parties

A Cupcake Armada (and back to school fever!)

Cupcake Armada

How are you?  Today feels like the last day of the long summer break, before school and work restart in earnest next week.  An amazing summer of long hot days, evenings without bedtime curfews and delicious expanses of family time.  A summer too of sporting achievements; armbands are now permanently consigned to the loft and Harry is confidently afloat and swimming like a fish (albeit a wriggling, giggling one, who is liable to take onboard water in moments of distraction…).

We’ve also had the time to make progress with more of the house redesign and decor, tackling the upstairs rooms a little at a time; so exciting.  And many more projects in the pipeline… but more on that in a minute.

First though, a fun papercraft-and-cake project from this week (combinations don’t come much better than that, surely); a practice-run of ideas for friends who want to have homemade vibrant and fun cupcakes at their seaside wedding instead of a traditional cake.

cupcake sails 07

I wanted to create the impression of masted sails and chose long wooden barbecue skewers and strips of brightly coloured paper to create the effect.  For the pattern – which reminded me of swirling sea colours but also picked out the pink theme colour of the wedding – I downloaded one of the wonderful free watercolour designs by Yao Cheng for DLF , cropped it into long rectangle shapes and then added some text in Powerpoint (below).  If you don’t need to add writing, I’d just chose a lovely patterned sheet of gift wrap and cut out rectangles of about 2×5 inches.

cupcake sails 02

I painted each skewer with food colouring; you can do this neat from the bottle or dilute for a more subtle colour.  I left the bottom of the skewers unpainted but of course the beauty of the food colouring is it’s completely non-toxic and safe to be thrust deep into sponge…

cupcake 04

I threaded the paper onto the skewer and then pushed a small pearl bead onto each skewer tip both for decorative effect and to avoid any partygoers accidentally poking themselves in the eye when leaning over to choose their cake.. and also strung a few tiny bells randomly on the mast tops..

cupcake sails 05

Ta-da; the finished cupcakes!  Easy to produce en masse but equally fun just to make for teatime.

cupcake sails 07

 In other news… Harry and I have been embarking on a rather more substantial project this month; remember the Parisian Play Shop?  It was well-loved and well-played with for about a year but gradually became a dumping ground for all kinds of toys, books and half-built Lego models.  Whilst the play kitchen is very much still in active use, and acts like a magnet for any little girls who happen to be passing through, the shop seemed to have run its course, so I moved it to the loft to create space and forgot about it.

But then, this summer we stumbled across a pop-up puppet show in the local park – and Harry was absolutely transfixed.  There’s something about the slapstick comedy and audience participation which completely captured his imagination and made him chuckle whenever he thought about it for days afterwards.  So… we’re building a puppet theatre together, where we can stage our own plays at home.  I began by bashing out the top shelf and getting a large hole cut out from the back..

puppet theatre in progress

and finished up…….

starlight puppet theatre DIY

…well, I think we’ll open the theatre officially with a Grand Reveal next week, when our finishing touches are complete. We have some rehearsing to do after all :-)

Have a great weekend when it comes; I’ll be making the most of the last couple of days of lie-ins and sunshine, in-between stitching in name tags and retrieving long-abandoned school kit from corners around the house..

handbag logo

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

 

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

Setting Sail!



‘Tis done! Construction on the birthday boy’s pirate ship is now complete, on schedule and on budget (and is possibly the only piece of construction ever done in our house which can make these claims).  Nobody would ever be bold enough to certify this seafaring vessel as watertight or fit to conquer the seven seas, but our fondant pirates don’t seem to mind.  It does at least creak authentically, due to the weight of the chocolate ganache, and lists atmospherically to one side, though this is more attributable to my lopsided baking than to the ocean wave.

Thank you for all the helpful comments and tips; I now feel like a fully-fledged member of the birthday-cake-baking community, at least for the next 10yrs until Harry officially declares homemade party cakes to be a bit lame and embarrassing, at which point I will hang up my spatula with a mixture of profound relief and dismay.  For those who are interested, allow me to take you on a tour of our galleon…



Our cheery-looking skipper is brandishing an unlit sparkler, ready to fire the canon; we’ll light this at the moment critique in lieu of candles.  The canon and canon balls are sculpted from fondant, rubbed lightly with edible silver dust and accessorised with silver balls.  A hidden cocktail stick secures the canon ball in the mouth of the canon; I’ve instructed my husband to try to rescue all the cocktail sticks before the eating begins.  He’s an ex-surgeon after all; he’s used to counting instruments in and out of cavities).  The steering wheel is the only inedible component, borrowed from Harry’s toy pirate ship when he protested that his cake must have a steering wheel; how right he is.

