Vintage Detective Birthday Party – Planning, My Dear Watson


My youngest son loves puzzles and codes and detectives and mazes.  I had a little time off at the beginning of the year, you may have heard it referred to by some tom-fool name like furlough, or longest furlough in U.S. history or something like that.  So I had a wee bit of time on my hands to really plan out a detective party worthy of Nancy Drew herself.  Which was great, because this party took a lot of brain-work that made planning essential.  Fortunately I like to plan (and across the universe, the totality of all my friends just laughed simultaneously because they heard me understate how much I like to plan).  I bounced around a bit on Pinterest between spy party, detective party, and escape room and hit upon a hybrid idea of needing to solve puzzles to come up with the combinations to unlock the Maltese Falcon who holds the birthday candle around his neck.   Due to all the extra time on my hands (thanks gridlock!) I scouted out a community space which seemed just right for my mysterious plans.

I planned to have 6 stations with some sort of mystery to solve at each station in three corners of the room, with the fourth corner as the dining space, and a table in the middle of the room with the Maltese Falcon locked in a cage with 6 locks. The detectives had to rotate through each station, solve the mystery and write down the combo on their clipboards, and then we gathered at the end to see if we had the right combos to unlock the Falcon. And so, to the stations!

Station 1: Detective Skills


This station was a way for them to test their skills of observation. It was intended to be a chemistry station involving invisible ink. However the methods were either too messy for a space I would have to clean up (or bye bye security deposit – grape juice anyone?), or required closer supervision than I was willing to be responsible for (open flame under a paper or an iodine dropper). After a lot of dithering, I eliminated a lock from the intended 6 and just made this basically a free play space. At this station the detective had to use the magnifying glass to read tiny print, use chromatography to read a hidden message, and go on a scavenger hunt.


  • Tiny print was a simple case of an encouraging message in about 3 point font.
  • For chromatography I applied red cellophane that is used for gift baskets to an extra photo matte that I had handy. I then printed a message in red ink and covered that with a different message in blue ink. When you place the cellophane over it it filters out the red words and leaves you with the blue words.
  • For the scavenger hunt I had them find objects in the room or people in the room with a particular characteristic, ending with them finding a little sweet treat in Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine.

Station 2: Geography



IMG_1439I applied points to about 20 states and then asked questions that would result in one state as the answer. Each answer was plugged into a formula to give the detective the combo for one of the locks.

Station 3: Bletchley Park (and a history lesson)


Did I ever mention that I have a history nerd/WWII issue? Yeah, it was full blown here. So naturally I spent a lot of time on the details on this one. Bletchley Park was a huge intelligence hub for Britain during WWII. It is where Alan Turing and Co. broke the Nazis’s “unbreakable” Enigma coding machine, and oh yeah, invented the first computer. If you ever saw The Imitation Game I don’t have to explain any more.

If you hate history or it bores you, skip this paragraph. I also may not have ever mentioned that I work in diversity and equal opportunity, and I couldn’t resist injecting a little history and diversity. I saw an opportunity to slyly teach the kids about great things coming from many people. I knew that despite being a brilliant mathematician and the man who shortened the war and saved countless lives, Alan Turing was ruined because it was discovered he was gay.  Obviously a big no no in those days. I had also recently read a book called The Woman Who Smashed Codes about Elizebeth Smith, an amazing but humble woman who along with her husband did the seminal legwork in codebreaking and cryptology. They basically created the NSA. I had already known for a long time about the Navajo Code Talkers utilizing the unique characteristics of the Navajo language to create a truly unbreakable code that saved Marine lives in the Pacific Theater.


I researched codes and came up with Morse, Navajo, and Napoleonic/pigpen. The detectives had to solve a message in each of these codes which would point to one of the three historical figures. I assigned a key color to each person and the code stated that the right key was the person who invented the computer.  So they had to read about each person. Ssssssneakyyyyyyyyy. Learn you some diversity and history.

