Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Minnie Mouse Birthday Party!

We decided to have a party for Alice's birthday this year and she did not hesitate in deciding on a Minnie Mouse theme. I did not waste any time filling up my Pinterest boards with Mickey/Minnie party ideas. And on Saturday, everything came together (in the literal nick of time) for a super fun celebration for our biggest little girl.
I whipped up some invites in Photoshop and then emailed them out to our friends with kids. Instead of using Evite or other similar e-invite website, I created a Google Doc form for RSVPs, which sent the replies directly into my party planning spreadsheet. Nerd alert, I know, but it really worked great and I'd highly recommend it!

To cut down on the toys that are overtaking the house, we let our friends know that instead of gifts, Alice was collecting donations for the foster kitten program at our local animal shelter. We got lots of stuff that the kitties need and we'll let Alice bring it all to the next event. I didn't get a picture, but we set up the old carrier and scratch post we used when our kittens were tiny as the donation station, with Alice's little stuffed kitties on top. 

I ordered tons of red & white polka dotted party supplies from Amazon and my very favorite party supplier, Shop Sweet Lulu. With large and medium black tissue paper honeycomb balls, I was able to make an awesome Minnie "chandelier" over the food table, complete with a party napkin bow.
I also made a bunch of pinwheels, or medallions, or whatever you want to call them. Now I can't find the tutorial I used, but I ended up trimming 12"x12" scrapbook paper into strips of various widths (I think my largest pinwheels used 8" strips for a 16" diameter pinwheel). Then I marked the backs with little ticks (I overlapped them and marked 3-4 at once) every inch or half-inch. I used inches for the larger wheels and half-inches for the smaller ones. Then, I folded the strips like an accordion, meeting up the tick marks. Once they were folded, I attached three strips (with tape or staples) to make one loooong accordion strip, and then curved the ends around to meet in a circle and secured with tape and/or staples. With the inch measurement, I found I needed twice as many strips to complete the circle (six altogether) than with the half-inch folds. The pinwheels won't stay flat at this point, they'll pop up in the middle until you secure them. I cut out a bunch of circles from a thin cardboard, like the back of a notebook. I put hot glue on the cardboard circle and then pressed it onto the back of the pinwheel, while squeezing the circle in toward the middle. Then I cut decorative circles for the fronts and hot glued those on as well. Worked like a charm, but next time I'd make the back circles bigger - mine were about 3" diameter - to give even more surface area to stick to the wall. I used "permanent" double-sided tape, and the pinwheels were falling off overnight before the party, and then periodically jumping ship during the party. 

Here's how they looked once the table was all set.
We had a cheese tray that any mouse would covet. I really wanted this mouse trap cheese tray, but I thought that would send the wrong message for this party. Another time! We also had Mickey shaped bread, lunchmeat, and cheese, for the most adorable little sandwiches ever.
I made Minnie "Bow & Polka Dot" pasta salad with bow tie pasta, black olives, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, and pearls of mozzarella and tossed it in this divine dressing. It was adorable, and delicious! We also had "Hot Diggety Dogs," because well, obviously.
I finally broke out and learned how to use my new Silhouette Cameo that I got for Christmas. I put it to work hard for this party. One of my favorite things was the menu cards, with a stand up Minnie bow cut-out. So cute. 

And, of course, Mickey-shaped watermelon... 
Alice helped me make Mickey-shaped chocolate covered Oreos, which are basically the easiest and most delicious and addictive treat ever (Mickey ears not necessary!). We used Wilton Candy Melts, microwaved to melty, and dipped full-size and mini Oreas with forks. We laid the covered cookies on waxed paper and just stuck the ears to the heads and let them dry. They hardened perfectly and we didn't lose any ears! It turns out you can make these WAY in advance, too!
And just so people had options, I baked chocolate and vanilla cupcakes (I subbed for the self-rising flour) and my very favorite chocolate and vanilla buttercream recipes. 
 Alice originally requested a chocolate birthday cake, like last year, but after tasting her first cheesecake in Monterey, she quickly changed her tune. And as cheesecake is my favorite, I happily obliged. I baked the "tall and creamy" version from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, which is one of my favorite and most trusted cookbooks. I decorated it with chocolate buttercream, and used the frozen buttercream transfer technique again for Minnie's face. I really need to practice that, I always have trouble getting the design transferred onto the cake. Maybe because I usually just do the outline? There has to be a better way. Anyway, it turned out great and tasted perfect. I just forgot to buy the right kind of cherry pie filling to put on top when we served, but that's OK. No one missed the extra sugar!
Alice requested a bounce house after attending a few recent parties that had them, and we said, "Sure. Why not?!" We also spray painted a Twister pitch on the lawn, set up a ring toss (pool diving rings tossed over our empty Strauss Creamery milk bottles), and made a Mickey beanbag toss and some other outdoor chalkboards. Jon's parents cut us 54 blocks for a super size outdoor Jenga game. I've seen sets that are waist-high on an adult, but this is about chest-high on Alice, which is way better (and safer for all of us!). 
We also made a "Pin the Bow on Minnie" which was ridiculously cute to watch the little ones play. And of course, I made sure that this years' mama-made birthday dress was on theme. Completely with gold glitter TOMS.
And then it was time to sing "Happy Birthday!" It was a breezy day, and the candles barely stayed lit during the song, I think she had a little help in getting them all with one go!

