Cass County Democrat Missourian

Line-by-line, Ukrainian egg decorators in Belton class break away from dying box

Patty Phillips of Belton melts the wax off her egg to reveal its design. She came to the workshop with her daughter, Ariel.
Patty Phillips of Belton melts the wax off her egg to reveal its design. She came to the workshop with her daughter, Ariel. Special to the Democrat

Take some beeswax, 33 jars of dye, a few hollowed-out eggs and add a roomful of eager crafters, and you’ve got the makings of a pysanky workshop.

Ten participants gathered last Thursday night to learn the art of Ukrainian egg decorating at the Northern Resource Center in Belton.

Allyson Harkins, who works for Cass County’s library system, volunteered to share her extensive knowledge of pysanky.

“A lot of people think that pysanky eggs are painted, but it’s actually drawing lines using a special tool called a kistka,” Harkins said.

It’s a careful process. You start by drawing lines in pencil on the egg, using a rubber band as a guide to keep them straight.

The next step is covering those lines in melted beeswax. The kistka has a wide end and a fine-point end. After holding it in the flame of a candle, you use the heated metal of the kistka to scoop up and melt the beeswax, while the fine point funnels it, allowing you to draw on the egg with precision.

“It’s harder than it looks,” said Anna Ponder of Harrisonville, who came to the workshop with her mother, Shelley Jansen.

After each round of applying wax designs, you hold the egg in a jar of dye. The dye colors get progressively darker with each round.

“I like the different colors that we get to use and seeing the process go from the lighter to the darker. It’s interesting when you actually see the process,” said Christina Proctor of Raymore. “That’s some artwork there.”

Anything not coated in wax takes on the newest dye color.

“When you’re finished, you have this black blob of an egg. Then you hold the egg in the candle flame, it (the wax melts), and all the color emerges, and it’s just amazing,” Harkins said.

Each egg will look a little different — even if every person is following the same pattern.

“Invariably, there’s a mistake. Sometimes you get a blob of wax, and once the wax is on the egg, you can’t scrape it off and start again,” Harkins said. “It’s not something you can get perfect. Even though there are imperfections, and you’re completely aware of those imperfections, it’s still beautiful.”

Although the tradition of pysanky predates Christianity, this type of egg decorating has become associated with Easter. Many of the symbols people draw on the eggs have taken on religious significance. Common ones include stars, dots and triangles.

Another symbol is in the egg itself.

“Traditionally, you use fertilized eggs, because part of the meaning of it is that there is the potential for life you can’t see, but you know is there,” Harkins said.

There’s a risk of getting a rotten egg that way, though, so for the workshop, she hollowed out the eggs and cleaned them in vinegar before drying them for several days.

The dye is also not the same kind you get in a pre-fab egg-dying kit. Harkins orders powdered aniline dyes online for about a dollar a packet. She also finds the kistkas and beeswax that way, too. But as long as you have the tools, anyone can do pysanky.

“It’s exciting, and I’m going to try to do more of it. I’m a crafty person,” said Rindy Finley of Harrisonville. “Hopefully, my hand will get a little steadier.”

Participants were so enthusiastic that several signed up for the more advanced class that was scheduled for Thursday while they were still making their eggs in the first class.