Saturday, October 20, 2012

Princess/castle party theme

Once a year, I really enjoy the chance to focus my creative energy on a birthday party theme. This year, the kiddo (turning 4) had an opinion on the party focus. She wanted a dress-up party, no surprise since she would spend 24/7 in dress-up clothes if I allowed her to. I reluctantly agreed with her desire and decided to make it into a princess/castle party. I wanted a way to make boys on the invite list enjoy the party too, so I went with a rough medieval theme to include knights and princesses.

The starting place for my party theme is always the invitation. I LLLOOVVEE creative invitations. For this year's party, I ended up designing an invite that was a magic wand for girls and a sword for boys. The supplies were all from Hobby Lobby...or things I already owned. The magic wand was constructed from a wooden dowel (pack of 25 for $2), painted silver, with sturdy glitter felt that I cut into stars using a pattern I printed off the internet. To paint the dowels, I spread aluminium foil in a cookie sheet, squirted in some silver craft paint, and rolled all the dowels around. Then I set them out to dry on paper plates. I also took some silver string and hot-glued star shaped sequins on the ends. The assembly went pretty fast, hot-gluing the stars with silver string onto the dowel. For the swords, I fashioned sword-shapes out of pieces from a cardboard box and wrapped them in alumnium foil for some shine. I owned some colored popsicle sticks (not sure why -- random dollar tree purchase years ago). I snipped one of the sticks with my garden shears, and glued together the cut stick with 2 uncut ones to fashion a handle. Then I wrapped black electrical tape around the bottom of the handle and glued a few sequins onto the handle for some sparkle. Whew! When all of that was done, I created a quick invitation in Microsoft Word and printed 3 per page onto silver 2-sided scrapbook paper. A few simple slits in the invitation later (cutting board and exacto knife), and it slipped right onto the magic wand or sword.

(address, phone number, and email address whited-out)

Next up, planning party decor, food, and activities. I am known for going overboard on all three things. But this year, I was in a walking boot for most of the party prep-time, and couldn't run around with a ton of errands without hassle. So I actually farmed out some tasks for a change. I looked online and was able to hire a princess to do all the activities. I don't live in a particularly large city, but there were a few to choose from. In my case, the princess coordinates the activities for 2 hours. She told story-time, played 4 games, and offered face-painting or make-up. She also just played with the kids in general and was great to entertain a pack of 4-yr-olds. So, anyway, with activities in order, I was only left to decor and food.

These days, the first place I look for inspiration is Pinterest. One of the very first pins that captured my attention was this amazing cardboard box castle.


I found the castle a perfect idea. We just moved into our house 2.5 months ago and despite giving away over a hundred leftover boxes to friends, I had 1 final stack of boxes to deal with. I actually intended to follow the instructions on the blog above to a tee, but when I asked at my local Lowe's for a few stove-sized boxes, I learn that you can only get them 3 days a week (M, W, F at 6 am at my store). Well, it was a Saturday and I didn't have that kind of patience. So I went home and studied my own selection of boxes again. I ended up only using boxes that I owned, and actually turned it into a 4-sided castle instead of just a "front" at the one above. I was thrilled with the result! To anchor the corners, I stabbed through the cardboard with a flathead screwdriver and then used plastic zip-ties to attach boxes to one-another, just as suggested by my inspiration castle. I did use a little bit of plain Elmer's glue to attach the notched pieces around the top of the castle. My front doorway was a large flat-screen TV box, the 4 corners were each 2 "large" boxes from Walmart on top one another. The left and right walls were from a patio furniture set. It took about hours with my exacto knife, screwdriver, and zip-ties to form the structure. I then painted it, but note cardboard soaks up a lot of paint. It took TWO gallons of paint (the first can was an Oops section can for $3, the 2nd one I paid full-price for to get the color I wanted.). I used a small sample pint of purple paint that cost $2 to hand-paint the decorative elements. Note, I cut the windows, doorway, and peepholes at varying heights to accomodate all sizes of children. At the back, I taped some ribbons over the opening. For the front doorway, I ran some ribbons to make it a working drawbridges. Despite the heavy-duty TV box, it didn't take long for the door to get a bend in it. I used duct tape and a couple of paint stirrers to reinforce at the bend from the inside. Finally, I sewed a flag for the top of the castle out of felt and ribbon.

This sucker actually sat in my garage for 2 weeks, before I clipped the zip-ties at a few key places to split it into 3 pieces so that I could transport it inside my house and reassemble it.

