Aniline Dyes


There are a wide variety of aniline dyes available to the pysanka maker, although most do not take full advantage of this embarrassment of riches.  Our predecessors, who had to collect large amounts of plant material, boil it down, strain it, and sometimes add mordants (alum), simply to get a palette of three of four colors, would be incredibly envious of what we have available to us today.

The commercially available pysanka dyes (those packaged and sold to be used specifically for dyeing pysanky) profiled on the following pages are these:

                                Surma Dyes

                                UGS Dyes

                                Egg-Cessories Dyes

                                Pysanky Showcase Dyes

                                Wax Art Supply Dyes

                                Ukrainian Pysanka Dyes

Additionally, I’ve included information about fabric dyes from these companies:

                                Jacquard Acid Dyes

                                Dharma Acid Dyes

                                Cushing Acid Dyes

                                Ukrainian Wool Dyes

Aniline dyes became commercially available to the pysanka maker at least in the early 1950s, when the Surmach family began packaging and selling them in their shop (Surma) in New York City. Others may have sold them even earlier, but I have no knowledge of this (if you do please notify me at the link below).  I remember buying small white packets of dye from the Ukrainian Graduates when they would hold pysanka classes at my church in the 1960s; these dyes were packaged by the Wichorek family of Detroit.

Pysanka dyes and styluses were available, in those days, mostly through Ukrainian shops, with the selection being quite seasonal.  I began buying the UGS dyes in the 1970s locally, and then discovered their catalog service when their book “Eggs Beautiful” came out. 

I used the UGS dyes almost exclusively until fairly recently, as they were he ones sold in most shops, and UGS was my catalog connection.  The internet, however, opened up many new sources of dyes for me, including the Egg-Cessories dyes from British Columbia, Patty Wisczuk’s huge collection of dyes at Pysanky Showcase, and the new dyes from Wax Art Supply in Michigan.

Recently, as I’ve begun to learn more about dyes, I have purchased and plan to experiment with, a huge number of new colors of dye from Dharma (acid dyes meant for silk and wool).  And Vira Manko gave me a small set of Ukrainian wool dyes which I have been using, with variable results–some of the colors are incredible, others don’t work at all.

Thanks to all this experimentation, this is what my dye table looked like in 2009 (it’s worse now):


Mind you, these are only the main colors–yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, light blues, greens and blacks (and the number of jars on the table has increased some 50% since this photo was taken). The big jar* on the left is my orange rinse (discarded batches of UGS orange are added regularly), and off to the right are a few less common colors that have been brought out for a particular pysanka, and which I used to store in my 3-drawer dye cabinet when not in use:

Well. I quickly outgrew that set of drawers; there wasn’t that much space, and the drawers were just barely deep enough for the jars.  I also found that the weight of the dyes was causing the bottom of the drawers to bow a bit, and felt it was time to find a new (and sturdier) storage solution. The cabinet was repurposed to storing cartons of eggshells and wax melting supplies.

I now store the “specialty” (less frequently used and custom mixed) colors in two legal-sized two-drawer file cabinets (hanging folder type).  Each drawer can hold my dye containers (Zip-Lock screw-top jars) three across and five deep. The drawers are deep enough to store one quart and one pint jar (stacked), or three pint jars. I can potentially store up to 180 jars this way.

(*I’ve given up on the big jar, too, as it was a bit difficult getting the eggs in and out safely through the narrow opening. I use regular Zip-Loc jars.)

On later pages, I will try to include information about the various commercial dyes I have tried and used on my pysanky.

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Commercially Available Dyes