Debbie Stevens twists balloons to entertain kids. But she could capture the imagination of little ones long before she knew how to make a balloon dog or lion.

The stay-at-home mom ran a homecare back in the mid 1980s. She became known around her neighbourhood in Bowmanville, Ont., for her storytelling and ability to connect with kids.

One day, a friend asked her to provide the entertainment for a birthday party. Stevens performed magic, told stories and ran games. That led to more parties. Needing more tricks, she got a book from the library on balloon animals.

She took to this unusual art form right away. “Within a few weeks I got bored and came up with my own designs,” says Stevens, now 44.

Eventually, Stevens got hired to sculpt balloons at corporate events such as grand openings, Christmas parties and company picnics. Through those, she got hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs to work the lobby of Maple Leaf Gardens (that was in 1999, the team’s last year in the arena). She handed out her business card and got a lot more work.

At home, Stevens will spend hours designing new creations. She uses a picture of a cartoon character or real-life animal, or sometimes just invents out of her imagination.

Balloon work relies on about a dozen moves: Loops, bubbles, spirals and various weaves. Stevens figured out the basics from that first book and picked up more at a balloon-twisting conference in 2003.

The elaborate techniques have helped Stevens start inventing balloon dresses. One took her 27 hours to make, but won first prize at a Las Vegas fashion show in August. (Most of the dress is made with a tight weave and it’s flat enough that the model can sit down – carefully.)

Image from Stock.xchng.