More castle images (different angles):

(side view - painted on "bricks" and cut out some peepholes)

(back door with ribbons dangling)

(interior - nothing fancy!)
(view of front doorway - that's supposed to be a torch that I've painted!)

(flag - once piece of purple felt, trimmed with ribbon; pink felt for the M, hot-glued to a flagpole)

With the castle in hand, there wasn't a ton of other decor that I wanted. I did cut triangles out of remnant table fleece (fleece and felt don't require stitching on cut sides) and made about 100 ft of pennants by sewing the triangles to masonry string. On some white sparkly felt, I wrote out Happy Birthday and my child's name with a fabric marker to incorporate into the pennants. I also wanted a bunch of helium balloons. I bought one of those helium tanks from Hobby Lobby ($34.99 but then on sale 50% off) and that filled the 25 pink balloons that I had with more helium to spare. I didn't want to buy balloon weights, so I improvised on that too. I actually took 3 dum-dum lollipops and tied them together with a clear plastic hairband. It worked perfectly, and leftover will be used for Halloween candy!

(pennants - attached to wall with Command hooks)

(fabric pen on white felt to spell out Happy Birthday)

The other decor was just in the dress-up items. My daughter has a collection of dress-up (mostly from yardsales for $1 each) kidding, so has 20 dresses. I saw an idea on Pinterest for a poolside towel rack out of PVC pipe and 2x4s. So I bought an 8 ft length of PVC and 1 2x4 at Lowes, plus two 90 degree elbow joints. My husband was out of town during this prep, so I just used a hand miter-saw instead of digging out the circular saw to cut the PVC and 2x4. Then I used a 1 inch hole bit in my power drill to make a slot for the PVC to fit into. This worked pretty well as a dress-up closet, although there was a bit of a sag in the middle from all the dresses.

(PVC pool towel rack as dress-up closet -- goody bags on left)

Oh, thought of one more thing...goody bags. My hired princess actually said she would bring goody bags for all the children, but I wanted to add to the (mostly candy) bags she provided. So I bought feather boas and crowns for all the girls, and knight helmet/shield/swords for the boys. These were all from the Dollar Tree -- I'm sure it helped that I was shopping in early October and Halloween stuff was out. I bought plain brown gift bags from Hobby Lobby (25 ct each, on sale) and had my daughter help with this project. We used large stamp-pads and stamps leftover from prior projects to stamp princess designs on the gift bags to hold the boa/crown and knight sets).

On the food table, I did use some bright pink tulle that was leftover from a prior project underneath the serving trays. I also had assembled a foam castle kit (Michael's crafts) with my daughter, so that was our centerpiece...although I did stab a leftover magic wand into the roof! On our dining table, I had put in all 3 leaves to make it extra long and to seat 10 chairs. I had a white damask tablecloth to put on it, plus more leftover pink tulle. I then scattered some dollar-tree plastic rings and some rhinestones on top of the tulle. The cupcake tower served as the centerpiece there.

Finally, food I kept simple this year. I figured (correctly) that the kiddos would be too busy to eat much! I made homemade caramel popcorn and white-chocolate popcorn (the caramel corn came out didn't get stale like the other), plus had fruit and veggie trays, brownies, and some neat pink/yellow marshmallows ($1/bag at Walmart). My mom provided the cupcakes, which was a relief.

So that was my princess/castle party. The kids all seemed to enjoy it, especially the castle. I hope I've inspired someone who reads this blog.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pocahontas costume

So I learned my lesson last year -- since I'm such a slow/basic sewer, don't wait until October to start my daughter's Halloween costume. Last year's Rapunzel took me a whole lotta hours to sew...late, late nights. So when the kiddo said she wanted to be Pocahontas (a la Disney), my first thought was to check the availability of "authentic" costume on I was sorely disappointed.

This is a picture of Disney's Pocahontas from the movie.

This is what the Disney store offers ($39.50):

Even without comparing them side-by-side, believe me I've watched the movie enough times to know that the official costume offered by Disney did not look very much like the actual Indian princess. And so as my blog implies, I decided to tackle sewing it. In September this time. :) This blog entry will not give you step by step instructions of how to sew, but might get you over a few hurdles and hopefully will not scare you off from making this costume.

And so I found myself once again (with kiddo in tow, of course) at my local Joann's Fabric store. Lesson #2 from last year -- don't try this blind, get a pattern. And bring a picture of your targeted dress with you. The obvious first place to look is what Disney patterns exist - yep, Disney sanctions patterns too. But don't get your hopes up...while Cinderella, Snow White, and other usual suspects make the cut for patterns, our dear Pocahontas does not.

