This Castle’s a Keeper

illuminated castle tissue boxOn the market for some truly radiant real estate? Perhaps this elegant castle votive will do! This simple, but way cool project was part of To Be Continued, our story time for kids ages 6-8.

We read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (Puffin, 2015). Castle Hangnail isn’t the most ideal evil castle. For starters, it’s situated on grassy hills peppered with flowers (as opposed to, say, a wind-blasted cliff or a lonely moor). But an ever bigger issue is that currently, it doesn’t have a resident Evil Master or Mistress. Soon, it will be magically decommissioned and shut down for good. Desperate, the castle’s faithful minions send out a final round of invitations. They get just one response. A 12 year-old Wicked Witch named Eudaimonia. Or at least the girl says her name is Eudaimonia. In reality, her name is Molly, and she is a maybe-not-so-wicked witch who has told some whopper lies to her parents in order to fill the castle’s vacancy. Molly quickly falls in love with Hangnail Castle and the minions. In fact, everything appears to be working out beautifully – until the real Eudaimonia shows up. Will Molly and her friends be able to win Castle Hangnail back from the Evil Sorceress?

A shadow spell plays an important role in the book, so I wanted to do a project that involved castles, light, and shadow. Also, we had only 20 minutes at the program to complete the project, so I needed something simple. This castle votive project fit the bill perfectly!

illuminated castleYou’ll need:

  • 2 castle template pages (more on this below), printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • An x-acto knife
  • A small box with a window in the lid – the top of a small tissue box works great!
  • 1 large square of tin foil (mine was 12″ x12″)
  • 2 castle borders template pages, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • Scissors and glue for construction
  • Metallic markers (optional)
  • 1 LED votive
  • Hot glue

Usually, I draw the project templates myself. But while researching the project, Marissa discovered this beautiful little castle votive by artist Lova Blåvarg. Lova’s castle is in color, but we thought it looked more Gothic when we printed it in black and white. The template and instructions for making Lova’s castle can be found here.

castle template finished

Castle by Lova Blåvarg for Sweet Paul magazine

The most time consuming part of the project is cutting all the little castle windows out with an x-acto knife. Marissa, the champion of all things x-acto, printed, cut, and hot glued 16 castles in preparation for the program. That’s 64 castle panels and 640 tiny little windows! Daaaaang.

You could make the castle, drop in the LED votive, and stop there. But I wanted to add a base to give the project a little more heft. I used these window boxes from Discount School Supply. The boxes are nice and sturdy, but a set of 12 costs $17, which can get pricey.

window boxA cheaper option is to use the top of a small tissue box. Cut approximately 2.5″ off the bottom of the box. If you don’t like the pattern, cover it with your choice of construction paper. Remove any plastic from around the mouth of the box, and your base is ready to go!

cut tissue boxLine the inside of the box with a square of tin foil (if you’re using a tissue box, you’ll need to secure the tin foil in place with tape and peel it back from the mouth of the box).

foil inside boxNext, print the castle borders template and select your favorites. Glue the borders to the sides of the box, Then hot glue the castle to the top of the box. Done! Here’s the finished window box version:

finished castle window boxAnd here’s the finished tissue box version:

finished castle tissue boxWe offered the kids metallic markers for additional decorating, but this step is totally optional. Finally, drop an LED votive into the box and bask in the glow! Here’s the illuminated window box version:

illuminated castle window boxAnd here’s the tissue box version! The halo of light coming out of the bottom is rather cool, don’t you think? In fact, I believe I like the tissue box version better than the more expensive window box version.

illuminated castle tissue boxAnd speaking of glowing, when we did the project for the program, I darkened the gallery, turned out the lights, and had the kids create by “candlelight.” The effect was very cozy actually. Ah, home sweet castle!

working on castle

DIY Harry Potter Party

diy harry potter partyWhat do you do when your best friend – who happens to be a huge Harry Potter fan – is celebrating her quinceañera? You throw her a surprise party of course, with all the trimmings! Our kid tester, Hope (who you last saw here) researched, designed, prepped, and coordinated this party for her friend Liv, and I was invited for a sneak peek.

The party was announced when a mysterious letter arrived for the birthday girl, informing her of her acceptance to Hogwart’s. She was given no more information than a time and date (Liv’s mom, however, was filled in on all the details). Other attendees received similar invitations. Hope “aged” the paper by soaking regular old printer paper and an envelope in black tea. She used a cookie sheet for both soaking and flat drying the paper. Depending on your paper, you’ll need to soak for 30 minutes to an hour. If you’re doing a number of invites, have fresh tea water handy (the solution gets weaker with every soaking).

letter close upWhen the paper was dry, Hope ran it through her computer’s printer. I was curious to know how the printer handled the crackly papers? “For the most part they went through okay.” reports Hope. “Once or twice an envelope got stuck, and I had to get down on my hands and knees and yank it out of the printer.”

