Preparation:

Eggs

 
 

If you want to economize, do not do so with the eggs.  The quality of the egg is a major determinant of how well your students’ pysanky will turn out.  A nice healthy egg with a thick shell and unmarred cuticle will absorb dye well and produce a beautifully colored pysanka.  A cheap egg with a thin, bumpy, creased shell which has been mechanically processed may result in a blotchy or striped egg with poor, pastel dye adhesion which cracks or leaks easily.


Sources

If you haven’t got your own flock of chooks laying in your own henhouse, you will need to find a good source of eggs.  Ordinary store bought eggs might be good, but it’s hard to tell by looking at them.  If you want to try eggs from your local grocery, buy a dozen, wash them in your usual fashion, and then dye one or two to see how well the dye takes.  If you get a nice, solid darker color (but not black), the eggs will be OK. (Black will give a nice, dark even finish on even the worst of eggs; it’s better to test with dark red, royal blue, or some other darker color.)

Other options include buying organic, free range chicken eggs.  These can be much more pricey, but this comes out to only 10 to 20 cents more per egg.  This is a moot point most of the time, as, at least in the US, almost all organic eggs being sold are of the brown variety.  If you do find organic white eggs, watch out for those that have the brand stamped on them in ink–it is very difficult to remove, and can interfere with designs.

One good source of such eggs is Trader Joe’s, which sells both white and brown cage-free eggs at a very reasonable price.  I’ve had good luck with them.

Asking around can sometimes get you the name of an egg seller in your area. Keep your eyes peeled when driving in the outskirts of a city or in the countryside–many sellers don’t advertise, except with a roadside sign.  Searching Craigslist, or even placing an ad there, can give good results, too.  If you do find a seller, ask them to simply rinse the eggs with a bit of water, and do no more cleaning than that.  Harsh detergents or scrubbing can damage the cuticle of the egg.


Sizes

The bigger an egg is, the thinner (relatively) its shell will be. I like to use either medium or large eggs in my class.  Jumbo eggs usually have very thin shells, and those of extra large eggs aren’t very strong, either.  This is particularly true with commercial grocery store eggs.

It has been my experience, too, that bigger eggs tend to be more irregular, with more bumps and creases on there surface.  I consider myself lucky if I can use half of a dozen of large eggs for pysankarstvo.  With medium eggs, int’s more like three fourths, and, with small chicken eggs, I rarely have to divert any directly to the kitchen.

For very young students (preschool and kindergarten), I will bring medium or even small eggs.  It is easier for them to hold a smaller eggs, and easier to finish an egg before their attention wanes, as there is less surface to write on.


Selecting

If you have an amenable seller, you can often have them set aside the smoother eggs for you from their supply.  People who are buying eggs to eat don’t care if they are bumpy or not, but you do.  Similarly, if you have an understanding grocery store, you can triage your eggs, switching out the really bad ones for more useable one, there in the refrigerator section of the store. 

Either way, you need to carefully examine your eggs, and only select those which have no cracks or serious surface flaws.  If the eggs are dirty, wash them before assessing them. 

First, candle the eggs (examine them in front of a powerful light source) to look for cracks or weak spots.  Set those eggs aside, and use them only for cooking.

Second, assess the surface for surface irregularities, bumps and creases.  How selective you are going to be depends on what the eggs will be used for.  If you are going to be teaching a bunch of kindergartners, moderately bumpy eggs are fine. If the students are older beginners, a few bumps might be OK, but try to minimize them.  If you will be teaching advanced students, try to have as few bumps as possible.  (It has been my experience that eggs are bumpiest in the spring, and get smoother later in the year.)

Third, check the shape of the egg.  Discard any irregularly shaped or asymmetric eggs. Eggs that are regular but oddly shaped (very long or very round) may be fun to work with at home, but are not well suited to the classroom.  Choose nice, ovoid, symmetric eggs.

