halloween

A Swashbuckling Adventure!

It’s Harry’s birthday in a couple of weeks, and once again we’ll be taking to the metaphorical high-seas for pirate-themed adventure.  He’s captivated by a programme called Swashbuckle at the moment; a sort of fast and furious show for under-1os where the kids have to outwit naughty pirates and reclaim their stolen treasure.  We’ve been tasked with recreating some of the games from the programme, and dressing up accordingly; I’ve been combing charity shops for suitably piratical clothing, and glueing metres of gold braid to second-hand coats and old wellington boots.  First things first though; the invitations!

Homemade Message in a Bottle Pirate Party Invites

I wanted to create something that would feel a bit magical and nautical for Harry’s friends to receive, so used plastic water bottles to create a kind of message-in-a-bottle invitation (we’ve got through quite a lot of Evian over the last few days; I’m hoping my skin will thank me at some point..).  I substituted the screw-top for a champagne cork and strung an eye-patch around each one.  (I’d love to be able to say that we’ve been nobly working our way through endless bottles of champagne over the last few days too, but in fact I’ve been saving these corks up for years in the vague expectation of putting them to some crafty use).  I secured a label to each with bakers’ twine and then set about designing the invite itself.

Swashbuckle Invitation

DIY pirate party invitations

I designed the invite on my PC, then printed a copy and carefully burned the edges away to age it and add a bit of drama, then photocopied the original to produce a whole set.  I fed these through the printer to print all the party details on the other side.  If you have a young pirate at home and want to try this, I’ve uploaded a PDF of the invite you can use at the end of the post.

We filled an otherwise gloomy and wet Sunday with the exciting task of posting these through local letterboxes, emailed invites to those further away and then began to think about costumes.  I wanted Harry to have a pair of proper pirate boots, so as a birthday present I’ve been secretly customising and accessorising these charity shop wellies which I bought for £2 and which are the perfect size…

Pirate Boots Makeover Project

DIY Pirate Boots detail

I used strips of faux leather for the cuffs, then super-glued braid around the edges, adding red ribbon and plastic coin trim around the front for a spot of extra bling (you can never have too much bling, if you’re a real pirate..).  I stitched silver buttons to the cuffs and then sewed miniature picture frames onto a length of wide black elastic for the buckles, and then slipped these over the top of the boots.

Upcycle old wellies into pirate boots

The pirate treasure chest gift box was a fortuitous find at TK Maxx, and will keep these Pirate Captain boots a secret for the next couple of weeks, to be opened on the day of the party and hopefully received with great excitement… we shall see!

Alongside the pirate preparations we’re also starting to think ahead to Christmas, so Harry and I have broken out the glitter and craft paper and are on a roll.  The builders are still here to keep us company, so the house is a sea of sparkly glitter, half-empty mugs of tea and brick dust (who needs dry shampoo? Just plaster a wall and you can wash your hair far less frequently..).  It’s chaos, but we’re still feeling zen and trying to hold on to that holiday afterglow.  In the absence of any aptitude for yoga or meditation, wine is definitely helping with the relaxation.

Ahoy There Pirate Invitation

Message in a bottle labels

 

Detecting The Flamboyance Gene

Harry discovered the art of disguise at an early age.  It was clear even at two that a man can never have too many pirate eye-patches, cloaks, swords, racing driver goggles or superhero capes; you never know when they might be called upon in the ups and downs of everyday adventure.

I look at my husband and the genetic sequencing becomes clear.  Here is a man who has variously dressed-up as Madonna – complete with conical bra – a hippy, a zombie and Father Christmas, and has his own trunk filled with accessories and war-torn party outfits.  (nb I will set aside the question of the Madonna outfit for now, and dwell on it in private later).

It became clear last week that storing all of Harry’s dressing-up clothes in a chest wasn’t working; everything gets flung on the floor in the frantic search for THE crucial piece of kit (usually pirate-related). I looked online for a fun clothing rail but it seems that only girls are allowed to have these, if the number of heart-bedecked, pink shimmery rails are anything to go by.  So we made our own…

DIY Witches Broom Dress Up Rail

I recycled an old clothing rail from the loft and replaced the top rail with a long-handled, bushy natural broom from the local garden centre (a bargain at £5).  Although the broom was in their display of general tools, it struck me as deliciously Witchy, and Harry agreed.  We are obsessed with the lovely Room on the Broom book at the moment, so this felt like a brush with fate (unforgiveable pun, sorry..).

