The Essentials of Pysanky Ukrainian Easter Eggs

Pysanka Power Podcast

Pysanka Power Podcast by Joan Brander of
Saving the world one pysanka at a time . . . . ™

Listen to Pysanka Power Podcast on BabasBeeswax.comListen to Episode 1 released March 9, 2019 – The Essentials of Pysanky Ukrainian Easter Eggs

Pysanka Power Podcast by Joan Brander of BabasBeeswax.comTranscript of Episode 1

Hi, I'm Joan Brander and you're listening to my Pysanka Power Podcast. I love Ukrainian egg decorating! I've been doing it for several decades since I was a child. I've amassed so much knowledge and experience over those years, I thought that podcasting would be a great way to share my passion with you. I'll be telling you about their history, legends, and symbols. On the practical side, there's tools and techniques used in making them, hints, tips and do it yourself projects to talk about. Did you know that the fate of the world depends on pysanky? There's an ancient Ukrainian legend that says as long as pysanky are being made, evil will not prevail over good in the world". They're one of the greatest traditions of all time. So I hope that my Podcast will inspire you.

In this inaugural Episode of Pysanka Power Podcast I'll go through the essentials of pysanky Ukrainian Easter eggs, what supplies you'll need to get started, and why you need them.

"Pysanka" is the Ukrainian word for Easter egg… you know, the ones with the colourful and intricate designs on them?

Before we jump in and learn how they're made, let's talk about the origin of the word. The word "pysanka" comes from the Ukrainian word "pysate" which means "to write". Pysanka is singular, and "pysanky" is plural. And I just know that after you make your first pysanka, you'll be well on your way to making many pysanky in the future. You make pysanky using the batik method known as wax resist. I've been teaching pysanky for over 30 years and people are always surprised, when I tell them that they're not made with paints, stencils, or coloured markers. If you're not familiar with batik, let me explain how it works. So imagine you have three things: First, an ordinary egg. Second, a couple of jars of dye colours-let's say yellow and red. And third, a candle. Imagine lighting the candle and dripping a few random drops of wax on the egg. The wax will dry instantly. Place the egg in the yellow dye for a couple of minutes. Lift it out, and dry it off. Then repeat dripping a few more random drops of wax with your candle on your yellow egg. Place the egg in the red dye for a couple of minutes. Lift it out and dry it off. Now what you'll have is a red egg covered in random drops of wax. Under the drops of wax are the colours white and yellow. The wax is protecting these colours. To see those white and yellow colours, you have to melt off the wax. When you do, you'll have a colourful red egg with white and yellow shapes. This is how the magic of batik works!

Ukrainian pysanky eggs use this same technique, but with a slightly more refined and systematic approach. Let me explain what I mean. You'll still need an ordinary egg and some jars of dye. You'll also need some specialty items. First, you'll need a tool called a kistka. Second, you'll need beeswax. Let's talk about the egg. Many types of eggs can be used for pysanky. The smallest that I've worked on are lovebird eggs. They're tiny at about 3/4 inch high. The largest eggs I've used are ostrich eggs. They're huge. When cooked as scrambled eggs one ostrich egg is equivalent to about 2 doz chicken eggs. Sizes in between that I've used include bobtail quail, turkey, goose and other eggs. For beginners a simple, raw chicken egg will do the trick. Make sure it's at room temperature before you start. Next you'll need a kistka. Instead of dripping wax on the egg with a candle as I mentioned earlier, you'll use a special tool called a kistka-spelled k-i-s-t-k-a. The best way to describe it is to tell you how my Baba made one using a calendar. Incidentally, if you aren't familiar with the word 'baba," it's Ukrainian for grandmother.

Of course Baba didn't have Outlook or an i-Calendar. But she did have a calendar hanging on the wall. In those days calendars had a metal spine. She took that metal spine and wound it into a cone making a small hole at the bottom. She then attached the cone to the end of a wooden stick she got from a branch of a tree with a piece of metal wire. Voila. That was our kistka.

Today the kistka has become more sophisticated. The handles are no longer sticks. Some are still made of wood, but they also come in plastic. And there are even electric models as well.

The special wax is beeswax. My Baba taught me to scoop up some melted beeswax into the cone of my kistka and apply it to the egg. She melted her beeswax in a clean empty tuna tin on the top of her wood stove. The things I love about making pysanky are the heavenly scent of beeswax and the sweet, warm smell of honey that comes with it. This is all very therapeutic and relaxing. The beeswax should be pure and filtered from impurities. Dust and dirt particles in non-filtered beeswax will clog up your kistka. Most places that sell beeswax for pysanky making ensure that it's pure and clean. Beeswax comes in blocks, sheets and strips. All forms work the same way.

