Circus Party

January 9, 2012

Martha turned 5 inbetween christmas and new year, but we held her birthday party before christmas to maximise the chances of some of her friends being available to come to it. It was a circus theme and I organised all of it, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I think it was pretty sucessful, even though I did get a bit carried away with the theme.

I booked our local village hall and I made the invites above on photoshop with a little help with some lovely retro circus images from the graphics fairy and some free fonts from here; I also attached a child’s ticket to each invite, as well as some info for parents.

I think all parties should be fancy dress, so asked my girls what they wanted to be for the circus party, Martha wanted to be a circus ballerina, and Alice decided she wanted to be a monkey – can’t argue with that. I made Martha’s costume with a leotard from ebay a tutu pattern from (my new favorite book) ‘Oliver + s – little things to sew’ by Liesl Gibson, and some sequin butterfly sew on embellishents (I picked these up in a recent trip to New York). Alice’s monkey costume I bought from ebay, it was alot cheaper than making one, and up until the last minute was doubtful she would actually wear it! I made myself a ringmaster’s tailcoat from a red velour blouse I found in the charity shop, cut the front short and added the off cut to the back for the tails and added covered shoulder pads as epaullettes with lots of fringing and the spare gold fabric I bought I covered the open front to make faux lapels. I was incredibly camp, just what you would expect at a kids circus! I did have a top hat too but mostly forgot to wear it!

The entertainments were circus sideshows, Hook a duck was assembled with some cheapo rubber ducks from ebay with modelling wire loops inserted in their heads and 3 bamboo sticks covered with red tape with cup hooks glued into one end. I marked a duck pond out onto the floor with coloured masking tape. Elephant Hoopla, was a large piece of cardboard with an elephant’s face painted on with a trunk made out of packaging tube, jointed at the end so there was a hook to it and hoops cut out of card too and painted. Coconut shy was 3 more cardboard packaing tubes painted with 3 coconuts balanced on the top (the easiest coconut shy in the world but at least the 4-5 year olds had a chance of winning), my mum and auntie manufactured some excellent stripey beanbags filled with dried pearl barley for the kids to knock the coconut off with. And pin the nose on the clown, another face painted onto cardboard with a few numbered red circles for noses with blutak on the back and my mum’s scarf as a blindfold. (On the day I had forgotten to pick up the handy sleep mask from the flight to NYC to use for this purpose!). My very talented middle sister provided face painting, and my little sister and her boyfriend were photographers. With a ‘pass the parcel’ game included in the fun and packets of haribo offered as prizes for the games we had enough to keep all 30 kids happy until the birthday tea.

We did hotdogs and popcorn and apple wedges (as a suggestion for toffee apples – without all the sugar), for the circus themed food, which went down really well with the kids. I pre-bagged the popcorn into individual bags before the party – also bought from ebay. These were in each table setting along with a drink and a helium balloon, I bought a kit with the gas tank and 50 balloons again from ebay, most of these sadly ended up in the rafters of the hall to high to retrieve!

The cake was a ‘big top’ made with 3 layers of cake mix cake 2 x chocolate and one vanilla made in a square tin, and stacked with chocolate buttercream in between each layer. I trimmed the sides of the squares to neaten up the shape and then used these offcuts to construct a pyramid shape for the top, sticking the bits together with buttercream and carving it to make the shape. I covered it in white fondant icing, there was two layers on the top to smooth out my slightly lumpy pyramid. I used coloured icing to make the stripes down the sides of the tent the bunting along the top edge and green for some grass at the bottom (to hide the messy bottom edge). I made some paper flags one with a happy birthday message written on it, by gluing triangle shapes to bamboo skewers, these went into each corner and the middle and provided stability for the cake too. I put a couple of circus animal toys through the dishwasher to sterilise them and when dry I dressed them up in icing circus outfits for the elephant got a fancy panel over its back and both him and the lion got party hats. I think these were the touch that made the cake look really circusy.

The children all went home with a party bag (a plain brown paper carrier bag with a name sticker made from an address label printed with the graphics from the invite), which included glow stick bracelets (poundland), a chinese purse for the girls (ebay) a couple of small circus animals (from a 2 collections of african animals from amazon), a small pot of candy floss (ebay) and of course a piece of cake.

It was loads of fun, lots of Martha’s friends came in excellent outfits too, special mention for the tattooed lady and strongman, the lovely trapeze  artist, some excellent and inventive clowns and all the princesses, batman, superman and mr bump!

Ok so nothing like leaving it to the last minute, but here are the Union Jacks and red white and blue bunting we made today for the Royal Wedding tomorrow. I could not bring myself to buy crappy plastic ones and wanted the girls to be involved in the making.

I took two pieces of cream coloured, unbleached muslin I had knocking about that looked about flag sized and found two bamboo sticks in the garden that haven’t been used for my peas. Then we ‘painted’ the union jacks on with poster paint. I folded the flags into quarters then folded them into triangles as in the picture. I made a rough ‘stencil’ with a piece of A4 so that Martha could paint the blue triangles of the flag in the right places with neat(ish) edges. We used plenty of paint so it would soak through the folded fabric and paint all the triangles at the same time. In hindsight it would have been easier if the paint had been thinned a little with water, I touched up the triangles that came out a bit too patchy. Then we opened them up and painted the red cross through the middle and the other red bits. We hung them on the washing line to dry, then painted an inch of glue down one of the short edges and rolled the bamboo cane up in the gluey fabric and left it to dry.

I am really pleased with how they came out I was hoping for a vintage look to the flags and we got that with the kiddy painting and the unbleached muslin with slightly frayed edges. The only real problem we had with their manufacture was my insistence that as it was a sunny day the project should be undertaken in the garden, but it was a really windy day and we struggled to keep the fabric, paint pots, safety newspaper and indeed the children in place for very long.