Bracing the side rails is important, so if you make one of these be sure to lash your broom securely at each end, to avoid them leaning inwards.  I wound string around tightly for, ooh, about 5 minutes at each until it felt like they weren’t going to move AT ALL.  And that’s it; the quickest DIY ever.  I also recycled a bathroom waste-bin for sword storage, and slotted Harry’s superhero cuffs onto the rails for easy access – hallelujah; a walk-up wardrobe of delights is born.

Dress Up Rail Montage

I added another outfit to the rail last week when Harry came home from school with a request that he come dressed as a cowboy to the back-to-school BBQ.  In my general ineptitude, I discovered this note about 24hrs beforehand, so we constructed an outfit mostly out of things we already had, spending a grand total of £5.  Breakdown below…

homemade cowboy outfit

The shirt and jeans are Harry’s own; I roughly hand-stitched  lengths of animal print fabric onto the legs, loosely enough to flap a little but stay in place.

cowboy chaps

The waistcoat first featured in this post, soon after I bought it in a charity shop – a surprisingly rich hunting ground for mini-waistcoats and jackets for dressing-up outfits, presumably because they are purchased for one-off weddings or events and then rapidly grown-out of.

Our bandana was fashioned from a tablecloth stolen from Harry’s play tea-set, knotted loosely around the neck.  The cowboy hat was our only investment, bought as part of a set (together with the toy guns in holsters) from the 99p shop – honestly, so much tat for under a pound; it’s more addictive than Class A drugs…

Cowboy Hat

I glued a polkadot ribbon around it (in suitably manly colours), and designed & printed a paper sheriff’s badge to stick over the top.  I then stitched the plastic gun holsters to the belt loops of the jeans, and used a length of washing line for a lassoo.  Job done..Dancing cowboy

That’s Harry doing the Cowboy Dance by the way; a spontaneous jig which he feels compelled to launch into when fully-clad in his outfit, usually in front of a mirror and with much self-admiration.  Just like his father again…

Not an outfit with impressive durability by any means, but a very easy flung-together costume for when life demands something a little more flamboyant than the everyday.

*****

 

Cheerful Ghosts and Bouncing Spiders…

Today Harry and I have been feeling ultra-crafty, as Halloween-fever sweeps our little village.  The challenge with Halloween decorating in our house is that my crafting partner is a still of an age (at 2 and 3/4) where ghosts are a bit scary, spiders are only sometimes interesting and witches are downright terrifying. So, we needed to make some spooky projects designed to make us smile, that are only a little bit scary.  Here’s what we came up with (detailed ‘how-to’ pictures for each of these at the end of the post)….



For the garland, I traced around Harry’s hands lots of times on a large sheet of white card stock, whilst he was half-distracted by a Toy Story DVD, then together we cut around them all.  Harry enjoyed the ‘scissor practice’, though for aesthetic reasons I discreetly omitted his dismembered and fingerless hand cut-outs from our final garland… we glued sequin eyes to the front of each ‘ghost’, then threaded them together using an embroidery needle and silver thread.  Harry chose and organised all the beads to thread between our ghosts, whilst I did the tricky stuff with the needle.  Harry located the tissues when I accidentally stitched myself, and offered to check me over with his toy stethoscope, so all-in-all it was a team effort.

By this time, Toy Story was abandoned and Harry was keen to do more tracing and cutting, so we switched colours to black and started making these bouncing handprint spiders…



They’re very simply made by overlaying two handprint cut-outs and glueing together, then adding eyes, feelers (we used little buttons), and threading a piece of elastic through the centre.  I added a colourful bead to each which also helps to weigh the spider down a little and increase the bounce.  These were Harry’s favourite; they look super-cool dangling from shelves and the mantel, but they also made for a great game to test Harry’s co-ordination – every time he managed to catch the spider once I had set it boing-ing (is that even a word?), he won an M&M.  And so did I.