When guests arrived at the party, they encountered a “brick wall” at King’s Cross Station. Hope made a brick template out of card stock, and then repeatedly traced the template onto a red plastic tablecloth using a black permanent marker. Finally, she added gold mortar highlights with gold paint (it gives it a nice shimmer, doesn’t it?). The tablecloth was slit 3/4 of the way up so guests could walk through the wall…

brick wall…and arrive at Platform 9 3/4! Hope hand-painted the sign on cardboard and hung it from the ceiling using tea cup hooks and twine (original instructions for the sign here).

platform signTo the right on the sign was a train compartment (and later photo booth) for the Hogwarts Express. Hope’s mom gets the credit for this one. She covered a bench with cardboard and secured it with packing tape. Then she added all the details. I love the armrests on the seat. And the window with the curtain!

train compartmentHere’s a close up of the luggage on the train. That super thick A History of Magic book? Originally, it was the collected works of Jane Austin.

train luggageDisembarking from the train, party goers encountered two party tables (10 knuts if you spot Hope’s unintentional photobomb).

first party tableThe first party table held a slew of potions (labels found online and adhered to funky bottles filled with colored water), Chocolate Frogs (template here), and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean (template here). Depending on the number of beans and size of your frogs, you might need to adjust the templates a little.

candy boxesSnowy white owl balloons hovered over the table. Hope recreated these from a picture she saw online. They are so cute and simple it’s just genius. Wouldn’t it be fun to do a whole shelf like an Owlery, with each balloon holding a special message?

owl balloonsDid you happen to notice the wands on the party table? These were my absolute favorite party item. Here’s a close-up of them on a white background:

wandsHope modified these instructions and made the wands out of chopsticks and meat skewers (with the sharp ends sawed off of course). First, she used hot glue to create patterns on the sticks, then she painted them with with brown paint. When the paint started flaking, she added a coat of glossy mod podge. Each wand had a handwritten tag attached, informing the owner of the wand’s specs. Honestly, I couldn’t stop playing with them.

second party tableThe second party table was designed to hold some classic wizard delicacies. More on those in a moment. For now, let’s admire those house banners. They’re plastic table clothes cut into banner shapes and adorned with the house coat of arms (which Hope found online using a Google image search). Notice the floating candles overhead?

floating candlesThose are painted toilet paper and paper towel tubes with hot glue drips. An LED is mounted in a little paper towel sling at the top. They’re hanging from clear cord. And speaking of candles…

candelabraHope spotted this at her church and asked if she could borrow it for the party! Perfect, isn’t it? The cobwebs are a super nice touch too. Now, who’s hungry?

chocolate frogFirst, chocolate frogs. Hope found these molds on Amazon ($2.29 plus $3.27 shipping). She used Wilton’s dark melting chocolate and a borrowed chocolate melting pot (very similar to a fondue pot) to construct the treat. I tried one. It was very tasty, but I have to admit, it was a trifle unnerving to bite off its head. Next up? Pumpkin Pasties.

pumpkin pastiesHope used pre-made pie crust dough (Wegman’s brand) and the pumpkin pie recipe from the back of Libby’s canned pumpkin. The mini-pies were baked in a muffin tin. I tried one. Nom nom (if you’re in the mood for a different kind of pumpkin pastie, check out the one we posted about last summer). Finally, butterbeer. Served in a chilled wine glass of course.

butterbeerHere’s the recipe she used (and here’s the original source for it). Very rich and tasty!

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream
  • 1/4 cup butterscotch syrup
  • 32 oz cream soda

Directions:

  1. Place 4 (16-ounce) glasses in freezer and chill for at least 20 minutes
  2. Mix ice cream and cream soda in a blender until combined
  3. Divide between the frosted glasses
  4. Top each glass with whipped cream, if desired

Shaking only slightly from all the sugar I had just consumed, I moved to the living room, where a Harry Potter movie marathon was being cued up. A CD of movie music was playing on the stereo as Hope’s little sister cavorted in her Hedwig costume (instructions for the no-sew costume here).

hedwigBy now, the guests were starting to arrive before the birthday girl’s big entrance. Hope had asked them to bring the gifts unwrapped so she could wrap them herself, using brown paper and twine reminiscent of  the owl post.

owl postRevelers could also opt to put on some wizard robes (i.e. old graduation gowns). Hope borrowed them from yours truly (because I – ahem! – have 5 sets of wizard robes in my attic. And 3 wizard hats. But who’s counting?). Since the birthday girl was due to arrive shortly, it was time to depart. A quick pit stop revealed that Hope had left no stone unturned:

ministry of magic entranceSo, how did the birthday girl react? According to Hope, she walked through the door and was overwhelmed. Stunned. Totally caught by surprise. And then she toured the party floor several times, pouncing on various items like a little kid in a candy shop.” The other guests were equally delighted and enchanted. Wouldn’t you be? I tip my hat to you Hope, and look forward to you coordinating all my children’s birthday parties until they go to college. I’m kidding of course. But only slightly.

While we’re on the subject of Harry Potter, here’s a rundown of all the HP projects, programs, and cool connections we’ve featured on the blog!