A few weeks ago, we had a celebration for one of our nephews at Tim’s parents’ lake house. Caleb had completed treatment at St Jude’s and was back to living the healthy, active life of a kid his age after a long struggle with Leukemia. We were so excited to celebrate him and his strength with all of our family and friends.
My mother-in-law asked me to think about some decorations for the party. She specifically asked for a few banners to use by the front door and in the back yard. I racked my brain for a week or so, but everything I kept coming up with seemed to not quite fit him. A lot of cute banner ideas on the internet (and Pinterest) are a little bit girly. While I would love chipboard letters covered in German glass glitter, I knew Caleb wouldn’t be quite as excited.
Caleb is the kind of kid who really loves to make things with his hands, and had gotten into origami. He and his dad folded paper cranes to hang in their garage, a strand of which we’d used to decorate for Sandy’s retirement party. Once I got to thinking about origami decorations, I wondered if I could make the letters out of folded paper. I found an origami alphabet with folding instructions for each letter (I used the second alphabet on that page, because the letters seemed clearer). I cut some wrapping paper (the closest thing I had at home to simulate thin origami paper) to some different sizes to see which would be best for the banners. After trying it with a sheet of 12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper, though, Tim and I agreed that bigger was probably the way to go for legibility.
Next I had to find scrapbook paper to use. I’m sure there are tons of cool sources out there for paper, and I would have loved to explore them, but I only had a few weeks, so I started with my local Target, which I knew had a small scrapbooking section. Most of the paper was not right for the project, either very fussy prints or colors, or pretty neutral and not celebratory feeling. Then I found a few packs of a more gender-neutral hued collection and snatched them up. The price was great, 99 cents for 8 sheets of paper that all coordinated. When I talked to Sandy, I found out she wanted the banners to have a longer message than I’d been planning for, so I had to track down a few more packs. My local Target had one left, and I checked another while doing some errands, but they were out. Just to cover my bases, I went to Joanns and picked up 4 sheets at 59 cents each. Not exactly the deal the other paper had been, but it would do in a pinch. Luckily, a friend of mine was at yet another Target across town the next day and they had the paper in stock, so I was able to use all of the coordinated stuff and have the Joanns paper set aside to return soon. (Uh, yes, I will return $2.50 worth of paper.)
I sorted the paper on the dining room table, so I could make sure I was doing a nice mix of patterns and not having, like, the two blues in consecutive letters. I liked some of the patterns better than others (clearly the STRIPES are my favorite!), and learned after I started that the patterns with the white background aren’t greatly-suited to this project, but I did what I could with what I had. (I figured out after a few letters that the white background papers work a little better for less-complex letters, like the L or the T. Not so great for the E!)
I did the actual folding over on our awesome coffee table, with the instructions pulled up on my Kindle and the tv showing the Olympics. I used a bone folder to really reinforce the creases. Scrapbook paper is not designed to be folded as much as origami paper is, so getting the crease as sharp as possible was important. Because the paper is thicker, some of the folds were a bit tougher (like when you’re folding 8 layers of paper), but with some patience, the letters turned out well. It took a few hours to make it through all of the letters, but some Olympics coverage in the background and I was a happy camper.
After folding the letters for “CELEBRATE CALEB” twice (once for each banner), I had 4 sheets of paper left, all white-background papers I didn’t want to use for the complex letters. I thought that it might be a good opportunity to learn to make origami cranes, to honor Caleb and his project. (He even folded a lovely little crane for his doctor at St Jude’s, who was Japanese, as a thank you for all of his hard work.) I remembered that a blogger I read had put together detailed instructions for folding an origami crane, so I checked those out. They were very easy to follow, though I had a bit of trouble with Step 4 until I did a bit of extra Googling and found this video to be very helpful with that step (from 0:55-1:25). Again, some patience and some work with the bone folder over my lunch break at work, and I had 4 lovely oversized paper cranes ready to be packed up for our trip.
