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Mum-making brings spirit, tradition to homecoming


Sept. 8, 2010 at 4:08 a.m.

Kim Unger works surrounded by materials she uses to make homecoming mums. Unger and her business partner, Connie Ryan, constantly search for interesting materials to make the mums as personalized as possible. Unger makes a military braid for one of the Victoria East High School mums she is working on.

Feather boas lined the walls of the Mums The Word showroom while in a back workshop owners Kim Unger and Connie Ryan were cutting, braiding and hot-gluing the spirit items together.

"It has to look good to our eyes, or we won't let it out the door," Ryan said, smiling.

Mums - giant, flowery spirit accessories - are a crafty, traditional way of showing school spirit for the homecoming game or dance.

With the new Victoria high schools and three back-to-back local homecomings, the ladies are churning out more mums than usual.

The first step is a detailed interview where the mum-makers learn everything about the girl or guy who'll wear the accessory.

"We really like to personalize," Unger said. "No mum has looked alike. They'll all be different."

The ladies then build the entire piece, using glue, ribbon, paper and anything that sparks their interest, on the workshop floor.

"You really can't work with these on tables because they are so long," Ryan said.

The women braid glittery ribbon, leather or vinyl into donkey braids, military braids and add anything from candy to Christmas ornaments.

"We really can do anything," Unger said.

The idea is to showcase school spirit and decorate the piece with trinkets that show sports or school activities the wearer is involved in. Traditionally, a boy will buy one for a homecoming date, something that helps the two get to know each other better.

"It makes them communicate with each other, find out about each other and what they're interested in," Ryan said.

The origins of the accessories are a mystery to the mum-makers and many people who buy them.

"It's a tradition, I guess you'd say," said Stephanie Whitley, who purchased three mums for her son's dates. "Just like when you get married you carry a bouquet down the aisle, it's a tradition to wear a mum."

The pieces have evolved over the years from using fresh flowers and short ribbons to fake flowers and ankle-length decorations with cowbells and feathers.

"The mums are more of a work of art now than just a couple of ribbons hanging," Whitley said.

The average mum can cost anywhere from $20 to $70 with some as much as $120. This year, a new trend has caught on - the mum ring.

The poofy, fake flower decoration can be worn on a hand or clipped to a purse since many schools no longer allow the decorations.

The whole idea is to create a high school memory that will last long after homecoming.

"It's a memorial type thing," Whitley said, who mentioned she still owns mums. "You can remember what sport you were in and who your friends were."



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