Pysanky Toronto retreat

The 3-day pysanky retreat in Toronto is now over, it’s been a wonderful experience, amazing people, new friendships, exquisite art, ingenious craft, and the atmosphere full of inspiration, which, I’m sure, will last for a while. If you have an interest in decorating eggs, whether traditional, or contemporary, you have to come next year! (Possibly in June). Whether you are new at this, or you have been doing it for years, you will learn a lot.

Now, this is the only egg I managed to do, I just enjoyed too much seeing what others are doing, chatting, learning…

I was asked to do a presentation on natural dyes, and that in itself was a wonderful experience for me. I felt welcomed and very much encouraged, there is a lot of interest and desire to use natural dyes on eggs. I also made brought a set of 6 dyes, and even though natural dyes require much more time than chemical ones, they are very unpredictable, and some of them did not want to cooperate, several people tried them. By next time I think I will figure out a more cooperating set of dyes, and that will probably make a difference.

Gold – coreopsis extract, brown – combination of dried sappan wood dye and logwood extract dye. Chicken egg.

Logwood dye finally tamed?

I love these kinds of patterns from the North-East of Ukrainian ethnic territories, this area is now in Russia, and this is where one of my great-grandfathers was killed during World War II. These are so earthy and so sky-ey at the same time. I sometimes think, if birds were to make pysanky (the decorated eggs), this of what they would look like. Maybe it’s the abundance of pine-branch motif, that look so much like feathers. They also remind me the patters of native Americans.

The dyes: yellow is probably buckthorn (though maybe still weld? When you make and throw out 3 yellow dyes in 10 days, things become a bit confusing). The red is sappan wood. Then things became somewhat complicated. I was going for dark brown and put it into walnut, but it actually managed to eat out the darker red and gave me quite light brick-brown.

I didn’t mind the color, but for this egg preferred it to be traditional rather than experimental, so the egg waited for about a week till I made logwood. This time, as also previously, logwood on other eggs was coming off with wax, so I made an experiment. After logwood was dark enough, I let the egg dry, and next day put it back into sappan wood hoping the the coat of another dye will keep the logwood from pealing off (that seemed to have worked OK with the dark purple egg in the previous post). Voila! Seems to have worked just fine. Now let’s hope the logwood dye doesn’t spoil before I want to use it again – I have to make new yellow, and possibly also new red, and I used up all of the logwood extract I had left from my first purchase of natural dyes few years ago.

Here’s another take, where you can see the side-band also.

Grandma’s style

Here is a different technique of drawing with wax on eggs. My grandma, who taught me to draw on eggs used to do these with a simple matchstick, while heating wax in a tin on the stove. I haven’t done this for probably 25 years (first attempts look a bit shaky), finally decided to try again. Not with a matchstick, but with a thing they call here drop pull tool, but who knows, now that I figured out the other components of the process, I might even try the matchstick again.

This technique comes from a very special region of Western Ukraine, Lemkiwshchyna, mainly in present-day Poland (and perhaps also partially Slovakia). It is a very tragic place, and very special place, that has been robbed of its people during and after the second word war, it had its own dialect that was very different than others, its own amazing sings, and its own manner of drawing on eggs, of course, among other things. My grandma grew up there, her father was a priest and was sent there to serve, and lived there still for a few years after marriage. My grandfather’s plan, who was also a priest, was to immigrate to US, and the tickets for the ship were already bought, but apparently my aunt got sick, and grandma refused to take a sick baby sailing across the ocean. That chance was lost and they ended up moving to the Soviet Union in the middle of the war. Even though originally we are not “from” there, my grandma’s best years were spent there and she loved the place very much and gladly shared the memories, stories, and these kinds of eggs as well.

Here, above, is the tool I used for these. This is a thick one, I have also some thinner ones somewhere in the box, I will probably explore those next time. You dip the head of this “pin” into liquid hot wax, and draw these elongated drops on the egg surface.

And here, below, the oil-heating thingy I used for heating the wax. It’s quite convenient. Someone gave it to me as a gift a while ago, and I was saving it actually for this purpose. I wasn’t sure whether a tea light candle would keep the wax hot enough, but it does.

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Now, the dyes.

The beige one is black walnut on its own. I’ve used this dye few years before, and it’s a bit strange – thick and dark brown, almost like molasses, but it doesn’t absorb well into the egg shell. Almost like henna, which gave very disappointing results. This one is more interesting though, because it seems to have the capacity to lighten the darker egg, which could be useful if one wants to use incompatible colors on the same egg. I’ll show this to you later on another egg.

The pink, or maybe scarlet is a few weeks old sappan wood dye. I wasn’t so pink in the beginning, maybe the dye is wearing out, and maybe it became a bit more sour since a few eggs have been in vinegar baths. When used on fabric, this dye apparently can change from orange and warm red all the way to crimson and even purplish. when the Ph is changed. So maybe this is what happened…

The reddish-brown is walnut over sappan wood.

The purplish-maroon is sappan wood over logwood. I played with logwood last lear a bit, there is already a post somewhere earlier about it, what I have noticed today is that while on its own logwood does not like to adhere to the shell, looks powdery and easily comes off with wax, overdoing with another dye, in this case sappan wood, helps the color stick to the egg, and saves it from wiping off with wax. I’ll play more with this and will probably show more eggs.

Now, both (or rather all three) of my yellow dyes have died, the seem to spoil very fast, I was quite disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to use buckthorn more, but I just received an order of my favourite coreopsis extract. It’s a different make, so I’m not quite sure whether it will work, but I guess we will see :).

Roger.

Logwood dye (extract)

Logwood is and old dye (apparently it’s been used for dyeing since 16th century). It is supposed to give a range of colors from blue and purple to black. I got sort of dark brown with the addition of alum and chalk.


I found the dye to be not particularly eager, maybe it doesn’t like eggs so much. It also comes off easily when the wax is being taken off with candle. That, however, I have noticed with a number of natural dyes, that you have to be much more careful and gentle when taking off the wax, than with chemical dyes. So I often add much more wax before taking it off to seal the whole surface of the egg. Another thing I noticed is that the natural dyes seem to burn much easier than the chemical ones, that is, also when the wax is taken off with the candle.

UPD: To help set the logwood dye in other eggs, I have over-dyed them with another dye (in that case red sappan wood). While the egg remained almost black, the powdery surface of logwood was nicely sealed, and the issue of the dye coming off with wax has been resolved.

To see other eggs dyed with logwood, use logwood tag.