Our final project was the messiest by far; creating real ghosts out of a pile of Harry’s old muslin cloths (cheesecloth, in the US).  We soaked and dunked the cloths in a bowl of fabric stiffener spray, then soaked and dunked ourselves in the bathtub to clean up.  I draped each cloth over a pumpkin placed on a stool to create the shape of a ghostly head with trailing vapours.  Next morning, our cloths had dried to rock hard, ethereal-looking ghosties that cheerfully stand up of their own accord.  All it took then was a couple of eyes, a pair of false lashes (never has a ghost looked more alluring, if slightly trampy..), then I strung them up in the entrance hall; perfect!



To make the handprint ghostly garland you’ll need;

  • white or ivory card stock or heavy paper
  • silver or invisible thread and a needle
  • beads (optional) to use as descorative spacers between your ghosts
  • scissors
  • false eyes, or a black pen to draw these

To make the bouncing spiders you’ll need:

  • Black card stock and a white pencil or chalk (to draw around the hands)
  • Scissors
  • Craft glue
  • eyes, buttons and any other embellishments you want to use
  • a length of black elastic for the bouncy ‘web’ thread

For the cheesecloth ghosts you’ll need

  • a handful of old baby muslins or squares of muslin / cheesecloth
  • fabric stiffener (used to stiffen fabric for roller blinds; ardware and haberdashery stores are likely to stock this. Buy the liquid rather than the spray so you can give your muslin a good dunking
  • a round ‘head’ shape to drape your cloths over to dry, in an area where you don’t mind a bit of mess and drips
  • false eyes (or you can just cut out eye holes for an even more ghostly effect)
  • invisible thread for hanging

The house is now in a state of sticky, papery disarray, so we will temporarily avert our eyes and deny all knowledge of it if my husband should get home first; after all we have a very important trip to make  - our first ever outing to a pumpkin patch!

Have a wonderful weekend when it arrives, and see you next week..

The Apple Game; making the most of Autumn!

This could be my last post before I go to jail.  A solemn occasion, therefore, because once I enter the local Correctional Facility I doubt I will emerge the same person. It is Harry who has introduced these Draconian threats and warnings, as he passes through a very literal phase where life is governed by rules, warnings and consequences.  Thus it is he who will exclaim loudly in shocked tones in a restaurant; ‘Mummy!! Are you talking with food in your mouth?? We don’t do THAT in our family!’.  He’s right of course, and I hasten to add that I don’t make a habit of it – but still, I am ashamed.  My latest misdemeanour was to switch off the television and refuse to say sorry for doing so.  ’If you don’t say sorry’, Harry announced, staunchly and a little regretfully, ‘you will go to prison with lots of naughty men’.  Now, naughty men may occasionally be appealing, but jail is less so, so I am attempting to distract from my shortcomings with a new family game; Pick An Apple.



12 small paper bags hang from this eye-catching board, each with a different mystery seasonal activity and the equipment we need to do it. On weekends or days when Harry and I are free from work and nursery, Harry gets to choose an apple bag at random and that’s what we’ll do for the day.  I’ve picked a number of age-appropriate and interesting things – mostly outdoors but with a few bad-weather alternatives – which include collecting leaves, choosing and carving pumpkins, apple-bobbing and helping Daddy to make a big bonfire.  The content of each bag varies accordingly; for our pumpkin picking there are just enough coins for Harry to buy the right size pumpkin, and a list of tips I found online about how to choose a good one, which will require us to squeeze, juggle and weigh our way around the field as we discard lesser pumpkins in pursuit of the most magnificent.  For our toffee-apple making activity (below), the bag holds lollipop sticks for Harry to push into each apple, wipes for sticky fingers and the recipe itself.

I bought the brown paper bags cheaply at a local stationery store, then cut out apple and leaf shapes and glued together with a small piece of twig to form each apple.  Tiny wooden pegs hold these on the bags and keep each bag closed to avoid peeping.  The bags I hung from pushpins on an old cork pinboard which I painted black and stencilled.  If you don’t have a convenient pinboard or canvas, the bags would look equally good strung along a wall or fireplace like bunting, pegged to a piece of ribbon.



And here’s the result of our first activity; making windfall toffee apples. No danger of talking with your mouth full with these beauties; our industrial-strength caramel effectively seals your jaws together and prevents conversation for several minutes after consumption…genius! Perhaps I should market these as a budget-conscious and appealing alternative to the gastric band.  We’ll work through our activities between now and Halloween as the days grow shorter and the seasons change in technicolour.  I’d love to hear what your favourite activities are at this time of year, and anything we should add to our list…