So here is probably the first useful piece of info I will give. Even if you can't find exactly the right pattern, look for something similar. In the case of Pocahontas, this means I wanted something similar to the princess's one-shoulder, curve-hugging, sweetheart neckline, fitted a toddler or girl's size. I went and sat at the table with patterns in Joann's and flipped through books. There are a bunch, but I selected the two brands of patterns that were on sale that weekend at Joann's. Here's where you have to be open-minded and think about what to revise. My first stab was to look in the Girl's sizes of patterns for a one-shoulder dress. The only one I found was a t-shirt material and hung loosely, more like a pillow-case dress than a fitted dress. So I flipped through the same book again and instead focused on fit and neckline. I found Simplicity 3902 to be the closest (in the brands in sale - I didn't even look at the full price ones!).

In particular, I saw dress B at the upper right with criss-cross ties in the front. Here's a close-up of the pattern dress.

The shoulder straps are the right width, it is fitted, it has the sweetheart neckline. The parts that are less than ideal is that I would have to alter it would be making it one-shoulder, the skirt flares more than I would prefer, and there are two seams in the front when I really want none.

Well, finding that to be best, I bought that pattern and referred to the back to figure out how much fabric I would need and the notions to buy. I went with a size 4 (based on waist/bust/hip measurements, go with the size that is the smallest that will fit all 3 components and then alter it (in my case, add length for my tall and skinny kiddo). I only needs 1 yard of fabric and Joann's offered several shades of tan faux suede (I let the kiddo pick the color), a zipper, bias tape (which I didn't end up even using), one-sided iron on interfacing, and thread. Of course, it didn't list fringe or a belt but I knew I would need these things to make the dress into an Indian costume. I guessed and went with 1.5 yards of wide fringe and 1 yard of a smaller fringe the same color; also 2/3 yard of brown trim to make into a belt. [I was actually afraid that my child, very concerned about authenticity, would point out that Pocahontas did not have a zipper, but she hasn't...yet]

Once I got home, I cut out the thin pattern paper for a size 4, adding a couple inches to the bottom of skirt pieces to compensate for height. It was at this point that I realized I really didn't want to have two seams down the front. So I took a large piece of paper (off my child's drawing paper roll from Ikea in fact) and went to work making a new pattern. The front was supposed to be mirror image pieces for the right and left side of the front of the dress, plus a middle section and a separate segment for the chest area. I really wanted a single piece. So I laid the mirror image pieces down and traced where I thought the dress should fall. This was also an opportunity to reduce the skirt flare and turn it into a one-shoulder.

The picture below isn't great because there is a large rectangle of fabric beneath the white pattern I have made, so its hard to see the edge of the pattern paper.

Here was my finished pattern front.

At this point I realized that I was worried about my pattern-altering--- I've never done such drastic  alterations (well, last year, I completely changed Rapunzel skirt, but skirts are a whole lot easier to alter than a fitted dress). So I looked in my craft closet and discovered I had a yard of brushed cotton fabric leftover from some project. I decided to make a sample dress before I used my "real" costume fabric (which honestly only cost me about $4). Anyway, in about 2 hours I cut and sewed a sample dress. I skipped the interfacing, fringe, and zipper for the sample (I used velcro) but it was great because I could test the fit on the kiddo. It worked pretty well and now the child has a new pair of pajamas! I did decide that I definitely had to go with a zipper (the velcro was too thick to sew with the machine) and that I wanted less of a point on the skirt bottom. (it's wrinkled because my kid didn't want to take it off after her fitting -- all day)

And so I tackled the real costume next. I don't have pictures of each step because the interesting part was really which pattern I picked and the alterations to the front.  I also had to alter the back slightly because one the one-shoulder, but I really just folded down a flap until it looked about right. I had never done fringe before but that went pretty well and I only sewed one fringe strip into my seam (and had to use the handy seam-ripper on). This was about my 4th lifetime zipper and I have always done invisible zippers which do require a special sewing machine foot. They sell plastic zipper feet for only a couple bucks though. To the costume below, I plan to hand-sew a detachable belt with velcro fastener. I thought about sewing it on with the machine, but was worried that it would either fit too snugly or not enough. I also still need to add an hook-and-eye above the zipper; I forgot to buy that.  In all, the sample dress took me 2 hours to sew since I skipped a bunch of steps. The real dress took me about 4-5 hours (over 3 days). Not bad at all!