Station 4: Puzzle Box


I’m not sure how the heck I came up with this.  I researched puzzles on Pinterest and somehow it morphed into a 16-block puzzle.  The blocks in the right order spelled out “The Combo is 19 37 34.”  The puzzle element to this was each cube had a certain number of dots on each side that needed to be matched with the other blocks touching it.  I created it by drawing a 16-block grid on a sheet of paper and then applying dots to each side until it made sense – what the liberal arts crowd call trial and error and the sciences crowd calls the scientific method.  In any case I am still not sure how I came up with this, it seemed easy but my co-worker Irene looked at me a little wide-eyed/side-eyed.  I started to think I was having a Russell Crowe/A Beautiful Mind moment but in any case I produced a puzzle.


Station 5:  Library at 221B Baker Street


Again, this was a Pinterest inspiration. My goal was to create a washi tape line across the spines of the books so that they would have to put in a certain order.  At first it started as just a prop library corner with the leftover cardboard fireplace I just happened to have.  I know, you’re asking WHO just happens to have a leftover cardboard fireplace?  That’s right, me.  A Christmas door-decorating contest at work that I lost in a total and utter miscarriage of justice left me with a cardboard fireplace that I brooded next to for 3 months in my office rubbing my hands over it like it was a real heat source.  After that it just sat in my office for over a year, or if you look at it in the positive light, waited for just such an occasion.


This is the door that did not win.  It’s possible I’m still bitter.  Terribly bitter.

Where was I?  Books, right.  Originally I was going to use actual books from the thrift store and make one of them a book safe.  I just couldn’t bring myself to deface any books.  Maybe Finnegan’s Wake because it’s barely a book, it’s just gibberish.  I guess still resent being forced to “read” it in college and look for meaning in, again, gibberish.  I ended up making faux books out of cereal boxes cut in half and turned on their side.  I then covered them with brown paper and covered just the spine with craft paper in different colors.


There were two books of each color with an author and a number.  I applied the washi tape in a continuous line on half the books and a random line on the others.  The backdoor I created for myself was that the right books had author’s names on them and the wrong books had character’s names on the spines.  Once the books were placed in order the numbers on the books were plugged into a formula based on their color and voila, next combo was solved.  And for those of you playing at home, 221B Baker Street is Sherlock Holmes’ address.

Station 6:  Whose Shoes?  Shoe print matching


The final station was another key-matching exercise.  The purpose was to match shoe prints to the shoe prints of one of three suspects who each had a different color key.  I found three willing and vaguely familiar volunteers to pose for mugshots of potential suspects.

I then associated a shoe print to each of them.  I then printed 6 shoe prints, three of which matched the suspects’ prints, on color paper.  Each print had a number on it, and each suspect’s photo had a number as well.  Based on the formula, adding the right shoe print numbers together would point to the right suspect and the right color key.


The Maltese Falcon — How did it all turn out?



The detectives decided to team up as they went through the stations.  I had an adult at each corner of the room covering two stations to help out any detective who go stuck.  The puzzle box was the most difficult and and fortunately I thought it would be best if I covered that station.  Nevertheless everyone seemed to get through all the stations fairly smoothly and all in all it took us about 45 minutes to rotate through everything.  The detectives breathed down my neck gathered around the Maltese Falcon table so we could go over their answers, open the locks, and retrieve the 8 candle.  

Detectable Delectables


One of the kids asked if there was a food station, ha ha.  I thought that was pretty funny.  I set the table with book cover placemats.  Since this was a more vintage theme, I felt no shame borrowing from my own childhood and excluding modern children’s detectives for inspiration.  I color copied the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, the Maltese Falcon and Sherlock Holmes.  It added a small pop of color to the table.  The actual tables I covered with simple white craft paper.  I made evidence boxes out of some leftover boxes from work to serve the food by applying an evidence label to the sides of the box.  My youngest son is allergic to wheat, so I wanted to make the menu as allergen friendly as possible.  We had popcorn, tortilla chips, and string cheese and crackers.  To make chip consumption less of a germy affair I divided them between some cut-down paper lunch bags.  I also provided nacho cheese sauce for the chips in individual containers which would have looked suspiciously  like baby food containers had a label not been applied to the cover.  To make it healthy I provided boxed raisins which no one ate, of course.  (Some kids did eat the fruit salad I provided for the adults through, which was fine by me).