I made the sails by printing onto sheets of regular printer paper and then rubbing them with used teabags, and setting light to the edges.  It was a useful, if unintentional, way of checking that our smoke alarms are working well. (In my defence; yesterday was a VERY cold day to be faffing around outside with such things).  The bunting is not especially pirate-like, but makes our cake jolly rather than fierce, which is important when you’re staring down the barrel of only your third birthday.  I glued scraps of gift wrap onto sparkly thread and trimmed them into flag shapes.  The flags themselves are winched onto disposable BBQ kebab sticks.

My pirates are not afraid of their feminine side; they sport rose-gold earrings and suffer from rather womanly physiques; I left them looking perky and muscled and then came down this morning to find they had wilted into a sort of pear-shaped, who-ate-all-the-pies type slump. Pirate 2 looks like he is accessorising his outfit with a carefully chosen Chorizo sausage; it’s actually supposed to be a blingtastic gold trophy belt..

An equally heavyweight crow sits in his nest, surveying the seas; he wisely decided not to chance his luck on top of the mast and has taken up station at the rear of the ship instead, where a life ring is within easy reach if necessary.

So that’s all for now; we have a busy weekend ahead with Harry’s party, a grandmotherly visit, and also – excitingly – an away day for me and my mum to try a taster day of willow sculpting. Each year we try a course in some new skill which we are convinced will change our lives; industrial blacksmithing was one, flower painting another (we tend to extremes, as you see).  Mostly we drink a lot of coffee (or wine), gossip and plan projects way beyond our talent.  Tomorrow, for example, we have been led to believe we may create one of these;

Whereas I am secretly hoping I might knock up a herd of these, ready to strap to the roof of the car…

We shall see; I’ll let you know how I get on.  I’ll be back next week with 3 different kinds of stars to make for Christmas; have a wonderful weekend in the meantime, and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my lovely readers across the pond!

Willow image credits; 1)  Tir Grug Willow, Wales,  2) Cove Garden Nurseries, Devon

Making a Statement: brighten up a dull day



I’ve just finished redecorating the room in our house I use for all-things-creative; the walls are whitewashed, the old navy blue carpet ripped up and consigned to a skip, and it feels light, bright and inviting at last.  I wanted to paint the ceiling and walls bright white to maximise the light, but as a result they can look a little bare.  Last night’s project was therefore a simple paper banner which I can change at will, loosely strung between two wall tacks along a length of ribbon.  It adds a vibrant splash of colour but is entirely temporary, and can be reconfigured to create other words when I get bored….



To make this, I decided on my phrase and typed it into a document file, one letter per page.  I switched the font randomly each time, and played with the colours.  I then simply printed out the sheets and glued each to an A4 sheet of coloured cardstock (I love these tonal papers and use them for most projects, and tend to always have a pack in my drawer)

I then strung a length of ribbon between two tacks I nailed into the wall, and used wooden pegs to attach the sheets.  In my usual slapdash style, I didn’t make any measurements and just did this by eye – it looks rough ‘n’ ready and that’s fine by me!

I can see these appearing round the house in due course in various permutations; I can create an ‘enter!’ banner from my existing letters to string over a door, and by adding an ‘H’, ‘L’ and ‘M’ to my collection I can make a ‘Harry’ sign for his bedroom door, a ‘NOEL’ for Christmas, and a ‘Be Mine’ for those romantic moments which manage to occasionally elbow their way into life with a young family.  The possibilities are endless.. almost.  ’Never Be Ordinary’ seemed an appropriate motto for a family whose various members will frequently go shopping in a cowboy hat and swim goggles (Harry), and hold a Guinness World Record for running the fastest 3-legged marathon whilst tied to your brother (the unlikely-but-true pick-up line used by my future husband soon after our eyes met across a crowded room…). Embrace individuality – and so say all of us!