By Karl B. Hille, The Winchester Star
Winchester, Virginia, Thursday, April 1, 2004
The miniature brass funnel drops a thin line of hot liquid wax across the
curve of the room-temperature egg.
Repeated heating over a candle and occasional dipping into a cake of soft
beeswax keeps the "kistka," or stylus, flowing, as careful hands trace
minute patterns on the shell.
In the basement of Belle Grove Plantation Manor House, director Elizabeth
McClung offered her volunteers and staff a special treat. She taught about a
dozen workers and a few friends the art of Ukrainian Easter egg dyeing or
"I learned it about 30 years ago from a friend who taught me how to do it,"
McClung said. "Our opening day, April 3, is our Easter egg hunt. This is
just something for the adult volunteers to get them ready for the season."
(Photos By Ginger Perry)
Initially, wax is drawn on white eggs, preserving that un-dyed color through
what will become repeated dippings into brilliantly-hued dyes.
Uncooked eggs are used, as cooking can eliminate the oils in the shell that
are essential to bond with the dye.
After white lines are marked off, the egg is dipped in the lightest color,
usually yellow. Once it reaches the desired saturation it is carefully
Then it's back to the wax and stylus to block off the yellow areas for
It is important to keep the stylus perpendicular to the egg surface, so that
the entire mouth of the funnel touches the egg. According to the manual
"Ukrainian Easter Eggs" by Yaroslava Surmach, this ensures a smooth, even
flow of wax from the "kistka."
Some decorators may keep several "kistky" of different sizes handy: a
needle-tip for fine lines, or wider tips for thick lines or filling in
As darker colors are applied, they cancel out the paler colors beneath,
wherever they have not been preserved by wax.
The only exceptions are green and blue, which can dull or darken other
colors. These, especially green, are usually applied with a brush or cotton
swab on the white egg, then preserved with wax before dipping in other
Traditional designs often divide the eggs up into quadrants, then into
smaller spaces which can be decorated by animal or plant figures or
geometric shapes like stars or spirals.
The Winchester Star, Winchester, Virginia
For beginners, getting the lines to match up can be tricky.
"I'm doing pretty good with the front side, but the back side doesn't want
to line up," said Brenda Himelright. "So that's when you have to improvise."
Regulating flow of wax can be tricky as well, participants said.
"It takes practice so you know how long to leave it ("kistka") in the
flame," said volunteer Mary Ellen Gross.
Too hot, and the "kistka" can drop uncontrolled globs of wax on the egg. Too
cool and the wax will only grudgingly trickle out.
Gross had bought her own batiked eggs while vacationing in Hungary, but
after trying out the workshop under McClung's instruction she said she would
buy a kit of her own.
"I'm an artist, so I think I'll do it again," she said.
She sketched a floral design in bright green and purple on her egg.
The final color to be applied is usually a dark red, dark blue, violet, or
Once the wax is melted off, the eggs can be finished with a thinned shellac.
They are not meant to be eaten, McClung said, and in time the egg will dry
"I'm anxious to wipe it off and see what it's going to be," said Susie
Drummond after finishing her last dye.
She then melted the wax off her egg holding it close to the same candle she
used to heat the beeswax. Polishing it with a paper towel, she revealed a
mostly purple egg with multi-colored flower petals.
A part-time gift shop attendant, Drummond said a lot of the docents and
staff get a kick out of being introduced to hobbies like this.
"I think we all kind of laugh about how many crafts we've got going on at
one time," she said.
Kits like the one McClung used can be ordered from Surma The Ukrainian
Shop in New York City by visiting the Web page at www.surmastore.com or
by calling 212- 477-0729 for a catalog.
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