And then, in case there was anyone who wasn't sick on sugar, I made cotton candy. I really added the cotton candy machine to our bounce house order just for me, because I miss my old Disneyland gig. I had a tough time learning the technique back when I first started, but I can attest that 10+ years later, my form is as good as ever. 
One of her sweet friends brought her a lush and lovely peony.
After all our friends left, we spent a good long time in the bounce house by ourselves.
Alice had a ball, and so did Ivy.

And so did I.

And it made all the crafting and cooking and gluing and sewing worth it. Alice felt so special that so many of our friends came to help her celebrate, and we all had a great time - especially the birthday girl. We haven't had a party at our house since she turned one, so maybe we'll do this again in another 3-5 years! 

Happy Birthday to my big girl.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lulu Dress Testing - New Pattern from Craftiness Is Not Optional

Just over a week ago, I was super excited to be chosen to test a new pattern from one of my favorite sewing mama bloggers, Craftiness Is Not Optional. Jessica's new Lulu Dress pattern is so awesome for the little girls! You should definitely check out her three darling daughters, wearing their adorable Lulu combos. I had so much fun making my first sample, I volunteered to test another size, too!

We were on a tight deadline, but I ran to the store for some new fabric because I didn't think my stash was quite right. But then I decided I wanted to give the pattern a trial run before I cut into my pretty new stuff, so I squeezed a dress out of some of my trusty pink stripes.
The pattern is really quick and easy to whip up. Everything works together nicely and turns out really great-looking results. There are lots of fun options, too, like shirt and skirt pockets, a faux placket, and a dress or top length. You can do an all-knit version, or knit on the top and woven on the bottom. If you're nervous about working with knits, there's lots of great advice out there on the blog-o-webs to help you build up your confidence (like this and this and this). Bust out your walking foot (on the sewing machine!) and use a zig-zag stitch meant for stretch, and you'll be all set!

I was asked to test the 2T size, and I started with the sleeveless top version. Ivy is 16 months old and is just getting into the 18-24month size, so I figured it would be a bit big on her. It was actually huge, like falling off the shoulders. But it looked like it would fit Alice perfectly, and it did! Alice is turning 4 any day now, and is solidly in the 4T size. She's average height, and a bit below average weight. I'm not usually very careful about comparing their measurements to the sizes in patterns, but in this case, I would recommend doing exactly that. In fact, I would even go far as to recommend that you cut out the bodice pattern pieces and compare it to some of their clothes that fit well, and make the corresponding pattern size. To me, it seems like the neck is a bit wide, but it looks fine on most of the other testers' dresses, so maybe my kids just have narrow shoulders... I still need to hem this top, I'm thinking I'll go for a little curved hem and trim enough off so you can tell she's wearing shorts underneath!

I did have a little bit of trouble with the bindings. On my first test, I barely had enough and had to really stretch it to fit. On the second dress, I was a good inch short and had to recut the both neck bindings and the arm bindings for Ivy's dress. So in addition to checking the stretch and recovery of your fabric, I recommend cutting 4 extra inches for the neck and arm bindings. I probably only needed 1-2 inches for each, but it was nice to have plenty to play with. One tester recommended using spray starch to keep the bindings from rolling and to make them easier to work with. I will definitely try that next time, knit bindings drive me bonkers. Jessica made a Facebook group for the testers, and it was great to see all their photos and feedback during testing. There were lots of great questions and answers and advice, like the spray starch tip! You can see all the tester photos here, including Alice's cameo!

I volunteered to test the 12-18 month size as well, and I decided to make matching dresses for Alice and Ivy. I cut out another 2T size for Alice and then assembly-lined them (which is why it took me a bit longer to crank out the 12month sample - sorry, Jessica!). And I ended up with this super adorable matching set.

I found out that I'm not the only fiend for stripes and florals (I think we should make a Facebook/support group for that!) and heard a few comments from my big girl friends that they'd like one of these dresses in their size. I just might have to whip up a matching Anthro-inspired tee for myself and then see about adapting this pattern/method for a dress in my own size. I think it would be perfectly easy to do using one's measurements and maybe another well-fitting dress or tee for reference. 

So if you need to do any sewing for 1-8 year-olds, hustle on over and invest $10 in this super easy and versatile pattern. You'll have a closet full of Lulu dresses in no time!