Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ukrainian Easter Eggs

As you might have guessed from my icon, I make Ukrainian Easter eggs.  They're made with a batik process.  That is, part of the shell is protected from the dye with wax, and then the egg is dyed.  I may do this just once, or I may repeat the process with many colors, leaving the wax on the egg until the very end, as it will continue to protect the shell from each new dye.

The second picture shows blackened beeswax on the white shell, and this protected area will stay white, and eventually when the wax is taken off it will be the white areas on the finished egg at the top. Neat, huh? Notice that the black lines in the diamonds on the finished egg were waxed around to leave a space for the black dye.

To draw in a line of wax, a tool called a kistka is used (the Ukrainian word for writing), shown below.  It's a tiny funnel made of brass or copper.  When I made my very first Ukrainian egg I used a fountain pen and melted some beeswax and painstakingly drew the lines.  You could try that if you want to.  Chances are you may find the tools at an art supply store (locally at Artists' Mediums and Bouteliers).  They also sell beeswax that's been blackened, or you can blacken it with kiwi black paste shoe polish (if you're not eating the eggs). The dyes usually sold for Ukrainian eggs are not edible dyes.  If you're going to use this process for edible eggs, make sure you are using food dyes.

I wax and dye the designs on raw eggs, so the eggs will sink in the dye.  If you're only doing a few you might find it easier to blow them out first, and then be prepared to hold floating eggs under the dye. To remove the wax from raw eggs, preheat the oven to 180, stick three thumbtacks in a shirt cardboard to form a triangle, and place the board on a sheet pan.  Place the egg on the tacks horizontally, and heat for about 10 minutes, until the wax is softened but not runny.  Pick up the egg and wipe off the wax with a paper towel.  Turn the egg over and heat for another 7-8 minutes, removing the last of the wax at the end.  It's traditional to leave the raw egg like this, or to cover with a thin film of oil to protect the water-soluble dyes.  It needs to be turned every few weeks if it's in your corner cabinet, because it might explode otherwise.  sigh.  not nice. 

If you've blown out the egg first, the oven only needs to be heated to about 150 or your lowest setting, and only needs to sit in the oven for a couple of minutes before you wipe off the wax from the first side.  Be careful, because the shell will get very hot.

In either case, clean the remaining wax residue off with lighter fluid (naptha), if you plan to varnish it.  If you don't do this, the varnish will yellow pretty quickly from mixing with the wax.  To varnish the egg, put some polyurethane in your hand, and roll the egg around.  Put it back on your thumbtack tripod to dry.  Wipe off as much of the polyurethane as you can, then pour a little vegetable oil in your hands and wash thoroughly with the oil.  Wipe the oil off, and then wash your hands with dish detergent. Magic.  No polyurethane residue.

This shows some eggs drying on a board full of nail tripods (you can see just one of the three nails for each egg).  I dry them upright, so any imperfection from the nail will be at the bottom.  You can easily make a shirt board with several thumbtack tripods, which is what I used to use before I bought this board.

If you've left the egg raw, you can blow it out after you've varnished it (so the egg doesn't mess up the water-soluble dyes).

Many Eastern European countries have a tradition of waxing with a common pin stuck in a pencil eraser, and this is easier to do, if not as exacting (but then, I'm not as practiced.  I used a ball end common pin.  I think there might be control with a "regular" common pin).  You can use paraffin instead of beeswax, and melt a little in a can on the stovetop.  Dip the ball end into the wax, touch it to the egg and drag, and you'll have a little teardrop.  Here's a heart I drew on an egg I'd dyed blue with edible dyes.  After waxing I rinsed off some of the blue dye, so the egg is two shades of blue. You can still see the shiny wax on the egg.

On this next egg I dyed the egg several colors in succession, with edible dyes.  Because the paraffin is so transparent, you can see the colors through the egg really well.  If you were using this way of decorating your hard boiled eggs, you wouldn't even need to bother to remove the wax.  Or you can scrape most of it off with your thumbnail, or remove it in the oven as before.  Do NOT remove the remaining residue with lighter fluid if you're going to eat the egg.

On these two eggs I used white beeswax and a kistka, so the design is finer than with the teardrop and drag method.I drew the design in pencil first, which shows.  When I take the wax off the pencil will come off too.

You can use either of these methods with food dyes to decorate hard boiled eggs, or to decorate eggs for the Easter Egg Nests shown in the previous post.  Be sure to ask me any questions you have in comments, and I'll get back to you.


  1. Absolutely gorgeous! I gasped when I saw them!!!!!

  2. Is there anyplace one could purchase some of your gorgeous eggs?

  3. These are beautiful! Too bad I did not click on your blog before Easter. Do you know you can color eggs in the onion skin too, right? Check my new photos on FB for that. That's all what I did this year...

  4. Mary: How kind of you to ask. As you know, those in Northwestern Vermont might find me at craft shows, but I can be reached at vermontfoodandgarden@comcast.net too.