A teacher at Northome High School has found a cultural and cost-effective project for her students during the Easter season.
Pysanky, more widely-known as Ukrainian Easter eggs, have been created in Libby Wickum’s Family and Consumer Science class for about 10 years. Its name, Pysanky, derives from the Ukrainian verb, pysaty, which means to write.
Wickum doesn’t remember how it started in the classroom, but she does recall seeing her grandmother’s eggs when she was younger even though her family has no Ukrainian history.
“When I was a little kid, my mom had a collection of them that she had gotten from her mom,” Wickum said. “I could just remember as little kids we used to sit and look at them and they were so pretty.”
The process of creating Ukrainian Easter eggs isn’t simple and takes Wickum’s class about a week and a half to two weeks to complete. She begins the project by explaining the history of the eggs and students will study what each color and pattern signifies.
For instance, red is the most meaningful and is symbolic of love and joy and the “hope of marriage.” Black symbolizes the “other world” but not in a negative sense.
Between that and the actual project, Wickum said that the students will spend a few days practicing with the tools.
The designing of the eggs begins with a light pencil sketch of the pattern onto the egg. The next step is to either dye the egg, starting with the lightest colors, or apply wax to the egg where it needs to stay white.
The egg dye is a little more extreme than what you would get in the average egg-dying kit. According to Wickum it will stain clothes, hands and any other material it touches and is also non-edible.
Wax is applied by using a tool called a kistka, which has a tiny tip that is dipped in wax and placed on the egg.
Once the wax is applied, the egg will go into the dye, which works much quicker than the usual. After removing the egg, more wax is applied to the areas that will remain the previous color. That process is repeated until the egg is complete.
“You need to kind of plan it,” Wickum said.
When the egg is done being dyed, it is placed over a candle for short period of time and the wax can be removed with a paper towel.
“The fun part is at the end when they get to take it all off and it just kind of pops out,” Wickum said.
This is also where some students ran into trouble by burning a hole in the egg, which creates a mess.
“We always lose a few,” Wickum said. “If it’s something they’ve been working on for a long time I’ll try to salvage a way to grade it anyway.”
After removing all of the wax, the students will poke a hole in both sides of the egg, one larger than the other. They will blow out the insides of the egg and wash it out with a mixture of vinegar and water and the holes can be repaired with more wax.
Eggs can also be mummified or left to dry out on the inside, which takes years to complete. Wickum said that’s how her grandmother’s eggs are. “If you shake them you can hear the little yoke rattles in there,” she said.
Wickum said that the project is also cost-effective. “You know schools are always kind of budget-conscious,” she said. “The supplies and stuff aren’t expensive.”
A basic pysanky kit can cost as low as $12, not counting the eggs.
“Ideally it would be nice to get the farm eggs because the shells are thicker and they’re more uniform in color,” Wickum said.
This year, she ended up getting the eggs from the grocery store because she couldn’t get ahold of any farm eggs.