I was delighted to hear from Nan Bosler who once taught my then primary age school children the art of photography and various other forms of art. Nan must have been a great teacher as my son is now a professional photographer and my daughter an artist. Nan shares the history of Easter eggs and how to make and decorate your own.
Story & photographs (not Faberge eggs) by Nan Bosler
The mass produced, chocolate eggs that children eagerly look forward to at Easter time have a very meaningful and colourful place in the story of people and their hopes. The oldest known decorated egg was painted in China more than 2,750 years ago. Included in its decoration was a blue butterfly – a symbol of happiness. There are also records of decorated eggs being found in Germany dating from the fourth century AD.
The custom of giving decorated eggs was well established in China more than 700 years before the birth of Christ. A chieftain of that era accumulated a supply of painted eggs and gave them to friends and neighbours. Early Persian history also tells of the custom of giving eggs as gifts at the beginning of the Religious Year each spring. Travellers gave eggs, dyed in different colours or decorated with gold to everyone they met.
The people of Europe were dependent upon the earth for their living and it became a custom to give neighbours and friends eggs dyed with vegetable dyes and decorated by scratching with flints or sharpened bones and would represent the giver’s wish of good crops (a sheaf of wheat), or fertility (a chicken), or good weather (a sun), etc. At this stage of history decorations were symbolic rather than artistic. The people of this age were very superstitious; for instance the wife would painstakingly decorate eggs with sheaves of wheat which her farmer husband would plant at the beginning and end of each row of seed in the hope of a good crop.
Before Christianity the sun, earth and air were worshipped as the givers of life and eggs were exchanged at the time of the pagan spring festival. Red was always the most prominent colour as it represented, blood, love or victory.
The custom of giving eggs as gifts has continued but for millions the Trinity has replaced the triangle of sun, earth and air and the pagan spring festival has been replaced by Easter. The eggs now symbolise new life. The early Christian Church adapted some of the ancient pagan customs. Pope Paul V drew up a ritual for Great Britain. Eggs were blessed by a local priest, the eggs were then used as holy gifts beneficial to both the giver and the receiver.
A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist (batik) method. They are given to family, friends and neighbours as gifts. The word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, “to write”, as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax.
Krashanky eggs are another important Easter tradition. Unlike pysanka you can eat krashanky because they are hard boiled. They are dyed one bright colour. Those who observe Lent or the Easter Fast often eat a small amount of plain food rather than completely give up food and on Easter Sunday the fast is broken by eating krashanky. After the eggs have been blessed at church the families return home and the father removes the shell from a krashanky egg and cuts it into pieces and the whole family eats part of it. This ends the fast.
A traditional German Easter table would not be complete without Easter bread.Osterbrot enjoys a tradition in Germany that goes back to the Middle Ages. Easter bread can be either savory or sweet, depending on regional and personal preference. There are many different recipes. The traditional Osterbrot, however, is sweet and served fresh from the oven with breakfast or afternoon coffee. It is usually braided into a wreath.
One of the oldest recipes comes from the Upper Franconian region (Bavaria) and is baked with nuts and fruit. There are many recipes on the internet. I found mine at http://germanyonyourmind.com/tag/osterkranz/
Some of the most famous Easter Eggs were created by Peter Faberge, who was commissioned by the last reigning Tzar of Russia to create “the most beautiful Easter Egg’ for the Tzarina. This commission was to continue for about 20 years. The eggs created by Faberge were actually cast from precious metals, inlaid with enamelling and encrusted with jewels and are world famous. The majority are on display in Moscow and Leningrad. Each of his eggs was hinged, often lined with satin, sometimes even containing a miniature working model. One such egg contains a model train complete to the finest detail. Yet another was cut and hinged in such a way that when open it formed a pansy, each petal painted with a portrait of each of the Tzar’s five children. The pansy stands in a crystal vase of crystal water.
While not in the class of Faberge most of the eggs on this plate are collectables made by Wedgewood. The little bunny keeps guard.
This craft can be time consuming and exacting or relatively simple and quick. It can be appropriate and satisfying to all age groups and perfect to do with your children or grandchildren. Old clothes or aprons are recommended!
The material you will need for a variety of decorations for your eggs are simple and inexpensive. Read through all the directions to see which of the following items you are going to require.
Vinegar, Salt, Old saucepan,Fabric dye or crepe paper (you can colour 4 eggs with 1 roll of crepe paper.)
Craft knife, nailfile or scriber (ie. anything with a sharp point),Paints, felt pens, Old candles
Pieces of ribbon, lace or braid, Craft glue, Paper towels, Clear lacquer
Lots of newspapers (to reduce the cleaning up time!) Plus IMAGINATION.
Step 1: Check the eggs you are going to use to make sure that the shells aren’t cracked and avoid any with mottled shells.
Step 2: Before starting any decorating you must clean your eggs. Place the egg or eggs in vinegar for a few minutes, remove and rub all over with salt. Wipe away any salt and your egg is ready to use. This process removes the natural grease from the egg shell to allow the dye to work properly.
Step 3: Many decorated eggs commence with a coloured background, to achieve this the egg is boiled gently in dye.
Fabric dye is very successful but natural dyes are rather exciting. For a lovely yellow boil your egg or eggs with onion skins, or, for brown use strong tea. Any natural materials used to dye wool or cloth can be used. A torn up roll of crepe paper will produce enough dye for up to 4 eggs. [dyes specially for eggs are obtainable from some food sores.]
Boil gently for half an hour then remove from saucepan, blot off excess dye with paper towels and leave to cool. Now you have a collection of brightly coloured eggs which can be left as they are or further decorated.
I’d avoid letting young children try this method.
Hold the egg securely in the palm of one hand and with a sharp metal instrument (scriber, nail file, craft knife etc.) scratch your design onto the egg shell, taking care to scratch through the dye but not through the shell. The design will appear white. If highlights are required extra colour can be added by using ordinary water colour paints.
The egg in the picture was decorated using this method in about 1983 and this photo was taken in January 2016.
Felt Pen Decoration
While you are scratching your design your young participants can happily be decorating their eggs with felt tipped pens or crayons. It is an easy method for them to add names or faces too.
Melt your old candles in a tin standing in a saucepan of boiling water (now you know why you didn’t throw away those stubs of candles!) and apply a design in wax with a fine paint brush or wooden skewer. The wax will set almost immediately and the egg is then dyed for about half an hour. This time use cold water dye so that the wax won’t melt at the wrong time! When complete he colour covered by wax will remain the same while the rest of the egg will be coloured by the dye bath. This wax and dye procedure can be repeated up to five times but you must always use lighter colours first and finish with darker colours. Remove the wax layers after the final dye bath.
Small flowers, leaves, grasses or cut-outs are arranged on the surface of a cleaned egg and held in place by a piece of nylon stocking tightly tied at both ends of the egg. Gently boil in dye for half an hour, remove egg from dye and allow to dry and cool. When the stocking and stencil/s are removed the imprint of the leaves or whatever you used are in the original colour and the rest of the egg has taken on the colour of the last dye bath.
Your plain dyed eggs can be quickly decorated by glueing on ribbon, braid, straw, yarn, sequins or pieces of paper lace doyleys (try silver or gold ones).
Final step for all of your decorated eggs
When you have finished all your eggs spay hem with clear lacquer. It gigs a high gloss and helps to preserve the eggs which should last for about 100 years, if the shell remains uncracked. Raw or blown eggs can also be used for these various forms of decoration but boiled eggs are easier to start with.