Logan loves little ice cream cups, so I decided to serve those as well as mini chocolate donuts (cops, donuts etc), since Logan does not eat cake, gluten free or otherwise.  Again with the germs — I was in the middle of demonstrating to the kids to use a cheap pair of plastic tongs when they snapped in half with perfect sitcom clarity in my hand in the total silence of everyone listening to my instructions.  I mean when do 8 year olds ever listen quietly?  Only when I’m about to provide them with some comic relief at my own expense and embarrassment apparently.  To cap it off I also broke the bottom off the damn 8 candle, Logan was already into his ice cream, and I forgot a lighter, so we never lit the candle or sang happy birthday.  Ooops.

Goody Bags 


I tried to make detective kits/briefcases out of Whole Foods cookie boxes.  I was certainly willing to consume the necessary amount of cookies to have enough boxes, but ultimately did not want to invest the time in spray painting them, replacing the cellophane, and adding a handle.  In retrospect that seems like it’s not a big deal but Future Melody usually has a difficult time rationalizing Past Melody.  Kinda like when you try to figure out what you ever saw in that ex of yours.  Anyhoo, I opted to make evidence goody bags by running brown paper bags through the printer on the card stock option to print an evidence label on the front.  For goodies I included a fingerprint card with instructions on how to make fingerprints (not that kids don’t know how to do that.   Just look at the passenger windows of my car), the obligatory magnifying glass, a notepad and color ink pen, and a small bag of detective snacks (mini powdered donuts).  I didn’t hear anyone complain, and you know kids are honest “Why do you have so much hair in your nose?”  “Why is your tummy so big?”
Wrapping it up

By this time there were about 15 minutes left.  I had supplies for Morse code bracelets, but there really wasn’t enough time for that.  Unfortunately it had rained earlier, so the kids couldn’t take advantage of the green space and playground.  Fortunately in anticipation of this I also brought a number of board games, which the kids seemed really engaged in.  Who knew?  I think I found next year’s party theme . . .

So I covered in this post the party in general and how I came up with the puzzles for each station.  There is a whole ‘nuther conversation to be had about decorative elements and how each formula actually looked, which is coming soon just as fast as I can type it.  Until then . . .


Detective Birthday Party — Cop Props


Being a visual person, the Detective Birthday party couldn’t be just cerebral puzzle solving.  This party and my sense of artistry needed some props and decorations.  This party was like 60% for Logan and 40% for me.  In any case I planned for each table to have some sort of prop so that it wasn’t just a flat table with paper on it, as well as overall decorative elements for the rest of the room.

Cardboard Brownie Camera — Detective Skills Station


Before I found a typewriter at the thrift store, I toyed with the idea of purchasing a vintage camera.  Those were almost as expensive as a typewriter, and I really wanted a typewriter.  I also really wanted a camera.  A little search on this thing called Pinterest showed some templates for making a camera box out of paper.  That seemed a lot easier than making a typewriter out of paper, go fig.  I figured covering the right kind of box would work pretty well.  I literally scrounged in my recycle bin at work and found a full size Kleenex box with the plastic slit at the top (not the half circle) that was a little squashed.  I cut about 1/3 of it off and inserted it into the remaining 2/3 to make a smaller box.  After that I cut a paper box template out of white craft paper and covered the box as seamlessly and tightly as possible.