I am really happy with how it turned out and I think the kiddo will be, too!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From the attic

So this post is still about crafting...just crafting in terms of food.

I took my kiddo to a strawberry patch a couple weeks ago and we came home with two GALLONS of strawberries. I love fruit but that's a bit more than my family can consume before they go bad. So my solution, directly from the attic (well, my mom's attic) was a dehydrator!

I consider dehydrating kind-of an old-fashioned craft. These days, you can find dehydrated fruit and meat (jerky) at every grocery store and gas station. But dehydrating yourself is a great way to ensure natural ingredients. It is also a good method for using up fruits (and veggies and meats) before they go bad. You can add flavoring if you want, but its totally up to you. Dehydrated foods can be kept without refrigeration for long periods of time. They can also be re-hydrated for uses in recipes and food prep. My favorite is just to eat them as a healthy snack!

In our case, the dehydrator had literally been in the box and last used 15 years ago. We scrubbed it off and read the instruction pamplet and had our dehydrating in progress with less than 20 minutes of food prep time. Then you just plug in the machine for 12-36 hours! The berries turned out yummy and we decided to experiment with some other fruits.

This is what a dehydrator looks like - ours has 7 trays and is really simple, with a heating element at the bottom that puts off very little heat.

Here are the books we used for reference:
But of course, these days there are a hundred websites that give you more info:

So my simple example: Fresh fruit -- so far we've tried bananas, pineapple, strawberries, and apples:
Slice -- thin strips (1/8-1/4") for crispy dried fruit or thicker pieces for chewy dried fruit. Lay with pieces barely touching in as many trays as you wish (shown is pineapple that's been drying for 1/2 day)
Enjoy! A big bunch of bananas makes 1 full sandwich sized ziploc bag. They are brown because we did not use any preservatives at all. Dried fruit from the store has most likely been blanched in sugar, preservatives, or other methods. Mine is all-natural! I am trying a batch of apples that has been dipped in 1/4 cup lemon juice mixed with 1 qrt of water to prevent browning.
On the topic of dehydrators, ask your mom, neighbor, or friend if they have one you can borrow. My mom's cost over a $100 twenty years ago (but it still works great!), but these days I found them on Amazon for $35-$250, depending on what you're looking for. I also saw one at the flea market for $5 last weekend, if you want to try it out the technique without committing much from your wallet.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Preschool Valentine's Day Cards

I had two goals for Valentine's Day Cards this year: (1) No candy, and (2) The kiddo (age 3) had to actually help. Regarding goal #1, I love candy and my kiddo does too, and I will not prohibit her from eating other goodies that she receives. Instead, I just wanted to prove that it didn't have to be candy for her friends to enjoy it. And goal #2 is because I remember sitting up last year, after the kiddo was long asleep, writing her name on cards and taping the cards to pre-packaged Rice Krispy Treats. Not exactly authentic!

For inspriation, I consulte Pinterest of course. I searched all sorts of phrases and came up with mostly ideas to make homemade crayons and trail mix (with M&M's or sweethearts candy). But I found one cute idea to use glow-sticks that double as bracelets. While the original glow-stick valentine I found were just on an index card with a cute phrase, I imagined a glow-stick arrow piercing a heart.

To provide an outlet for my child's creative ability, I thought about stickers, glitter, paint, and the like. But I finally decided on stamps instead.

The finished product

Supplies needed (all from Hobby Lobby unless noted, prices are retail before sales):
(to make 17 cards - 14 classmates, 2 teachers, and one for my kid too, of course )
10 sheets two-sided cardstock 8x12
Stamps (love-themed barrel of 15 for $8.99), & 1 ladybug in clearance for $1
2 ink pads (in the children's crafts section, cheaper than the adult crafts section where smaller ones are $6.99)
1 pack of 25 pipe cleaners ($0.88)
3 tubes glow-sticks (Target, $1 bins at front of store)
Exacto knife
Cutting board

I got all of the Hobby Lobby items for 50% off, so my total cost was about $14.50, but we have stamps and inkpads leftover for future projects and fun.

Step 1: Hearts. I folded all the cardstock in half and cut at the fold. I took a scrap piece of paper the same size as a 1/2 sheet, and folded it in half lengthpiece, and sketched half-a-heart. Then cutting the scrap paper, you end up with an even heart. This served as my template and I cut out 20 hearts.

Step 2: Stamps. I laid out some paper on the table so ink wouldn't get everywhere, and let the kiddo practice stamping on a few of the extra hearts. She ran with it quickly, though, and stamped her heart away for a good hour. I left her stamp all of the "backs" of the hearts, figuring she would get better as she went.

