Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, February 17, 2002



"Faberge Mosaic," at left, is a beaded creation modeled after Faberge eggs.

What an
egg-cellent idea!

A former "Air Force wife" goes
from hobbyist to egguery expert

By nancy arcayna

When it comes to eggs, most people think of scrambled, over easy or sunny side up. But, Eileen Tokita, also known as the "Egg Lady," creates a whole new paradigm in the world of eggs.

"Everywhere I go, I'm thinking about eggs. It could be paper or a design on a card that triggers an idea."

The eggs that Eileen Tokita works with range from tiny finch eggs to huge ostrich eggs.

It's all about making something out of nothing, she says.

Egguery is an ancient practice of turning a somewhat worthless eggshell into a precious treasure. The practice began in the 19th century when Carl Faberge created eggs for Czar Alexander III. Each egg was created with a special surprise inside.

"I don't do that many Faberge knock-offs anymore because they are so hard. It's mind-blowing that they are so intricate," said Tokita.

It all started when Tokita's husband told her to find a hobby to keep busy.

"I was a bored housewife. My husband was a fighter pilot in the Air Force. He was very traditional and wanted me to stay home, cook, keep a nice house and become a good hostess. That's what is important when you're an Air Force wife."

"Willis and Skeeter" would make an elegant conversation piece for Easter.

Tokita had gone to college and received a degree in social work.

"I started nightclub singing to work my way through college. I traveled all over with my own band. When I married, I had no idea that I would have to give it all up."

"At first, I started making Japanese dolls, knitting, did Japanese flower arrangement, macramé, sewed pillows and even made all of my own clothes."

Tokita was introduced to the egg-decorating craft when her husband was stationed in Montgomery, Ala., in 1973.

Egg decorating classes

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through March 24. An inventory sale of all eggs, stands and accessories will be held during class on next Sunday.
Place: Kapahulu Senior Center, 3410 Campbell Ave.
Call: Nancy, 239-2263
Also: Classes at Flora-Dec: 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. March 6, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 23. Call 537-6194 to register.

"I met a military wife at a garden club meeting who had a fabulous egg collection. She had been doing eggs for years. I was glued to her case. I was just mesmerized because I'd never seen eggs like that before. I begged her to give me private lessons," she said.

Tokita was only there for 10 months, but she learned enough of the basics to venture out on her own.

"When you love doing something, you make it your quest to learn all about it," she said.

After returning to Hawaii, Tokita started making eggs for craft fairs.

"The first eggs I made were so ugly because I was just copying other people," she said.

But eventually her hobby turned into a successful career. She stopped selling her creations four years ago to spend more time teaching others the craft.

A cutter run by compressed air is used to carve delicate patterns into the eggs.

She sets up shop in her own home, with her drills and equipment on her patio. Drying stands are lined up on her desk, and supplies and egg-making kits are neatly stacked on shelves. Boxes of eggs are piled on the floor.

And then there are the display cases. The eggs range from simple to intricate, with a kaleidoscope of colors and designs. Jeweled boxes, carousels, some that light up, Halloween eggs that make spooky noises, a ladybug treehouse, bunnies on swings and an array of Faberge-style eggs.

"Whenever an egg is pretty or different, I try to leave the egg natural. That's what makes them unique," she said. "People who make dollhouses have little stuff to make gravel, shredded foam to create hedges and miniature figurines."

She cautions people that eggs created with trademark figurines such as Disney or Precious Moments cannot be sold for profit.

"It is not easy to keep coming up with new ideas because I've been doing this for so long."

Tokita has hundreds of eggs in her collection.

"I really don't know how many I have. I have more cases back in Seattle" (where she resides part time).

Tokita even created a fully operational merry-go-round that is now on display at Flora-Dec.

"The merry-go-round was a collaboration with a retired watch repair man. The horses go up and down and around. The music plays, and there are lights made out of hollowed pearls. I designed the egg, and he figured out all of the mechanisms."

Eggs have much more stability when decorated, she explained.

"I used to really be into beaded eggs. You can drop them and they won't even break -- the beads work as an armor."

Most eggs also have weights places in the bottom so they will not topple over.

The "Egg Lady" title was given to Tokita by a TV crew that was roaming the grounds at the Thomas Square craft fair. "There was a huge crowd of people at my booth. They came over because they thought something major was happening. And it just kind of stuck."

The smallest egg used is the finch egg, measuring 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch.

"Some of my students search for gecko eggs, and they are even smaller, said Tokita. "The ostrich egg is the largest egg in the world (measuring 16 by 18 inches). A 300-pound bird sits on it, so it has to be strong. It's amazing," she said.

The “Precious Moments Nativity Egg” reflects a Christmas theme.

Easter baskets can be made using the ostrich egg, she said.

Rhea eggs are similar to the ostrich, but are more oval-shape and range in size. Other eggs used are from the emu, peewee chicken, quail, finch, duck, turkey and pheasant.

"When I first started, I used chicken eggs. They are the worst because they are so fragile," she said.

Not all eggs are suitable for all projects. "All eggs used for crafting must be commercially raised. It's illegal to use the wild bird eggs you find outdoors on the ground or in a nest. Almost everything needed to create the eggs needs to be shipped here," said Tokita.

The eggs are already pre-blown when they are received. Like any real crafter, nothing is thrown away.

"We always try to save every little piece in case it can be used for something else."

Leftover egg pieces can be used to make little plates or to add detail on another egg or craft project.

"One of the girls used them to make earrings by adding Australian crystals. People just loved them because they were so different. Pins and pendants can also be made out of the smaller eggs.

It takes eight to 10 hours to finish one egg.

"I'm such a perfectionist. My family even thinks I'm a little bonkers sometimes," she chuckled.

Tokita has hundreds of egg kits, which consist of an egg and all of the components. The eggs already have the pencil markings drawn where they need to be cut. Kits are purchased by students taking her class at Kapahulu Senior Center on Sundays.

"Once the kits are purchased, you can come back each week until they are finished."

There is not a fee for each session unless a new kit is purchased, she said.

"Some can do it in one day; others come back six times to finish one egg," she said.

"I display my eggs so students can tell me what they would like to make. The girls I teach like cute," said Tokita.

A new egg is introduced at each class. "I've had some of the same students for 20 years. Serious students buy their own drills. I tell them to make friends with their dentists."

Cuticle scissors can be used to cut some of the thinner eggs. Tokita suggests soaking the eggs in warm, soapy water first to help to soften them.

"I'm so happy when the girls say they want to learn everything, that they want to learn how to cut."

Tokita spends much of her spare time cutting students' eggs to prepare for class. Some students are afraid to cut, so Tokita does it for them.

"Given an option, most of them would rather I do the cutting so they don't have to set up their equipment," she said.

"My youngest student was a 7-year-old boy. He wanted to make an egg for his mother. A child's capabilities are amazing. My oldest student was 86."

Tokita also teaches classes on cruise ships and in Seattle.

"If I don't teach there (Seattle), they will talk stink about me because that is where I'm from.

"Many people look at the eggs and say I can't do that. But actually, it is very repetitive. All it takes is patience and a steady hand. There is no right or wrong way to do it. ... It's a matter of self-expression."

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