Theresa Child, pictured below, has been making Polish pisanki, or the wax-resist method of decorating Easter eggs, for 50 years. She learned this art from her grandmother, Ludwika Jasiak, who decorated in the style of her village, Kakolowka, near the city of Rzeszów in southeastern Poland. Every region of Poland and every family in Poland has its own unique style of decorating eggs.
A Labor of Love
For Child, it only takes 30 minutes to make one finished pisanki egg, but she's had 50 years of practice. It's a labor of love and a dying art that she wants to perpetuate by teaching it to those willing to learn. Child shares with us how she was taught to make pisanki.
The Pisanki Method
Child uses a one-wax/one-dye method to make her pisanki Easter eggs. While she has made pisanki using several wax and dye applications, this is the easiest to learn. Once you become adept at this, you can progress to more elaborate designs. The basic premise is that dye will not reach the places where you have placed wax on the egg. If you put wax on a white egg and then dye it, the portions of the eggshell protected under the wax will stay white.
Equipment / Tools
- Stove, hot plate, or candle warmer
- Bowls for dye
- Cooling rack or bottle caps
- Small jar lid
- Large jar lid
- Straight pins
- Pencils with erasers
- Ukrainian pisanki egg dyes
- Matches or lighter
- Soft cloth or paper towels
Melt the Beeswax
Child carefully melts pure beeswax in a small jar lid inside a larger jar lid over low heat on a heating element like a kitchen stove, hot plate, or candle warmer. Before being heated, the beeswax is a lovely golden color. Beeswax darkens as it's heated, which makes it easier to see your designs as you work.
Candle wax can't be used because it's too soft and wouldn't hold the design. Beeswax is available in many places, including craft stores and health food stores.
Make an Applicator
In Poland, Child's grandmother used a twig pushed into the end of a pencil eraser to transfer melted beeswax to an egg to create pisanki. When she came to America, she improvised by sticking a straight pin into a pencil eraser. "I have heard my tool loosely referred to as a pisak," notes Child.
The size of the pinhead you use in the pencil determines the width of the wax line you create on the egg.
Apply Beeswax to the Egg
Use the pencil to dip the head of the straight pin into the hot wax. Apply the wax immediately to the egg, rolling the egg to draw the desired line instead of moving the pin. This is known as the drop-pull method of Polish pisanki. The wax just rolls off the straight pin. "That's why a steady hand isn't as important as one might think," Child notes.
Eggs can be hard-cooked or blown, but they must be at room temperature, otherwise, the wax won't adhere to the shell.
Dye the Egg
The egg is now ready to be dyed. Dip an egg into dye, and follow the directions as to how long it should sit in the bath. Pisanki dye may be stronger and more potent than typical food coloring.
Child only applies the wax and color one time. More intricate designs can be achieved by waxing and dying an egg several times. For more complex designs, start layering waxes and dyes with light-color dyes, and then progress to the darkest colors.
The dye Child uses for her eggs is Ukrainian. It's available from online retailers specializing in pisanki egg kits.
Dry the Egg Before Removing Wax
While the melted wax dries almost on contact with the egg, the egg must dry completely after being dipped in the dye. Child uses a drying rack made from a piece of plywood with a series of nails hammered in, but you can use a cookie cooling rack or even bottle caps to stand the eggs up while drying.
Reveal the Design
Child removes the wax from her pisanki Easter eggs by holding the egg over a lit candle to melt it off. She then rubs it off with a soft cloth or paper towel, resulting in a shiny, beautiful egg.
Some pisanki egg makers dip their eggs in mineral spirits, which is a paint thinner, to remove the wax.
Finished Pisanki Eggs
Child typically doesn't sell her eggs, unless it's for nonprofit cultural events, such as the Polish American Cultural Society of Northwest Indiana's fairs. Child says her grandmother would begin making pisanki on Ash Wednesday, and, by the time she was done, she would have decorated 40 to 50 dozen eggs.
More Pisanki Designs
Here are more examples of Child's one-dye pisanki eggs. She uses hard-cooked eggs and says they will keep forever as long as they're not cracked. "We have one my grandmother made 40 years ago that's in perfect condition. If you shake it, the remnants of the egg sound like a marble rolling around inside," Child says.