I also knocked up some bunting with some left over fabric tape from my last bunting project (, some more of the unbleached muslin and some red and blue cotton lining fabric I had bought to make the girls some dresses with (I am hoping there is still enough left!) Unlike the last bunting, I left the raw cut edges on these triangles to give it the vintage look I was going for, then just sewed the tape in half lengthways with the short edge of each triangle sandwiched in between.

So now we are all ready, the girls even had a practice waving the flags, shame we are staying at home to watch it on the telly!

Sandcastle Cake

August 12, 2010

It was Alice’s 1st Birthday last week (yes it has gone really quick!), so it was birthday cake time – yippee! I do love making my kids birthday cakes (and cakes in general), although I do get pretty stressed out by it, they usually come good. I was particularly pleased with this one for a few reasons, including; it was all my idea, it was simple to make, it looked really good and it tasted even better! and at no point was I tempted to throw it out the window!

Here’s how it was done;

I baked the actually cake in a terracotta pot, I sealed up the hole in the bottom with a ball of tin foil (making sure it was flattish on the inside but would still stand up – you can fill the divot in the cake with the icing later, greased it really well with butter and lined the bottom with greaseproof paper. I used a ‘betty crocker’ packet devils food cake mix (I am a pretty good baker and I still think this is the yummiest, easiest, chocolate cake you can make and it always works!). It took a bit longer to bake than the directions stated and there was a big lump in the middle where it did not rise evenly – I think this was down to the pot absorbing alot of heat unlike a metal tin. So I simply cut this off and had a little cook’s treat.

When it was cool I iced it with a chocolate buttercream, I make this instead of using the betty crocker stuff because it tastes better and has a paler colour. I took 100g room temp butter, 300g icing sugar and 30g cocoa powder and beat them together with my hand mixer, then spread it thickly over the cake. Then I crushed up some digestive biscuits (in a plastic bag with a rolling pin) and smushed them into the soft buttercream this was achieved best with a handful tipped up and onto the cake working round in sections, I found it looked more authentic patted in to give a smooth sandcastle finish. I also iced and biscuit coated the base (a small chopping board) and this I did not smooth off so well to look like the rest of the beach/sandpit.

Separately I made some scallop type seashells. But you could use those seashell chocolates if you don’t have the time/confidence. These were made with packet fondant icing (the roll out type) which was white so to colour it I made a paste if cocoa powder and hot water and added it to the icing, (this does make it quite wet so add some more icing sugar to firm it up again) This made a beige coloured fondant which I added back to a ball of white not mixing it completely to get a marbled appearance. Working with a small piece, flattened it in my palm and formed a rough triangle shape, then using a scalloped edge pastry cutter (I usually use these for jam tarts and mince pies) cut just the long edge of the triangle. Then using the back of a dinner knife pressed lines from the indent of each scallop up into the ‘shell’.  I stuck these to the sandcastle cake with more chocolate buttercream a big lump of cream and pressed the edges of the shells onto the cake to make them more of a convex shape.

I did also make a little cutesy crab out of red fondant and used cut down bendy straws in his front pincers for shape and stability, I did not photograph this little job, I guess if you have a basic experience of modelling you would give it a go. I made a flag from a piece of paper and a cocktail stick (I was out of bamboo barbecue skewers) and popped in the requisite candle.

Taa Daa!

Half Hour Bunting

July 27, 2010

I had promised a friend that I would make some bunting for her son’s 3rd birthday party, obviously I left it till the last minute but managed to knock this up in about half and hour on my sewing machine. I made it double sided so it looks good if its hung away from a wall/fence/other surface and there is no fiddly hemming to do. I made my pattern from a piece of A4 folded in half lengthways and cut to a shorter length isosceles triangle. (I think about 25cm long), it just looked like the right proportions for the flags. I used fabrics from my hoard of recycled bits a bobs – mostly bed linens and curtains plus an old shirt I bought in the charity shop for £3. The pink gingham was bought to use as a tablecloth for my daughters’ christening. I did buy the fabric tape on ebay, I have used bias binding for this before as it comes in such jolly colours however this cream stuff was cheaper and it turns out easier to work with. I cut out the flags as per my pattern, 3 out of each fabric, then sewed the two long sides with the wrong sides together then turned them inside out using my sewing scissors to push the ‘noses’ to a point and ironed them flat, then folded the tape in half and sewed it together for 30cms for the leader on the bunting to tie it up with, then sandwiched the un-sewed side of on the the flags into the fold of the tape and sewed straight through it. Continuing to add flags every 7cms -ish, I used the width of the sewing surface on my machine as a measure, until I ran out of flags then sewed another 30coms of folded tape for the end. Job done and it looks pretty good, if a little feminine for a boys birthday party, unfortunately my hoard does not include much dinosaur fabric, maybe I’ll start looking out for some in the charity shops.

Sandcastle flags

June 17, 2010

I know any idiot can make these, but Martha has been banging on about having flags for the sandcastles in her sandpit for some time and I finally gave in so here they are. We used some dayglo paper we had knocking about and some straws, I cut the ‘bend’ off most of them but one got put into the sand pit before I got the scissors to it and in practice having a pose-able flag is pretty nifty. We used Martha’s pinking safety scissors which barely made it through the paper (so safe they are not functioning scissors!) to make them look a bit fluttery – tip, cut them folded through a double layer of paper to make sure the edges match up.  We had a plan to draw on the flags with the markers, but Martha managed a wiggle on one before deciding they were finished.