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This easter, go all out

For decades, decorating Easter eggs meant simply tossing a few colored tablets into cups of pungent vinegar. There were no hot glue guns involved, no adhesive-backed rhinestones or miniature pompoms in sight.

Apparently, that's now considered so 20th-century.

Rather than just coloring eggs, families embellish their creations with everything from silk ribbons and multicolored feathers to plastic gemstones and dried flowers. They're also using an arsenal of stickers, paints and markers to personalize their masterpieces.

Accessorizing is the trend, says Cathie Filian, co-host of the DIY Network's "Creative Juice" craft show. People are "thinking out of the box," she says, even incorporating rubber bands and acrylic paints bought at office supply stores. "It's not just what's available in the Easter aisle" at craft stores.

This year's April issue of Martha Stewart Living offers a feature on decorating eggs with crepe paper, rather than dyeing them. "Embellishing after dyeing has become popular and it's a more child-friendly thing," says Marcie McGoldrick, holiday and craft editor at MSL. Eggs are being used as a base to create bunnies or flowers with eggs at their center, she says.

Even industry leader Paas is embracing the embellishment trend. They've added two new kits this year: "Egg Scribblers," which includes food-grade markers, and a Barbie-themed kit offering a selection of stickers.

Williams-Sonoma "decorated hundreds of eggs" with a slew of embellishments while developing their new kit, says buyer Jonathan Silverman. The kit, the first the company has offered since 2003, comes with a mix of dyes and decorative add-ons including pastel beads, glitter glue and vinyl alphabet stickers.

"We saw the trend of kids getting more involved in the kitchen," says Silverman. "It got us thinking we should really come up with the raw ingredients to allow an entire family to get involved in a project."

Egg decorating has become popular even among those who don't celebrate the religious aspect of Easter. Paas says sales of egg decorating kits across the industry have grown about 12 percent over the past five years, and their market research shows that 80 percent of families in the United States currently decorate Easter eggs.

They attribute this growth to "a larger trend of (U.S.) families seeking to return to family-centered holiday traditions," says marketing manager Laura Phillips.

Williams-Sonoma now sees customers buying products for Easter decorating and baking as early as the beginning of March.

Filian believes this interest in celebrating holidays by doing family projects relates to the impact of Sept. 11. "Ever since then," she says, there's been "such a nesting sort of quality to life. ... You've got a lot of 30-something people with little kids who are spenders and nesters and creative people."

Her "Creative Juice" co-host Steve Piacenza agrees. "Christmas, Halloween, Easter — it's becoming more creative and crafty," he says. "Definitely people who aren't believers are having fun with the holiday by making something creative."

McGoldrick has gotten similar feedback from her readers. "It's kind of a celebration of spring, an awakening thing," rather than being "symbolic of anything religious," she says.

An afternoon of egg decorating can bring multiple generations together, prying everyone away from their computers and televisions. The designs that are created, says Filian, can become "heirloom pieces that can be passed on, if you use blown eggs. You're going to be able to keep them, as long as they don't break."

"And if they do break," adds Piacenza, "they're only eggs. You just make more."