A Pysanky Primer

By, John Righetti, C-RS , Mars Pennsylvania

copyright © 1995, 1996 by John Righetti & The New Rusyn Times

Unauthorized use or duplication is forbidden

Pysanky, beautifully decorated Easter eggs, are an integral and cherished folk art tradition of the Carpatho-Rusyns, so cherished that it is carried on with great fervor even in America. On Great and Holy Saturday or the morning of Pascha, Easter Sunday, as the baskets of Paschal food are blessed, one would be hard pressed to find a church founded by Rusyns where the families' baskets do not include a wide variety of pysanky.

For Carpatho-Rusyns, the key is variety; there's no one typical Rusyn style. The patterns and colors of the egg change as one moves west to east in the Carpathians. The popular "tear-drop" style, made by literally pulling a drop of wax across the egg, is common in the Lemko Region and much of the Presov Region of Slovakia, as well as in the westernmost parts of Subcarpathian Rus'. The more intricate line technique, which uses a stylus called a kistka to draw lines of wax on the egg, are found in pockets in Sarys and Zemplyn in Slovakia, as well as most of Subcarpathian Rus', The further east one moves in the Carpathians, the more intricate the patterns become.

The images and motifs also change as one goes from region to region. In western regions, floral patterns and a wide mix of colors are prevalent. In eastern regions, geometric patterns are the norm; "earth tones" of red, yellow, orange, brown, and black predominate.

Pysanky are traditionally made during the Great Lenten season. The art of making pysanky is similar to the batiking method used to dye patterns in cloth. Four techniques are found among Carpatho-Rusyns: tear-drop; line; scratching; bead.

To make pysanky, one needs a piece of I beeswax (not regular wax!), a candle, a kistka (for the line technique) or straight pins and a pencil with eraser tip (for tear-drop style), dyes, and of course eggs (raw, not boiled!).

Line style:

Heat the copper kistka over the candle flame, then dip it into the beeswax.

The wax will melt into the kistka, then pour out onto the egg as is drawn across it. The wax repels the dye, so you cover what you wish to stay white on the egg.

You then dye the egg in the next-darkest color, usually yellow. Then cover with wax what you wish to day yellow. The egg is then dyed in the next-darkest color.

This process continues, going from the lightest to darkest color.

When the egg is completed, heat the egg by the side of the candle to melt the wax. Wiping the wax from the egg with a cloth reveals the colors underneath.

Then varnish the egg to preserve it indefinitely.

Tear-drop (Lemko) style

Insert a straight pin into the eraser at the end of the pencil.

Melt the beeswax in a metal container on a hot plate or stove. Work directly from the melted wax (which must be kept melted), dipping the pin head into the wax, the quickly pulling it across the egg's surface to give the tear-drop effect.

Follow the same dyeing process as for line style.

To create scratched pysanky, dye the egg completely in one color, then use a razor blade or firm straight pin or nail to scratch the color away, leaving the pattern in white on the colored egg.

The beaded egg requires that the egg be completely covered in wax. Then patterns are made by pressing small beads into the wax until the entire egg is covered with these tiny beads.

Some books on Ukrainian pysanky have regional examples which include Lemko-style and line-method designs of Subcarpathian Rus' (referred to as "Hutsul," "Bojko" and "Transcarpathian" styles).

Pysanky supplies are available in many stores (try art supply stores). Remember - the dyes you buy are poisonous, so the eggs can't be eaten, but are meant as art and as symbols of the joy of the Resurrection. With a little practice and a lot of patience, you too can share the joy of this beloved Carpatho-Rusyn craft. Good luck!

Stores in the Pittsburgh area which carry pysanky supplies include:

Stores Elsewhere:

Back To Carpatho-Rusyn Society Home Page

Last modified on September 27 1997
Greg Gressa [ggressa@carpatho-rusyn.org]
The Carpatho-Rusyn Knowledge Base