Once that was complete out to the garage I went, to the delight of my neighbors who like to see “What’s she doing now”, to spray paint the box and a one inch wide strip of cardboard from a cereal box for the handle.   I have a great affection of oil-rubbed brass spray paint, as it is mildly metallic (like an accountant who likes to listen to Metallica in his sensible Honda Civic) and has a warmth to it.  In this case those qualities actually made the paper look almost like leather.  It’s hard to describe but it ended up being perfect, a happy accident.  Once it was dry I attached the handle to the top and applied two small wooden circles painted silver to the handle to simulate fasteners.   I was ridiculously pleased because it was already starting to look like a camera.  Next I found some clear rectangular silicone cabinet stops for the lens on the top and side of the camera.  Actually I don’t know what those things are but I think that’s what you look through to focus your shot.  It’s not like these kids or anyone other than me was going to give a crap, but I like to strive for accuracy.  Anyway, I then painted a large and medium wooden disk silver to simulate whatever the dial thing is on the side of the camera, as well as small wooden disks for pretty much decorative purposes on the front.   Finally, I used the cap from a baby food jar as the actual lens of the camera.  If I had a little more time a label like “Leica” or “Kodak” or some sort of faceplate would have been nice, but I decided to stop there and call it a camera.

Cardboard Microscope — Who’s Shoes Station


Besides a camera, I figured another piece of equipment a detective uses is a microscope (well the CSIs do but whatever). I searched high and low for an old telescope at the thrift store but no dice, so the next best thing of course if to make it out of cardboard. Naturally. I cut a 12 inch diameter circle out of cardboard, and then a 10 inch circle inside that to make an “o” about 2 inches thick. I cut the circle in half so I had two half circles, than taped them to a toilet tube to help keep the circle in place and provide a solid surface to glue to the base.

Unfortunately I did not measure the final length, but I inserted a paper towel tube into another and adjusted the length between the two half circles at an angle until it resembled a microscope. I taped the tube pieces together and blue taped it temporarily in place to figure out where the slide platform should go. I cut out a 3 by 5 rectangle and placed it at an appropriate angle on the mocked up half circles, marking them with a pencil. I notched out a slot to wedge in the platform snugly. I then cut four 4 by 6 rectangles for the base and modge-podged them to make a four layer base.

As a final touch before putting it all together, I cut two cardboard circles about 2 inches in diameter. I made a hole through the two circles and the cardboard tube with a heavy duty needle. I skewered the two circles to the outside of the tube with an obliging toothpick to mimic the dials on the microscope. I later wished I had used brass paper fasteners so it could be rotated but hell no I glued it all in place.

And with that irreversible gluing, the hot gluing commenced all over the microscope, card board tube to half circles, half circles to base, and anywhere else it needed it. After that is was back out to the garage for the oil-rubbed brass spray paint. Microscope complete.

Fireplace — Sherlock’s Library


As mentioned in the Vintage Detective Party blog, I just happened to have a cardboard fireplace leftover from a Christmas door decorating party.    Taking an old cardboard box, I traced its outline on a larger square of cardboard and cut away the box outline to make a facade. Using a piece of butcher paper larger than the facade and painter’s tape. I taped out a brick pattern and spray painted it gold because . . . well that’s all the paint I had.  I wrapped the facade in the paper and then turned my attention to the inside of the fireplace.   I painted the inside of the box black and taped it to the facade.  I then added a thin black box with supports and tape to the top of the facade to make a mantle.

To take the fireplace from mere cardboard to cardboard art, I twisted some brown paper bags to resemble logs, and did the same with red, orange, and yellow tissue paper for flames.  As the piece de resistance, I added LED tea light candles to the tissue paper for a more realistic glow.  This did not win the door contest, and again that is a miscarriage of justice because none of the other doors came close to this.  However, it did double duty as a fireplace, so there’s that.  Hmmm.