Stringing up the banners was super-easy. Sandy located a few sturdy string options and I used full-sized clothespins to clip them to the lines. We had originally planned on using mini 1″ clothespins, but didn’t end up getting them, and I think the full-sized ones were the better way to go anyway. You can see from this picture what I meant about the white-background paper. The second E, the R and the A in “celebrate” are awfully hard to read because the complex shape of the letter isn’t very clear due to the white. Once I’d folded this set of letters and realized the problem, I course-corrected and only used those patterns for simpler letters, but next time, I’d avoid using them altogether.
I split the words to two lines for the front entrance. I also had to put teensy little nails into the wood of the entrance posts to hang the twine, which gave me deep anxiety for a bit. After they were up, though, you could barely tell they were there, and now Sandy (who instructed me to do it! I didn’t just drive nails into her house!) can hang other lovely things there in the future. She’s big into seasonal decorating, so I can actually see that happening in the future. You can see how the white-patterned background papers work better on the simpler shapes, though the T in “celebrate” is tough, because the small-dot paper was pretty light. You could tell what it was in real life, but it looks terrible in the pictures. I loved that this was the first thing people saw as they were arriving for the party, because it really set a celebratory tone.
I have a total confession to make now, though. There was a problem that I hadn’t quite anticipated with the origami letters that I feel I need to share with you, in case you’re considering doing this yourself. The letters looked awesome while lying on my coffee table, and I pressed them underneath some history of architecture textbooks to get the folds extra-pinched. However, once they were hanging by the clothespins, especially out in the humid air, they got…droopy. Gravity was tough to the paper, I think partly because it wasn’t origami paper, which is designed to hold a fold beautifully. Vaguely panicked, I looked for some glue (and bless my construction-loving in-laws, wood glue was the thing most readily available, which cracked me up) and dabbed little bits here and there to hold parts of the letters in place. The most necessary spots were the crossbars of the A and B and E, as well as the mid-point of the C. I was all “aaah, the point of origami is that there’s no glue or tape” so the purist in me was disappointed. But those designs were not formulated to use scrapbook paper and to be hung in 88 degree humid weather so…you do what you have to, I guess.
The cranes, however, looked so cool dangling in the slight breeze. I just tried to focus on that awesome detail and forget that any glue was involved.
Now the other awesome thing that I’m excited to share with you was the desserts. I had nothing to do with these, but they are an excellent example of Committing to a Theme. Tim’s coworker Ambrosia is an excellent baker, we hired her to do the delicious cake for my dad’s birthday party a few months ago. Tim was excited to have her work on desserts for Caleb’s party, too, so we had her do another sheet cake and some cupcakes. Ambrosia asked about decoration for the sweets and Tim explained to her what I was doing with the signs.
She wanted to incorporate the origami into the desserts, so she learned to fold paper cranes herself! The cupcakes looked so beautiful all clustered together with the cranes in bright colors!
Anyone who took one of the chocolate cupcakes got to admire the pretty paper crane as a decoration. People even kept them as a momento of the party.
Ambrosia worked the cranes into the cake design as well. Since Caleb’s party was at the lake, she wanted it to look like the shimmering lake and the grass along the edges. She put the cranes on toothpicks so they “flew” above the surface of the cake a little. The lettering was also blocky, like the letters from the banners. The cake itself was white with lemon frosting (which is what she did for my dad’s party, and holy goodness, I could eat a tub of just the frosting and be a happy gal), which she airbrushed with color. I was happy about the airbrushing, because you could enjoy the cake without worrying that your teeth were going to be blue for the next 14 hours! Even though Tim had shared the origami theme with Ambrosia and linked to the letters I was going to use, I don’t think she knew about the colors in advance, but they ended up matching almost perfectly with the paper I used!
Anyway, it’s usually just me running away with a theme (see both Erin’s invitations and decorations), so I’m always super-pleased when other people commit, too! While the party was really memorable because it was a wonderful and happy event to celebrate with a ton of people, using a common theme across several elements can always enhance your experience, whichi s something I love to do!