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?