I was reminded recently about pisanky, a craft I first tried years ago, taught by Martha Shepherd of Madonna House Catholic lay apostolate in Combermere, Ontario. The founder of Madonna House, Catherine Doherty, came from Russia, bringing with her a love of Baltic, Eastern European and Russian art forms, one of which is the decoration of eggs for Easter. As a pre-Easter Lenten meditation, Martha used to make pisanky, or wax batik eggs,”written” with Christian symbols. Deep into my stash I went looking…
I remembered one of the books we used and a selection of the wax application tools named ‘kistky’. The Ukranian tradition is to say we ‘write’ an egg, not decorate it, because many of the symbols and colours tell aspects of the story of Christ. A kistka is a little brass or copper cup attached to a long handle. You heat the bowl of the cup in a candle flame then dig the hot metal into a block of natural beeswax to scoop up the wax that liquefies instantly at the touch of the hot metal. If you use an electric kystka, the bowl is heated by the electricity. The hot wax runs out of a wee pipe sticking out of the bottom of the cup.
Next, you begin to ‘write’ (draw) your design on the egg by trailing the wax in the kystka across a hollow egg. The egg is first emptied of its contents by blowing them out through wee holes made with a fat needle at the top and bottom of the egg. You use a typical batik process to colour the egg in several layers: apply the wax designs successively to cover areas you wish to reserve in your chosen colour. After applying each layer of the design in wax, you dip the egg into dyes (synthetic these days), one colour at a time. The first dip is the lightest colour (yellow) and the last dip is the darkest (black) – in other words, the undercolour must always be hidden by the subsequent layer of dye. When the design is done, you hold the waxed egg to the candle flame and melt off the wax.
A close up of the kistky and beeswax blocks:
Here are the dyes: not sure what kind. NOT natural dyes, anyway.
This next pattern is a traditional design for a “fish” egg, symbolic of the Resurrection of Christ. It is one of my favourites. It is usually done on a brown egg with yellow, rust, red and black dyes:
I saved the broken shells thinking to inlude them on day in a mixed media work…intentions, intentions…It is traditional also to give the eggs as gifts at Easter so I do not have many left – I kept the ones I thought were no so good.
Here are some eggs written by a friend from Lithuania who has made these all her life:
Below are some examples of my heavy handmade paper (in whites and yellows) that I embossed with the fish design and some that I painted with paper pulp. To emboss the paper, I made the fish design with hot glue trails (using the hot glue gun) on a large sheet of soft thick pellon that became my embossing plate. (This is a great technique for making embossing plates, BTW… and you could use mat board, also): No picture until I find that plate!
Last look at the wax applicator tools: Electric, (left), modern plastic handle with brass bowl(centre) and traditional copper bowl(right). Various sizes of little pipes trail thin, medium or thick lines of wax, as needed.
Next post: Some extras about the Chinese Thread Books that I showed you last time; and the indoor indigo garden