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!

Adventures in crafts (and blogging)

I'm making the leap from blogging about my kid to just blogging. This site is just an outlet to capture my brief moments of creativity and hopefully give ideas or advice to others...especially if that project sounded so simple turned about to be a little over-and-above your skill set. I am here to prove that it doesn't take much to adapt and improvise when you're in over your head.