Back to Basics

Values & budget (in a big way) have made this stay @ home Mom go back to a simpler way of raising children.
From wardrobe to birthday parties, there ain't nobody keepin' up with the Jones' in this house!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Sew Much Fun" Birthday Party

Pillowcase Dress
 (minus the decorative buttons)
See more photos below

For our daughter's 7th birthday I planned (with a LOT of help from my Mom & sister) a sewing themed party.  The kids learned:
  • how to sew a button on their dresses
  • how to use a sewing machine
  • how to run ribbon through casings
  • how iron-on decals work
PLUS each guest got to go home with a pillowcase dress (or nightie) that they helped to complete.    Below is a step by step description of how it all came together which you can use as a guide for your own "Sew Much Fun" party.  Enjoy!!

Now, I know that not all you have the inclination, desire or time to prepare a birthday like this one.  And to be honest I don't have the inclination, desire or time to host one everytime.  I just want to go back to the days where our friends came to our house to play and celebrate with us.  There are numerous party themes, activities and companies you can hire to come to your house and do the work for you AND at a comparable price.  So I'm not saying you should slave over your child's parties.  However, if this theme inspires you, I have written in great detail all you need to do & buy with an approximate budget to help you out.

Okay, here we go!  First you'll need to solicit the help of your family (if they're the type) and perhaps friends or even parents of the guests.  Unless of course you're a super hero and can handle it all on your own. (not the case with me) With a few evenings dedicated to prep, you'll give your child and her guests a party to remember!  In our case, we had 14 kids!!!  The house was crowded, to say the least, BUT it was the quietest birthday party ever!  Everyone was so enthralled and concentrating so hard you could here a pin drop...which had one actually dropped we would have picked it up right away to avoid injury...of course. teehee

Here's how it all started:

We bought various, solid coloured, pillowcases at a discount clearance store after searching high and low for vintage (or vintage looking) ones with the embroidery around the opening (I sooooo wish we could have found some as it would have made things so much easier but alas we did not).  We purchased all the ribbon we needed (for collar casings & embellishment at the bottom of the dress) at the dollar store.  We also stocked up on extra scissors at the dollar store.  The thread, the anti-fray glue (for the ribbon ends), the pins, the buttons & iron-on decals we got from fabric and or craft stores (use coupons whenever possible.  "Michael's" always has great coupons.)  In order to save time, and to make sure the kids could actually finish the dresses before they left, we pre-sewed a few elements of the dresses.  Such as the arm holes, the front casing, the ribbon around the bottom of the dress and the little pocket on which we ironed on a flower.

Here is what you will need to make the dresses and host the party:
  • Standard size pillowcases (the vintage ones with embroidery at the bottom are beautiful.  They fancy the dresses up without having to add too much or any stuff at all.  I just couldn't find any unfortunately.  The ones we ended up with were a little thick & stiff but the kids loved them anyway).
  • Sewing machine (1 for prep and 2 for the party if you have a lot of guests)
  • Straight pins
  • Thread to match the fabric of the pillowcases
  • 3/4 to 1 inch Ribbons to match the dresses (2 yards for the shoulder straps/casings per dress PLUS a matching length to go around the bottom of the dress if you're using plain pillowcases.  It just makes it prettier.  Note: you need to make sure the ribbon is the right width to fit through the casing.)
  • Anti-fray glue to keep the ribbons from fraying after they're cut (such as "Dritz Fray Check").  This saves you from having to sew the ends of the ribbons.
  • Ironing board & iron (for prep, ie. pressing casings & arm holes before sewing & for party ie. decals)
  • Iron-on decals (optional)
  • Decorative buttons (optional)
  • Sewing needles (enough for everyone to sew on their buttons)
  • Thread for the button station
  • Large safety pins for threading the ribbons through the casings
  • Scissors (enough for button & casing station, sewing machine station & ironing station - for grownups only depending on the age of the kids)
  • Extra large "Ziploc" type bags to create dress kits for each guest. 
  • Depending on the amount of guests, you'll want at least 2 helpers for the button sewing and ribbon threading station as well as 2 sewing machine moms, plus 1 ironing person.)
  • Photographer.  My hubby is always in charge of capturing all the special moments.  You can ask one of the parents to take charge of that task as well.
  • Snacks for the food table
  • Drinks for the kids & the grown-ups (we chose apple juice & water for the kids and water, pop, coffee & tea for the adults).
  • Plates, cutlery, napkins & cups for the snack table & for cake time. (Use your own or buy recyclable and or compostable when possible.)
  • Decorations (I didn't get balloons this time because our house is so small it would have felt more crowded but I reused some banners & wall scenes from previous parties).  Making the food table look pretty is often enough.
  • Cake & candles

