Morning Dose's Maggie Flecknoe visits the illustrious workshop of The Mum Queen.
Elizabeth Cleaver has crafted homecoming mums and prince garters for more than 30 years.
"When I retired, I took it to the internet and it’s just gone crazy," she said.
Parents from school districts across the north Houston area take their kids to Cleaver's workshop in Spring, Texas each homecoming season for a new mum or garter. It isn't a place that can be summed up in just one word— it's a craft lover's paradise. The shelves and drawers are stocked with rhinestones, lights, bells and other stylish little knickknacks. There are boas hanging from the walls. There's a glue gun seemingly on every table. It's a place where you can finds spools of ribbon in every color, texture and girth imaginable.
"I'm a ribbon hoarder," Cleaver said laughing.
It is a gift she discovered when her daughter was a freshman in high school and she was asked to make homecoming mums by four of her child's male classmates. Since starting her small business, she's gained a reputation for herself and fans have ordained her "The Mum Queen." Some families have been coming to Cleaver for several generations.
"It's really unique," she said. "I had a mother from Klein Cain come in and she brought her daughter and she was so proud. She was telling her how it used to be just this little ribbon rack over here in the corner. And I said 'remember y'all would sign me a little note on it.' And I said 'Actually, it's that ribbon rack over there. I just painted it black."
To most outsiders the homecoming mum is a somewhat overwhelming experience, especially as the corsage becomes seemingly more bodacious with the coming of each new generation. It’s hard to pinpoint when this coveted tradition that is unique to Texas began, but the earliest versions featured a real chrysanthemum complemented with loose spirals of ribbon. These corsages covered just a bit of the bosom and shoulder and could be made for around $5 or less.
Expectations have been pushed to new lengths for the newest generation.
“It’s changed over the last 10 years,” Cleaver said. “Now the mums have all kinds of gadgets on them— light-ups and all that! And now, it’s more the blinged out mum, the elegant mum look. They just get bigger and different and more evolved each year."
About three years ago, a Waco, Texas high school student gained news attention after showing up to school with a 47-pound mum that cost her family $575 and three weeks to make. Local news reported she was forced to tote the corsage on her back it was so extreme. Cleaver said the most expensive mum she ever made was quoted at about $1,000. Some of her larger mums can weigh an upward of 20 pounds.
Modern mums aren't just bigger and more blingy, they're also more intricate and personalized. Cleaver has an eye for special details and is a champion ribbon braider who can weave perfectly tight box, military, love and the famous Texas braid within minutes. She and her team can spend 18 hours or more crafting a single homecoming mum after a one-on-one consultation.
"I have lots of help. I have girls that come in and do the letters and do the bows," Cleaver said. "I have people helping me do the cut outs. I have people helping me with some of the braids."
She also gets a hand from her 85-year-old aunt who hand stitches the neck ribbon to the framework.
When asked which homecoming mum was her all time favorite to craft, Cleaver simply said "all of them."
"It just gets breathtaking," she said. "You just sit back and you look at it and you think, 'Oh my goodness.' I saw them last week, all lined up, and I just teared up because I never get to see them on. I get pictures, but pictures never do a homecoming mum justice."
In truth, strangers often disregard homecoming mums as a gaudy Texas tradition. It's craft artisans like Cleaver who through their sincere passion and diligent labor radiate the sentiment of homecoming mums, reminding us that these corsages are much more than just weighty accessories but precious mementos and an expression of individuality.
"I love the fact that when they come to pick them up, the expression on these kids' faces makes all the late nights and burned fingers worth it," Cleaver said.
The Mum Queen services high school students living in the Klein, Tomball, Conroe, The Woodlands, Montgomery, Magnolia and Kingwood areas. Click here for more information and to schedule an appointment.