Step 3: Message + More stamps. Stamp ink dries quickly, so I flipped each heart over and wrote this message with my blakc Sharpie: "You make my heart GLOW!", personalizing it with each classmates name, and substituting the word heart with a heart stamp. Then I signed each one with my child's name. She subsequently went happily along with more stamps surrounding the card's message.

Not perfect, but authetically a 3-yr-old's creation

Step 4: Arrows. All that was left was to create the arrow in each heart. I used the exacto knife to quickly cut two 3/4 inch slits in the heart, not measuring at all or being too precise. Through each pair of slits, I slid two glow-sticks through (being careful not to bend them, which releases the chemicals inside that make them glow). I could have stopped here because they were pretty cute, but I had already bought the pipe cleaners to fashion them into more of an arrow. This took a little bit of trial and error. The easier part of the arrow was the "feather" end. I had my daughter fold the pipe cleaners into thirds, and I cut at the folds. Each piece (3-4"), I wrapped about an inch up from the end of the glow-stick, with a quick twist to secure it. The "point" end of the arrow was a little tricker, and I had about 5 variations of how I made it as I went along. Thus, no picture explaining that step -- just figure out what works best for you to make a triangle and get it to attach to the glow-sticks.

That's all! They definitely don't look professional, but I'm happy that they look like my child helped, because she did a lot of the work. That's what Valentine's Day is all about right?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bows aren't scary

Okay, I'm gonna admit it. I love bows. Well, not on me because it's probably been a good twenty years since I've worn one, but I LOVE to put bows in my daughter's hair. Of course, with this came the curse that my daughter lacked enough hair to affix a bow until she was 2 years old. And another confession -- I'm a matchy-matchy bow person. I like the look of a nice side-sweep of hair/bangs held back with a single bow, but my kid doesn't really have enough hair to accomplish that (at 3), so I'm regulated to lots of pigtail hairstyles. Usually that means two pigtails with cute little matching bows on each. I'm also not a giant bow person. I know that's the "style" that boutiques will push at you, but at least my kid won't permit a giant bow that makes her lean to one side. Or maybe she just doesn't have enough hair (notice a trend?).

All confessions aside, bows are an easy exercise for crafters and non-crafters alike. And since a pair of bows even at Walmart will set you back $5....or a boutique pair for $14 add up quick if you need a rainbow of colors to match everything in your daughter's closet. Or at least a rainbow of shades of pink and purple...

Supplies needed: ribbon or fabric, clip (barrette, alligator clip, or bendy-clip), hot glue gun, a lighter (or my newest fave - a votive candle), measuring tape or ruler, maybe needle and thread, any embellishments

I recommend a craft store (Hobby Lobby, Michaels, AC Moore) for the hair clips - a pack of 20 should be $3 or less. Ribbon spools - I try to use dollar bin ones. The dollar bin ones at Target (multipacks) are too thin and short to do more than line a clip, so you'll probably want a wider ribbon (up to an inch or so) for the main bow. Michaels and Joanns each have clearance ribbon usually for $1 or $2. Even if you splurge on a $5 spool, you're still getting a pair of bows for half the cost of boutique retail.

There are lots of great sites on the that help you actually create the bow you want. I'm not going to reproduce their work -- I didn't come up with any of my own ideas to speak of, I just copy the great ideas of others. Here are a few of my favorite sites:

I would recommend starting off with some plain lined alligator clips. These are great for toddlers because they can clip onto a small amount of fine hair. These will also give you practice on lining clips, which is really the base for most hairbows.

Once you've mastered lining clips, then try some simple bow shapes and try layering two bows on top of one another. These were some of my early attempts. A few of these I threw together in 10 minutes or less to match a particular outfit. The garnet ones at the bottom right I made to match a flower girl dress.

The ones at the left in this picture are made of fabric scraps, but no sewing machine was used. You use an iron and you do have to do a tiny bit of hand-stitching, but I promise a non-sewer could do it.

instructions for fabric flower bow

Here are my latest creations. This shows you how much the ribbon choice and embellishments can change a bow. These two pairs are made from the exact same design.

instructions for this style

Good luck and please show off your own creations!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Carnival birthday party

I love birthdays. They were always a big deal growing up, although I think the theme when I was a kid was just the cake from a supermarket with matching paper products and balloons. But I love to run with a theme...