Your kistka guides the melted beeswax onto the egg as it flows out of the small hole in the bottom of the cone. For Ukrainian pysanky we call this process "writing". What seems like "drawing" is actually writing a message using symbolism and designs. My Baba and I would write lines and designs on the egg that she herself learned as a child. Did you notice that I said "write" and not "draw"?

The tradition of pysanky and their unique symbols and designs have been passed down through countless generations. I'll tell you more about that in a future podcast.

Now I'll discuss the dyes. Back when I made pysanky as a child I soaked crepe paper in water to make a dye bath. Sometimes I would make natural dyes using common household items such as tea, beets or onion skins. Today, most people use commercial eggshell dyes. They come in a variety of colours, but you only need a few basic colours to create some stunning results. I suggest a range from light to dark-so for example, let's say yellow, red and black to start. Fewer colours make the experience go faster and the cost less expensive.

My Baba and I would dip our eggs into the dye, starting with the lightest colour. Then we'd add more beeswax with our kistka and dye the egg in a succession of dye baths. This is the process of batik. So … now you've taken your egg out of the last dye bath. Don't be dismayed at how it looks at this point! It will be a dark colour and the beeswax will be all bumpy and rough. There's one more thing to do before you see your masterpiece. The last step is the magic of melting the beeswax and revealing the colours! There are different ways to melt the beeswax off your pysanka. You can put the egg into the oven. Or you can use the flame of a candle. I'll tell you how to use both methods in a future podcast.

If you found this introduction to pysanky a lot to absorb, don't worry. I'll completely demystify the technique in future episodes of the Pysanka Power Podcast. I'll also provide you with tips and tricks to make things easy and fun.

I've been teaching the art of pysanka to novices for the better part of three decades. Some of my students have even gone on to become pysanka artists in their own right. However, all of them created a beautiful pysanka in their first sitting! It being their first pysanka, I playfully say to them "this will be the most beautiful pysanka you have made so far"! Of course it would be easier with you and I being in the same room together. But I'm confident that once you understand the technique, with a little practice you'll create some incredible works of art to display in your home or to give away as gifts.

So if you're ready to get started with pysanky, the first thing you'll have to do is to purchase your tools and supplies. If you can't find them at a local craft store, cultural organization, or Ukrainian church in your area, you can order them online from my store, Baba's Beeswax located in Richmond, BC. We're on the west coast of Canada. The supplies are available year round, and I can help you choose the best ones for your needs. Just go to

Before we wrap up this inaugural podcast, I'd like to share some great resources to support you in your quest to learn and make pysanky. I'll actually be doing this at the end of each future podcast in a brief commentary I've called Books 'n' Bits.

An excellent teaching aid that I'd like to recommend in Books 'n' Bits is called Ukrainian Easter Egg Pysanka Beginners' Designs by Joan Nakonechny. You can watch a preview of it on our YouTube Channel. The video clip flips through the pages to feature the format, colourful cover, and contents of pysanka designs.

There's a link on the BabasBeeswax website, or just do a search on YouTube for Baba's Beeswax.

It's also available in print form from and I highly recommend ordering it along with your beeswax, kistka, and dyes. And eggs. Yes, you can also order empty eggshells too! Just ask me how, and save yourself the hassle of hunting through cartons at the supermarket for smooth, unmottled and perfectly-shaped eggs! Plus you won't have to blow them out later. But, that's another story for a future episode.

Before I go, allow me to tell you about Baba's Beeswax and how you can get in touch with me. Back in 1991, sitting around the dining room table with my family, it got me thinking, that, well, maybe I should do more with my egg decorating hobby. We came up with the whimsical name, Baba's Beeswax.

Since then, Baba's Beeswax has been doing a lot of buzzing. We have a website at Our studio comes alive with workshops and demonstrations. We write books, pamphlets, teaching aids, and videos. We have a library for all the publications we produce and collect. Not only that, we have a gallery of all the pysanky we've made and collected. Please drop by for a visit and have a look at everything. We're located in Richmond, British Columbia. If you like shopping in person, it's very easy to get to. We're not far from the Vancouver International Airport. And, for our American friends, we're just a few hours drive north of Seattle. For shopping on the internet you can visit our online store at We've had it since 1997. Pardon the pun, but we've been buzzing around for a long time. We're doing our best to keep up with technology. So we're connecting with you on YouTube, Facebook and other platforms. Now, we're podcasting and we're very excited to be doing that. You, too, can follow the buzz… by giving us your comments or a thumbs up.

We're here to help you choose kits and supplies like the beeswax, kistka and dyes you'll need. You can get everything you need all year round, not only at Easter. In case you missed anything, you can listen to my Podcast again. We've put the audio file on our website Or you might like reading along, so we've put the Transcript there too.

That's it for me, Joan Brander of Baba's Beeswax. Thanks for listening-and have a great day!

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