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EASTER EGGS AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THEM

You're never too old or too young to join in the fun of decorating eggs. I am happy to say that although my children are all adults, living in their own homes, we still get together to dye Easter eggs every spring. The fun of it is that, regardless of their schedules, they make time to continue the tradition started when they were toddlers.

Decorating eggs is one of the most forgiving processes. Whether you simply dunk a hard-boiled egg in one dye color, or decide to double- or triple-dip one egg to form stripes or some other organized patterns, you know that the creative process will be satisfying, regardless of your artistic skill or the amount of time available.

I'm always looking for one more way to decorate eggs, and was recently searching for a less traditional use for decorated eggs. I came up with the idea of using the eggs themselves to build a little topiary. With the availability of the cold-water dyes in attractive colors, I was convinced I could create a pleasing table decoration that I would be proud to use year-round. The featured topiary was my satisfying answer.

The only challenge was figuring out a way to stack the decorated eggs without creating an inevitable avalanche when trying to stack and glue the eggs in a tall mound. Hard-boiled eggs were out; they were too heavy, and when placed in a natural stack, they were balanced too precariously. One bump into the pyramid shape and they would come tumbling down, ruining the decoration. To avoid this problem, I decided to empty the eggs first to reduce their weight; then I could stack and glue the eggs into a mound of substantial height without worrying about the stability of the construction.

This part of the process is easy, but does require some stamina. I blew out each of the eggs over a kitchen sink, allowing the egg yolks and whites to wash down the drain with the running water.

Once the eggs were blown out, I dunked them in different shades of dye, let them dry and then attached them in rows to a mound of foam. I concealed the holes at the ends of the eggs using tiny silk flowers. If you prefer, you can glue a bead or paper circle over the egg holes. You can fill in between the eggs using silk leaves.

This project is satisfying on many levels: It is permanent in that you can display your topiary year round without worrying about the eggs spoiling. And if you want to create a family heirloom, this little topiary will be the perfect place to save your children's art for years to come.

Estimated working time: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

Estimated cost: $15 (plus basket)

Sources: Wire basket, recycled fruit basket (if new, $8 to $10); 5 dozen eggs, $6.70; PAAS Easter egg dye, $1.39; vinegar, 49 cents; silk flowers, 89 cents; dry foam, 50 cents; sheet moss, $2.29; ribbon, $2.29; floral staples, 59 cents; hot glue sticks, 50 cents.

Materials

To make one egg topiary, you will need:

Wire basket (or any basket without handle, as desired)

5 dozen eggs

Cold-water egg dye: pink, blue and yellow

Vinegar

Knife (with sharp point)

2 stems silk foliage with flower clusters

6 blocks dry foam

Sheet moss

feathers

1 1/2 yards ribbon

Floral staples

Hot glue gun and glue sticks

3 bowls (for dye)

Teaspoon

Optional: hay

Directions

1. To prepare eggs, blow out contents of each egg as follows: Use the sharp point of the knife to tap a small bead-size hole in the top and bottom of the egg; hold egg up to your mouth and over a sink and blow through the top hole so that the contents exit the bottom hole; rinse the egg thoroughly under warm tap water, making certain that the yolk and white residue is washed off its surface; set the egg upright in the original carton; allow to dry.

2. Follow the package directions to make three colors of dye, placing each color in a separate bowl.

3. Submerge the hollowed egg in the dye, gently resting a teaspoon on top of the shell to hold the egg under the surface until the desired color is achieved.

4. Place dyed egg in carton; let dry.

5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 to dye remaining eggs.

6. To prepare the basket, line it using moss, pressing sheet against wire.

7. Fill the basket with blocks of dry foam, securing them together using floral staples.

8. Build a mound of dry foam above the rim of the basket, stacking and pinning blocks until desired height is reached. (Featured: Dry foam is 10 inches above the rim of the basket.)

9. Optional: Use hot glue to secure hay and feathers to dry foam at the rim of the basket.

10. To sculpt mound into a pyramid, use a knife to shave away foam until desired shape is achieved.

11. To attach the eggs to the foam, dab the hot glue to the bottom of the egg shell, quickly and gently pressing egg against foam.

12. Continue working around basket rim, mixing colors and placing eggs as close to one another as possible until the eggs form a row.

13. Secure remaining eggs to the mound in rows until all the dry foam is concealed.

14. To fill in bare spaces, hot-glue single leaves in between the eggs.

15. To conceal end holes in eggs, use hot glue to attach a single flower over the hole; repeat for all eggs.

16. To finish, tie a ribbon around the basket, finishing with a bow and allowing streamers to cascade down.