This year, I decided I didn't want to host my daughter's party at home....I was trying to avoid the mess, parking hassles, limitations to guest list, etc. I chose a park nearby where I could rent a picnic shelter. I wanted to invite her entire preschool class (12 kids), plus a few close friends, and of course family. When I learned that I could rent a train from the park, that led me down the path of a a theme. A carnival party is a great gender-neutral party theme that is easy to match. Primary colors, easy games, simple foods.

First up was the invitations - an item I think is very important to set the tone and get people interested. (But do be cautioned -- you get a higher "yes" RSVP % when you have a good invite, so don't count on half the crowd not coming!). I had a vision in my head of an invite, and I thought I could find someone else to do the work. Etsy, e.g. has a ton of people who will rework an invite template for cheap (like $10-$15), and then you can have it printed locally. But I couldn't find my vision anywhere.

I wanted an ticket-style invite, but a multi-card one, so that I could rely more information. I am not handy in Photoshop, but I am strong at Microsoft Word. So here is my invite, made primarily in Word (with a little bit of Paintbrush). I printed it on my home inkjet printer on cardstock, cut out the tickets with scissors (the corners were a pain), and strips of white duct tape to hold them together. I even attached a 4th card (a "VIP ticket") for an after-party for family.

I slid the invites into red/white striped candy bags I got off Ebay for $6 (pack of 25, but they sent me a few extras). (I even used a Groupon/Living Social deal for my Ebay payment!) To the bag, I hot-glued a yellow ribbon that I had in my craft closet, using an iron to form the creases at the side of the bag. I also hot-glued a tag on the front with a little label. This label was created with two different scrapbooking punches...a 1.5 in circle and a 2 in scalloped punch in a contrasting color. I use these scrapbook punches for all sorts of things, even though I am not a scrapbooker. I got them at Hobby Lobby on a 50% off sale, so under $10 for the pair.

Next up, decor and games. I hunted on Pinterest for some easy-to-assemble game ideas and settled on 3 games and 3 activity stations -- fishing game, ring toss, bean bag toss, temporary tattoos, face painting, and a "photo booth". I saw signage that you could buy on Etsy for great prices, but I was worried about the signs being too small and/or flimsy to use outside. So I made my own, with $1.50/sheet foamboard from Hobby Lobby (cheaper than Walmart, and Hobby Lobby often has sales of 40-50% off and coupons). I split the foamboard into two rectangles and used craft paint ($0.88/each) in red, yellow, and blue to decorate it. For the words, I didn't trust my painting skills and instead printed out cool looking fonts from Word and cut around the letters, then painted them as well. I used spray adhesive (Walmart, Target) to attach the letters to the signs.

I also made signs for the party entrance, the train ride, the prize table, a directional arrow (turn here), and the different menu options. This all took a fair amount of time, but it really only cost me about $5-7 in supplies. I bought a few metal sign holders at $1 each at my local Lowes, but most of my signs would just be propped up.

The games themselves were pretty easy on supplies. I borrowed a corn hole board and bean bags for the bean bag toss. The ring-the-bottle game was a 24-pack of 0.5 liter Deer Park water bottles (full) in a antique Coca Cola wooden tray (an old collection of mine) with the rings created from plastic tubing (6 feet worth at $0.24/ft at Lowes) filled with pipe cleaners for some color and rounded off with duct tape. The fishing game was a small inflatable pool filled with a couple inches of water, and weighted ducks (from Oriental trading)...which just means the ducks should float upright. I tied pipe cleaners around the ducks necks to give them a little metal, and then used homemade cane fishing pools with twine and magnets to "catch" the fish. Temporary tattoos only need a pack of tattoos, a bowl of water, and a sponge. The photo booth was a just a piece of red fabric as a backdrop (hung with clothespins and twine) and a collection of dress-up hats/wigs/capes/funny glasses. I put the clothes in a shipping box decorated with wrapping paper just to make it colorful. Parents took pictures of their kids trying on the goofy items. Face painting is something that 3-yr-old don't sit still for (and for which its hard to get a volunteer to do the painting). So I bought a couple 9-packs of foam stamps from Hobby Lobby for $0.99 each and just had my artist spread some paint onto a paper plate, rub the stamp in it to blot the paint evenly, and then to quickly stamp the kid's faces. This worked pretty well,and probably would have gone smoother if I had remembered to bring a few paintbrushed to get paint onto the stamp. This station needed a big bowl of water and some paper towels to wash off the stamps in between uses.

