too long so that the wax boils or the kistka flames up.  This could introduce extra soot into the wax, thus causing a clog later on.
6.    Try cleaning wire.  Heat the kistka first.  Then, push the cleaning wire through the hole, and it should come through the well.  If there is a clog, this will often dislodge it, and you will see it on the wire for removal.  (Make sure that you have your reading glasses or a magnifying glass unless you have nearly perfect eyesight!)  We have free cleaning wire which is yours for the asking with any order from our online shop.
7.    Clean out the kistka.  If you have followed the suggestions mentioned above, and the wax still does not flow smoothly, you may need to try a more drastic measure.  Try heating the kistka, then turning it over (well side down) onto a piece of old cardboard, stock paper, or another hard surface and tapping the well onto the surface.  This is an attempt to dislodge clumps of fibers and materials in the hot wax that clog the hole.  Just be careful not to splatter the wax or hit it too hard.

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Removing Wax from the Pysanka at the End of the Process
There is nothing more exciting about writing pysanky than watching the 'treasure' emerge after you have completed the dyeing process and remove all the beeswax.  Here are some hints to consider when removing the beeswax from your pysanka.
1.    Problems with soot on the pysanka.  When holding the pysanka over the flame to remove all the wax, do not hold the pysanka above the flame, but rather from the side of the flame.  This should prevent soot marks from forming on the pysanka.
2.    Do not overheat the pysanka or leave it in the flame too long.  Use short motions--put a small area of the pysanka into the flame for no more than a couple of seconds, pull it out and wipe off the beeswax.  Repeat this motion as you turn the pysanka, taking great care to avoid burning your fingers.  (Remember, the shell can get hot!)
3.    Minimize the risk of breakage.  When removing the wax, make sure to have an old rag or towel underneath the pysanka, and set the candle away from the edge of your work space, in case you drop the pysanka during this process.

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*These helpful hints were developed by Susan and John Washinsky based on years of experience writing pysanky, and are intended to help you have a more pleasant pysanky experience.  We are happy to share these with you, but ask that you not copy or publish them in any form without our permission. Printing a copy for your personal use would be acceptable.

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