Turkish Slipper and Tobacco — Sherlock’s Library

Any close reader of the great Sherlock knows that he keeps his pipe tobacco in a Turkish slipper on the mantle.  This seemed like a minor detail that virtually no one was going to notice.  Naturally, I decided to take the time to make one.  After a little research to see what a Turkish slipper actually looked like, I decided to take some license and found a pattern for felt elf clogs on Pinterest, and figured with some modifications to make the toe more . . . Turkish I could make one, using the felt to help the shoe keep its shape and brocade to make it more . . . yeah, Turkish.  Using this pattern, I hand sewed the felt pieces together.  I intended to modge podge the brocade the felt but this was a spectacular fail.  That’s on trend with how I feel about my life sometimes, but fortunately this was just a shoe and a hot glue gun might do the trick.  Not sure what the life equivalent of a hot glue gun is, but when I find out I’ll let you know.  Anyway I cut brocade pieces slightly larger than the pattern and started gluing.  I didn’t do as neat a job as I would have liked, and the slipper was bordering on what a Turkish person would wear whilst lounging in Holland.  If I had not glued the crap out of it I would have liked to have cut down the sides of the slipper to make it more interesting, but . . .



I didn’t want to sprinkle anything messy in the shoe for tobacco, but it needed something.  Again, a minor detail, but since I made the slipper might as well go all out.  I sewed a quick muslin bag and stuffed it with three tea bags so there would be some sort of aroma kinda like tobacco.  I tied it off with metallic yarn and then labeled it from that well-known imaginary tobacconists shop, Lestrade of London.  Again another nod to Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock canon.  Y’all know I don’t do nothing by chance.

I also added a bookcase from home to house all the books.



Purchased Items

Since I  committed to decorations on the other tables, I had to purchase or re-use items for the other tables, too:

Globe — Map Table:  A quick trip to TJ Maxx produced a reasonably priced bookcase globe (again none at the thrift store).  I also printed off clocks from different time zones to post above the map.

Scooby Van — Puzzle Table:  Just happened to have a Scooby Doo van (Logan’s, naturally) that also held chocolate coins that were the treasure at the end of the Scavenger Hunt.

Typewriter and In Box — Bletchley Park:  After scouring Etsy, Ebay, and Facebook and finding typewriters that were out of my price range, I decided to take one last crack at thrift stores for a typewriter.  After 5 stores I FOUND ONE.  It wasn’t the 1940’s style I wanted, but it was 40 bucks, which was way cheaper than anything I was finding online, and vintage enough.  it worked fairly well and my boys were enamored with it.  I had a rose gold wire basket leftover from the Maltese Falcon table (see below) that made great in basket.  I put some scrap paper in there so the kids could type if they got bored (and they obliged).


Maltese Falcon — Escape Room Table:  I toyed with many ways of making a Maltese falcon (including an ill-fated paper mâché experiment) before opting to find a ceramic bird to spray paint.  Again, TJ Maxx came through with a bird that was not a sparrow.  I was so excited to find something that looked un-sparrow that I didn’t realize till I spray-painted it with the oil-rubbed brass that it was a parrot.  Ooops.  Like.  The kids.  Cared.

I also purchased some inexpensive rose gold baskets from Walmart that I used to make a cage for the Falcon.  Since this was the focal table, I added a tablecloth for a little extry.





I took some pictures of Logan in his detective fedora from Christmas (yes the detective thing goes back that far) and a suit jacket, holding up a magnifying glass.  I created a background of detective names from novels, tvs and movies, and added a transparent fingerprint and a Top Secret stamp as well.  I cut out some newspaper (I know, who reads newspaper) to give it that vintage look before gluing it on the invite.


Some invites I was able to hand deliver, so I put them in small manila envelopes and used a “Confidential” stamp from work for that extra touch.


Clipboards and Answer Sheets


I would have liked to have used small clipboards, but it felt extravagant.  so I got a little cheap and cut cardboard rectangles.  I prepared answer sheets for each of the stations and stapled them to the “clipboards”.