A few other decor suggestions. I used a string of 100 ft of multi-color pennants (Oriental Trading), draped on the outside of the picnic shelter. I covered all the tables (7 picnic tables in my case) with $1 tableclothes from Dollar Tree, tying them down with bright-colored yarn so they didn't blow away. I put an inexpensive flower on each table (in Oct, small mums you can get for a $1/each here)...this also helped to keep the tableclothes down. And I made a bunch of homemade pinwheels from leftover scrapbook paper and wooden skewers -- completely free decor. Instructions for the pinwheels are here. I used solid color plates, napkins. I didn't provide plasticware because all foods were finger foods. I didn't provide cups either; bottled water only in open coolers. Oh, and I had a bowl with some bottles of bubbles and another bowl with crayons next to a few coloring books for kiddos too young to do the games or kiddos that got overwhelmed/tired.

Food, I kept quite simple but within the theme.

My ideas came also exclusively off Pinterest. I did mini-corn dogs (made with cocktail smokies --- see recipe), popcorn, veggie straws as "fries" (Sam's Club), whole apples with caramel dip (providing an apple corer and cutting board), and cupcakes. My cupcakes were cooked inside of ice cream cones -- see recipe, although I did end up deciding angel food cake rises better and had better consistency to be cooked inside the cone. Also, for angel food cake, you have to fill the cone with the batter to get it to fluff up enough. These cupcakes are difficult to transport, so we iced them quickly on-site and tossed sprinkles on top. Remember to bring covers for foods that are outside so keep bugs away. Also, I bought my popcorn boxes off Oriental Trading (but later saw similar ones at World Market). My fries cups were from Oriental Trading, with a sticker label I designed in Word, printed on label paper, and punched with my scalloped scrapbook puncher.

Goody bags are pretty much expected these days at parties. To stay in the them, I made mine as the "prize" table for the carnival.

I actually had a roll of tickets (Oriental Trading) that I intended my "carnies" to give to kids but the kiddos were a little too young for that. I intended for them to trade their won tickets for prizes, even though in actuality I planned to give every prize to every kid that wanted it. I had a bunch of clear glass containers that could display the prizes, but I realized that wasn't the smartest of ideas for 3-yr-olds, especially outside, unprotected, on a concrete pad. So I collected empty clear juice bottles and did a little more crafting. I soaked bottles to remove their labels, cut off the top, and hot-glued ribbon onto the top and bottom edges These vessels became my prize containers. Two-liter soda bottles are a pain to get the labels off, so I tried to avoid those.

I made labels for the "cost" of each prize (using my scrapbook punches again), but when it became obvious that this age kid wasn't going to understand, I never actually attached them to the prize containers. Finally, the goody bags to carry home the prizes were lunchbags (red and blue) that I bought as 20-packs at Target for a buck or two, and to which I attached a small label.

The label was created in Word again, printed on label paper, and punched out with my scalloped puncher.

So at the end of the party, each kid approached and picked his/her prizes. Prizes included (with source in parentheses):
Pixie sticks, mini toostie pops, smarties (Target)
Plastic snakes, paddle-ball toys (Dollar Tree)
Punch ballons (Ebay - that same Groupon/Living Social deal)
Foam clown noses, keychains, pencil sharpeners, waterguns (Oriental Trading)
Bracelets, sticker earrings, pencils (Michael's Crafts)

The prizes were actually a pretty expensive feature of the party, even though I got many of the packages for <$1 each (clearance sections).

Well, that's all that I can think of. As you can see, planning a carnival party is a lot of effort but not very expensive if you stay open-minded and look for supplies you can re-purpose or borrow.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rapunzel costume

The kiddo decided she wanted to be Rapunzel for Halloween. I checked out the costumes on Amazon and local retailers and was appalled at the $50 price tags on the "nice" costumes and the $20 price tags on ones you could tell would fall apart after at most one wearing. I know my kiddo will wear her costume as dress-up for months, if not years, to come. So I decided to put my meager sewing skills to the test and whip up a costume myself. Little did I know what I was getting into...

Inspiration dress from the Disney movie "Tangled"

(great movie by the way -- even when my daughter demands on watching it 3x week)

So I needed a plan of some sort, right? Naw, I was too confident at this point. I even found a website that detailed everything I could possibly need to know about this dress. While I am impressed with the detail, some people take these things way too seriously...Rapunzel Costume Analyzer

First challenge was fabric. (Top priority should have been a pattern, but for some reason I thought I could attempt this without a pattern.) I went to my local Joanns store and found some inexpensive purple and pink satins that were close to the inspiration dress. It was during their Columbus Day sale, so I got them for only $1.99/yd. I also picked out a fancier purple embroidered fabric at $8.99/yd. I blindly guessed how much fabric I would need and got 2 yds of dark purple, 1 yd of light purple, 1/4 yd of light pink, and 1 yd of the fancy purple. Also picked up a roll of purple and pink ribbon that looked kind of like Rapunzel's dress embroidery and a spool of plain pink ribbon. I saw a store sale flyer that mentioned all Simplicity patterns being $0.99 during the upcoming weekend and decided I should make a return trip. Patterns usually run $8.99-$19.99, but they go on sale often.