Fourth, look at the surface, assessing the finish and pores.  A satin-like finish is best, and will usually absorb dye nicely.  A shiny surface may not.  Avoid eggs with deep pores, selecting for those with small, barely visible pores.

Lastly, pay attention to any discoloration of the shell.  Oddly colored eggs (e.g. blue or green Araucanas) may be fun to work with, but might result in strange colors, and are best avoided in class (especially in beginners classes). Eggs with small discolored patches should be avoided as well, for these patches might dye poorly and ruin the symmetry of the pysanka.


Preparing

Eggs should be prepared as much as possible before class, so that valuable class time is not wasted in cleaning them or waiting for them to come to room temperature. After you have selected the eggs you will be using, you need to

  1. 1.Wash the eggs.  I use Ivory dish soap, because it is gentle.  Place the eggs, a few at a time, into a dishpan with soapy water.  Gently rub each egg with your fingers, and then rinse it off in clear water.  If any stains remain (as might with farm fresh eggs), use a Scotch-Brite type scrubber and some soapy water to gently scrub away the stains, and then rinse.

  2. 2.Dry the eggs.  I set them out on an absorbent dish towel, and let them dry off. I spread them out, in a single layer, not touching (not like in the photo at the top of the page). You can also use a soft dishcloth to pat them dry.  Do not rub harshly, as you might damage the cuticle.

  3. 3.Write a basic division on the egg with pencil.  I use a number 2 pencil and my craft lathe to write an eight division on each and every egg.  This saves me a lot of time during class, as much of it used to be spent helping my students write divisions.  I now only have to help them with penciling in a star, or some more complicated division.  Additionally, my students find it easier to write symmetric pysanky when the egg has already been divided for them.

                                                                  


  4. 4.Refrigerate the eggs, unless you are going to use them in the next day or two.  While refrigerating dyed eggs will cause them to sweat and the dyes to run, this is not an issue with pencil marks.

  5. 5.Bring the eggs to room temperature.  You should let them warm naturally to room temperature, preferable for a day or two before they will be used.  If the eggs are too cool, wax might not adhere properly.  In a pinch, they should warm for at least three hours.


Should you use emptied eggs in your classes?

It depends on the situation. I prefer to teach with full eggs–that is how I learned, and that is the traditional way of doing it.  I like the heft of a full egg in my hands.  And with full eggs you don’t have to worry about plugging eggs, plugs getting loose, dye leaking in and out–all of which are a hassle. You also don’t have to worry about weighing the eggs down properly in the dye; full eggs sink to the bottom of the jar and stay there. I normally take the eggs home, varnish them, empty them, and return them to students later.

But there are situations in which I will use emptied eggs.  If it is a “one-off” and I will not have a chance to see the students again, then I prefer emptied eggs.  Students finish their egg and take it home with them.  In this case a light coating of Vaseline will give a nice finish.  Alternatively, some people prefer a spray of fast-drying varnish.

The other is when teaching somewhere with limited facilities. At summer camp in Ukraine, I don’t have the supplies or set-up to properly varnish eggs before emptying them.  Emptying finished pysanky is a pain–if the egg gets on the shell, it can cause the colors to run.  And even though vaseline provide a nice finish, it makes the egg a bit slippery, not a good situation for drilling and trying to empty one.  In this case it is simpler to

How many eggs are needed?

It depends on the number of students in the class, their skill level, and the amount of time allotted for the class. 

I usually bring at least two eggs per student (to allow for breakage and mistakes), with a few extra in case there are more students than planned.  I would rather take unused eggs home than run out during a class.

Younger student are often finish writing pysanky more quickly, as they write simpler designs and more energetic. I will usually bring three eggs per young student, unless the class is very short. I have had younger students write three or four simple pysanky in a two hour session.

Older students usually write more intricate and complex designs, and spend more time per egg, so budgeting two will more than suffice.





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Selecting and Preparing the Eggs