Here's how the Pillowcase Dresses are made: 
  • Use a standard size pillowcase (for kids up to 12yrs).
  • Pre-wash and iron the pillowcases to avoid shrinkage after the dresses are made. 
  • To make the arm holes, cut rectangles out of both corners at the top of the pillow case (closed end).  5 inches high and 2 inches wide. Then cut the rest of the top open (this would be a good time to fold the tops over to create the casings & slip it over your child's head and see if the armpits will be either too large or too small.  Based on this, you can prepare the rest to be identical for anyone of the same age and similar size.  We had to play around with this a little.  The beauty of these dresses is that they don't need to be perfect.  You just have to avoid enormous arm holes). 
  • Turn and pin the fabric around the arm holes (1/4 inch-ish) and sew to make a nice finish. 
  • Fold & iron the front and back of the newly cut pillowcase to create a 1 inch casing (to string the ribbons through. This will create the shoulder straps and gathered collar).  Make sure you iron the casings to make them smooth and even.  Sew the front one  We chose to let the kids sew the back casing at the machine so that if it's not perfect you won't really see it.  Everyone had a turn at the sewing machine with the help of an adult guiding them to keep their fingers safe. 
  • If you don't have the vintage type pillowcases, sew a decorative ribbon over the stitching at the bottom of the pillowcase dress.
  • Cut the 2 yards of ribbon for the casings in half and treat the ends with the anti-fray glue.
  • For an added touch, we used the arm hole scraps to make pockets.  I should be more specific, my MOTHER made pockets with the arm hole scraps.  Plus she added an iron-on flower to each one then machine sewed it onto the dress.  This part is optional.  Had my mother not been here to help me, the pockets would never have happened.
  • Create a dress kit for each guest but placing one of the partially completed dresses, the casing ribbons and the buttons in a "Ziploc" type bag.
  • Display all the kits on a table, couch...for the kids to be able to choose the one that they want.  I was shocked that none of the 14 kids argued over which one they got. 
  • Prepare each station with everything the kids and helpers will need (needles, thread, scissors, safety pins for threading ribbons through casing...I had a stash of band-aids in case of needle pricks but we didn't end up needing them.) 

We divided the party up in 3 stations.  Here's how:
  1. The first station (in the kitchen) was for button sewing & ribbon threading.  A couple of moms helped the kids with threading their sewing needles and taught them how to sew on the buttons.   
  2. The second (at one end of the living room/dining room combo) was the sewing machine station where everyone had a turn sewing the back casing.
  3. The third (at the other end of the living room/dining room) was the ironing station.  Here, the kids picked their anagram and where they wanted it placed and an adult ironed it on. 
  4. Once the casings were sewn in station 2 the girls came back to the kitchen to thread the ribbons through the casings.  The moms helped by putting large safety pins at the end of each ribbon to make things easier.  Then the ribbons were tied together with the bow sitting on top of the shoulder.
*Except for needing to thread the ribbons only once the casing was sewn, nothing needed to be done in any particular order.  This allowed the kids to be spread out and busy doing something at all times.  No one sat around waiting.

Here's how the (2 hour) party went:
  1. As each guest arrived they were invited to select a "Ziploc" bag  dress kit.  We then wrote their name on it with permanent marker so that they wouldn't mix up their ribbons & buttons with someone else's.
  2. They then proceed to either of the 3 stations and got started.
  3. Once all the dresses were complete, they put them on and we took a group shot with the birthday girl.  We used this photo to create the thank you cards.
  4. We then served the birthday cake.
  5. Followed by opening the presents (a MUST in our house.  Check out my "Party Present Pet Peeve" post)
  6. Then it was time for hugs, kisses, thank yous and goodbyes
*We set up our snack table with fruit, veggies, cheese & chips that the kids could nibble on as they wandered from station to station.  An inexpensive white table cloth we've had since forever, some golden platters from the dollar store that we've had for several years, some pretty white bowls we received as wedding gifts and some flowers make something simple and inexpensive look fancy and thought out. 

Each dress cost approx. $7.50 to make (we made 15 dresses) for a total of $112.50
Food, drinks & flowers cost approx. $85
Cake cost: $20
Napkins, plates, cups & cutlery (we used our own): $0
"Thank You" photo cards made with the group picture (Costco): $20

Put that cost up against the cost of say an indoor playground, plus pizza, cake, loot bags, decorations (helium balloons are pretty expensive these days), snacks, drinks, plates, cups, cutlery (not to mention having to lug all this stuff back & forth)...  By doing it yourself and hosting at home, you've come way under the budget necessary for that type of party and the kids leave with all this new knowledge, a memorable day and a dress that they made THEMSELVES!!!

Pre-party Prep with Gram

Adorable ribbon from the dollar store

Anti-fray glue drying time!

Learning to sew on a sewing machine!!

Picking out an anagram

Ironing station with Steph - Ironer Extraordinaire!
Learning to sew on the buttons

Hard at work!

Group Photo - ish (for privacy reasons)

Cake time!!

Presents time!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Party Present Pet Peeve

Okay, so I get that not all parents out there have the time or even the desire to plan a birthday party for their kids at home.  It requires a lot of time and effort.  I sooooo get that.  I'm all for a good time at an indoor playground, or princess party, or even the circus.  The kids love it and I love to see them have fun.  But here's where I get bummed out.  What happened to the tradition of watching the birthday girl or boy open their presents?  I used to (and still do) LOVE seeing the expression on my friends' faces when they opened the gift that I chose for them.  Until I moved to Ontario, I had never been to a party where the kids did not open the presents the guests brought for them.  In my less than humble opinion, I think it's impolite NOT to open the gifts.  Someone took the time, effort and money to try to pick the perfect gift and you don't have the wherewithall to open it and say thanks? I also believe that now is the time for our kids to experience and learn what it feels like to give to others.  It feels great to receive but often better to give.  We recently hosted a "Baby & Me Tea Party" birthday at our house (more on that later).  The kids were soooooo excited when it came time for our daughter to open her gifts they nearly went insane.  They were practically climbing on her to give her the gift that they brought.  They were so proud of themselves for making Abby happy.  This is our chance Moms & Dads.  Let your guests see your child receive their gifts and give them the opportunity to feel the joy that they themselves can bring to others.  It's also a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn to express gratitude.  It should be done on site and in person.  End of rant. (phew, I feel much better now. teehee)