So I returned to Joanns a couple days later and purchased Simplicity Pattern 2065. This is a licensed pattern, but I personally didn't think the skirt looked at all like the movie. But the bodice looked quite similar and would give me essential help with the fit around the arms and sleeves. Did I mention I'm not exactly a sewer? My only formal training with sewing came a good 22 years ago in a 4-H class and then again in 8th grade when I did a 6 week rotation into Home Ec (and during that 6 weeks, we met daily for an hour and covered cooking, sewing, babies, etc). Anyway, while I was at Joanns, I picked up more supplies that were listed on the notions on the back of the pattern. The back of a pattern gives the amount and suggested types of fabrics you will need, plus details on the notions. I needed a 16 inch zipper (I picked an invisible zipper, not what they suggested), eyelets, cording, and lace. So by this time, I'm into this project for $15-20 worth of materials anyway.


Oh yeah, my next challenge was time. I decided to start this project on a Thursday night...with the goal of finishing by the following Wednesday because my daughter's 3rd birthday was upcoming and I wanted to give the dress to her as a gift. Since I work full-time (doing math at a computer all day, no less) this meant I could only sew at night after the kiddo was in bed. Thursday night, pattern laid out, size chosen (again use the back of the pattern envelope to help), pieces cut. I ignored the suggestion to iron the pattern or to pre-wash the fabric. I do know a fair amount about pattern reading, but patterns give a decent amount of assistance to newbies. I marked the fabric with chalk as instructed. Friday night, I did some initial seams and planned my revisions to the skirt. The movie skirt (according to that costume analyzer site) is a 7-part skirt. I found it easier to cut into 6 pieces; I used the pattern's front and back pieces (of their two-part skirt) and divided each into thirds longwise. Then I sewed the fancy fabric onto the center third of the front part of the skirt to give it the effect of the movie skirt.

The bodice had the most detail and I was glad I was using a pattern by this point. Interfacing always gives me heartburn for some reason, but it turned out okay. I had never done eyelets before and they scared me to death, but the little pack of 20 eyelets that only cost $1.99 at Joanns had all the necessary tools (well, plus my kitchen cutting board and a hammer). I tried one on a test piece of fabric and it worked fine. So I installed the 12 or so that the pattern called for on my bodice and was pleased with the result. Sewing the skirt to the bodice was a little scary because my skirt style had been customized and no longer matched the pattern. But it worked! Sigh of relief. I installed my 2nd zipper EVER (not too bad) and then got all confused with the bodice lining. It was midnight of my 4th consecutive late night sewing by that point and I was hopeful it would make more sense later. I did figure it out eventually and got that in. Time for sleeves. I ended up posting a poll on Facebook to figure out whether people thought I should do light sleeves or dark.

The voting was close, but I decided to go with the light sleeves like the movie. The sleeve detail from the pattern was a pain....10 strips of ribbon had to be stitched to each. The last major part of sewing was to attach the sleeves to the bodice. This always confuses me (in my vast experience....a total of 3 outfits with sleeves that I've ever sewn in my life), because you have to turn the bodice inside out and the sleeve right-side out and put it in from the inside of the outfit. I have learned that a basting stitch is great. This is essentially a rough-draft stitch...change the length to the longest on your machine and stitch away. It is a purely removable stitch and temporary; it's easy to remove (sometimes it's actually intended to be removed) to make sure everything is lined up the way you intend. My final items to complete were the lace. It took me 3 tries to get the neck lace to look right even with pinning it down first (a step I often skip). The lace at the bottom of the lower sleeve was too small to get at with the machine, so it was just a hand-stitching exercise. I actually took it to work and finished it on my lunch hour.

Here was the finished project. All my seams don't line up perfectly, but I was pleased with it anyway. It was at least 2x as hard as any prior attempt I have made at sewing, and I finished it in time for the kiddo's birthday. All that work, and her favorite gift from mom and dad? A $11 princess keyboard that I got out of Walmart's clearance section. Argghh!