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MARTHA STEWART, CENTER, played host to some familiar faces last week – Bethel native Jackie Blais Manzolillo (far left) and her great aunt, Helen Schaefer, of Jeffersonville. The family’s egg-dyeing traditions provided a new twist on an old idea that Stewart wanted to share with her viewers.

Even Martha Can
Learn Something New

By Jeanne Sager
NEW YORK CITY — April 18, 2006 – So what gets Martha Stewart excited for Easter?
It turns out the traditions of one Sullivan County family had the country’s queen of crafting and decorating raving last week.
When Jackie Manzolillo Blais logged in to check her e-mail a few weeks ago, the Bethel native noticed a memo to all staff at the “Martha” show.
With Easter fast approaching, Stewart was looking for some fresh ideas to share with her viewers.
Blais’ thoughts went immediately to the silk dyeing techniques she learned as a little girl from Great Aunt Helen Schaefer of Jeffersonville.
“We’ve always done this our whole lives, and I thought other people knew about it,” Blais said. “But I figured I’d send it in.”
It turned out Stewart was intrigued, and Blais was asked to show what this process was all about.
So she headed home to Sullivan County, visiting Schaefer and making up a dozen eggs the way the older woman has been decorating for Easter since she was 10 years old.
At that time, Schaefer was a Layman and she lived with her parents and two sisters at what is now the Tonjes home in the Beechwoods.
Living next door was a German lady named Anna Forsbach who imparted her special tricks for dyeing eggs.
Forsbach wrapped small eggs in scraps of silk, then wrapped a piece of muslin or linen as a second layer, securing it with a string at the top.
The eggs were then placed in a glass or enamel pot filled with a water and vinegar mixture and left to boil for at least 20 minutes.
As the water boiled, the pattern from the silk would leave a print on the egg.
In those days, Schaefer said those were the only eggs the family would have for Easter.
“We used to eat them,” she recalled. “Today they save them and let them dry out.”
Stewart was interested in using the eggs for decoration – or at least interested in showing her viewers an alternative for this year’s celebrations.
When Blais returned from Jeffersonville with a dozen eggs she’d dyed with Aunt Helen, she was offered a chance to present her family tradition to the world during a live airing of “Martha.”
“I said absolutely,” said the 2001 Sullivan West/Jeff-Youngsville graduate.
Blais went to college for public relations and broadcast communications. She interned at ABC’s “The View” before graduating from Wilkes University in 2005 and getting a job working for Stewart’s new NBC show in June.
Schaefer says her niece is going to be the next Katie Couric.
For now, Blais just hopes a spot on camera for “Martha” will look good on her resume.
Her “real” job is in the audience department at the show. She helps with ticket requests (most of which come through the show’s Web-site), helps seat the more than 160 people who come to each taping, and sits in on staff meetings where they throw ideas around about what should show up on “Martha.”
“It’s a neat experience to be on a start-up show,” she said. “It’s exciting to see the response [to Martha] – people love her.”
Blais’ first in-depth conversation with her boss actually happened right on the stage last week during the live show, shot at the studios Wednesday morning as it was being broadcast to NBC viewers at 11 a.m.
“I’ve never really spoken to her one-on-one because my job doesn’t warrant it,” Blais said. “But she was very nice to me.”
A poised Blais presented the egg-dyeing process from start to finish.
Schaefer was seated in the front row answering questions – this was her first time on a television set, and she had a camera trained on her for a great deal of the segment.
Schaefer said her focus was on her niece.
“We were so proud of her,” she said. “All the workers that she works with there just idolize her. . . Martha even said she did good.”
When Blais called Schaefer and asked her to appear on the show, Schaefer said she realized she hadn’t been to New York City in some 15 years!
“I said I didn’t really know if I want to be on television, but . . . I usually go with the flow,” she added with a smile.
When they first arrived at the studio, the eight members of Blais’ family who were invited onto the set were seated in a small, simple room.
“We got in, and I looked around at this little, dinky room, and I said, ‘Is this all there is to it?’” Schaefer recalled with a laugh. “I called it the holding area!”
But then the audience was moved onto the set for the show – and the staff got Schaefer ready for her 15 minutes.
“When they came with the mic, I thought, ‘Oh boy, I have to be careful what I say now!’” she chuckled.
Schaefer’s comments were brief – she told an amazed Stewart that she makes at least 32 dozen eggs each year with family.
But with family and friends dropping by in the weeks before Easter to get their dyeing done, Schaefer could easily pass that mark.
“Now I have all my nieces and nephews come and make them . . . and friends,” she said.
Just last Friday, while Schaefer was still recovering from her brush with fame, she sat down in her Jeffersonville kitchen to help Sue Ann Boyd make up a few dozen eggs for her family’s Easter celebration.
Schaefer spends the year scouting rummage sales and thrift shops for the silk – she prefers men’s ties, but she’s been known to cut up a Christian Dior scarf that made some beautiful eggs.
“The problem is, it has to be 100 percent silk or it doesn’t work,” Schaefer said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find because men don’t wear ties anymore.”
Blais told Stewart she gets her silk from Schaefer – although she suggested people look for older ties that are no longer in style, silk boxers or silk blouses.
But while Blais was imparting important details, Stewart was acting like a child seeing their basket on Easter morning.
“I’m now having the greatest time,” she said while Blais demonstrated how to make the designs on the eggs shine by using vegetable oil.
“Martha was more fascinated with opening the eggs than listening,” Blais laughed. “For me, it was a little bit of a blur.
“Everyone said, ‘You did a great job,’ but I have to go back and watch!” she continued. “In the beginning, the segment was allotted six minutes, but I know we went more than that.
“They said, ‘Jackie, we have more than six minutes, so stretch it out – talk a lot!’” she explained.
That she did – easily, explaining not only the egg-dyeing process but a little about the audience department at “Martha.”
With the taping complete and the pressure off, Blais said Thursday that she’d be eager to go back in front of the camera and demonstrate more crafting techniques.
She credits her chance to show the world what she can do to Schaefer.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without learning it from my aunt, Helen,” she said.
As for Schaefer, she chalked it all up to a fun experience.
And she walked away with a few prizes as well – she’s expecting the delivery of the Cuisinart Stewart used to make coffee ice cream and praline sauce on Wednesday’s show.
She also has a new “Martha” t-shirt to sport around town.
She’ll feel a bit silly wearing it, she said.
On the back is a list of directions – how to fold a t-shirt.
To see Schaefer and Blais on the show, visit and watch the segment about silk tie egg-dyeing.

Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

SUE ANN BOYD unwraps an egg that’s just been through the dyeing process – the tie she used left this funky design.

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