If you expect Ola Harbison to decorate her Easter eggs with water-based coloring kits or other easy-to-do methods, then take a hop back down the bunny trail.
The 86-year-old woman hasn't used store-brought Easter egg dyes and paints in years and she's not about to start now. Instead of buying them at department stores, Harbison searches local Goodwill shops for materials to decorate her eggs.The Reidsville woman colors her Easter eggs with dye from 100 percent silk men's neckties, a method that probably predates any other egg decorating technique, she noted recently.
``It probably started in the early 1900s,' Harbison said. ``But I've never heard of anybody around here using it and nobody I've come in contact with in Rockingham County had heard about it. It's an old, old craft that I would like to see revived or remembered.'
Harbison's eggs are definitely something to brood over.
Briefly, she cuts bright silk ties into little pieces, covers eggs with the fabric and boils them. During the boiling stage, the dye from the fabric permeates the eggshells, producing exquisite designs. After a cooling process, the eggs are painted with clear fingernail polish for a shiny appearance.
``Though it takes patience, it's a lot cheaper than buying dyes in the store because you can find the ties at the Salvation Army for about 25 cents apiece,' said Harbison. ``But you have to make sure they are pure silk because the dye won't come out of synthetic materials.' The patterns she creates the old-fashioned way are more elegant than those achieved by the paint-and-dye technique, said Harbison.
``These look a lot like porcelain eggs,' she said, while sitting at her kitchen table and holding up several eggs she had decorated the day before.
On the table were two shoe box lids filled with small pieces of silk material in all colors, shapes, sizes and designs, including plaids, stripes and polka dots.
``The louder the colors on the ties, the prettier the eggs,' said Harbison.
Also lying on the table were neckties she hadn't cut yet. One wide tie, covered with green and orange polka dots, looked like part of a clown's outfit.
``A friend of mine saw this and said, 'You know no man ever wore that.' I told her someone did,' said Harbison, laughing.
The colorful eggs Harbison creates are not used in Easter egg hunts but are given as gifts during the spring holiday. The keepsake eggs can be used year after year and add nice touches to a table or mantel, she said.
``They will last as long as porcelain eggs if you don't squeeze and break them,' she remarked.
Several months ago, Harbison got a surprise when a friend accidentally cracked an egg she had designed 10 years ago.
``I was just showing it to her and she just grabbed it too tight,' said Harbison. ``We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw the yolk inside had turned to glass over the years. We wondered what's in the dye to cause that effect.'
Harbison's friend has sent the egg yolk to her grandson, who is a chemist living in the Midwest. ``We're anxious to hear what he has to say about it,' said Harbison.
It was in 1979, during a trip to New York City to visit her son, attorney James W. Harbison Jr., that Harbison learned how to dye eggs with silk ties. She met two elderly sisters who explained the craft to her.
``I've always been fascinated with anything artistic. So I came straight home and made a few of the eggs,' said Harbison. ``The biggest thrill of all was to see how the materials stuck to the eggs.'
Since learning the method, Harbison has taught several of her friends in Reidsville. In April, she plans to demonstrate the method to some women at Main Street United Methodist Church, where she is a member.
Harbison, the widow of J.W. Harbison, a former administrator at Annie Penn Memorial Hospital, has two adult children. While they were growing up she used to accent eggs with store-brought materials such as opaque markers, cut-outs and decals.
Not only has her decorating style changed over the years but so has her perspective on Easter.
``People should enjoy egg decorating and add personal touches. This technique gives you that chance,' she said.
Yet Harbison is afraid many young people will find the old craft too time-consuming.