Magnifying Glass


I happened to have some large styrofoam circles that my co-worker Pepsi saved for me.  One already found its way into Wakanda as a shield, and another was now pressed into service as a magnifying glass.  I took one of Logan’s detective pictures and printed it on 11×17  paper.  I cut him out and glued it to the styrofoam.  I then added a black paper strip to the edge of the styrofoam, as well as a black circle edge to the front of the styrofoam.  I fashioned a handle out of rolled up craft paper and spray painted it black.  Fantastic Friend Jennifer rightly noted that in order to tape it to the wall it needed a paper backing in order to stick.  Somehow in my stress to get the room set up I misunderstood her to take that to mean we needed a lot of paper, which is why there is a ridiculous runner of paper down the door.  However I took some of the leftover placemats from the table and added them to the paper to make it look not so . . . paper.

I had a pennant banner that I have used at several birthdays that came in handy here.  I meant to put paper decorations in the windows but my “team” and I ran out of time.   Jennifer made a great display out of paper fans and goody bags.  So glad she and my dad agreed to help me set up that day.  There’s no way I could have managed it.

By far this party was maybe the hardest I created and the most rewarding and fun.  No party ever comes out exactly the way you plan it, but this one had enough really stellar parts to outweigh the ones that just missed the mark.


Halloween – Wakanda fool am I?


Superheroes keeping the neighborhood safe from too much chocolate

Not having got the whole of Wakandan universe out of my system, I decided to challenge myself to make the Dora Milaje costume.  Out of t-shirts.  Challenge accepted.


It all starts with a drawing and a list 

Every creative undertaking starts with a drawing and a list.  And a timeline.  For a creative person I have some really rigid  tendencies.  After all, I was trying to approximate this:

Without the Hollywood budget.  After mentally toying around with using pleather or vinyl to create the Dora Milaje harness, I wondered if I could modify a T-shirt with some strategic cutting.  From there I figured another T-shirt would do for the skirt.  After that it was a case of that creative hamster on a wheel that comes up with all the ideas, which resulted in this drawing and list:


Preliminary list. Shut the Front Door means on top of all this I have to decorate the front door, too, dammit.

Harness and top – try it on again, and again and again . . .

Part of the beauty of this idea was I already had a red long sleeved t-shirt, which had already looked upon a previous Halloween as Wonder Woman.  I purchased a brown T-shirt, a man’s medium.  At the last minute I opted not to go for a snug fitting shirt because what if it was too snug?  It’s easier to take something in.  Using my own fitted T-shirt as a guide, I traced its outline with chalk on the wrong side of the brown shirt.  I sewed along the chalk a tried it on for fit.  Satisfied, I used chalk to outline the areas to cut out, referring to the picture of Okoye.  The one mistake I made was outlining the bust too generously.  It made my upper story look too big.  I guess if it were an actual comic book that would be ok but that’s not really my aesthetic.  I eventually had to add back material to the areas I cut so if I could do this over again I would cut conservatively first.  Also, it was going to be dark so no one would see the rough areas.  Since this was T-shirt material and stretchy, I also added interfacing along the bust line for some structure.  Along the way I kept checking fit and I ultimately had to tack some areas to get the harness to fit snugly in the right places.  The harness was my miners canary – if it didn’t work out I was going to stop right there.  However, I was satisfied with how it turned out.

Adding the skirt

I next bought an XL women’s mustard yellow tank top and cut it right below the arm pit to maximize the amount of material I had to work with.  The hem was rounded and high low, so that was favorable.  I took it in a little bit around the waist as if I was fitting a skirt.  After comparing against the picture, I cut away the front of the skirt at an angle and sewed it to the harness.  Believe it or not due to my screwed up brain I had such a hard time figuring out how to pin which side to which side to sew it correctly.  Easy stuff like this confuses me, or rice krispy treats, or jello squares.  Anyway, after 10 billion tries I figured it out.

Tasseled choker

Although the skirt and harness were the most difficult to construct (or destruct in the case of the harness since it was a lot of cutting), I was really stumped on the choker.  There was no way I was going to attempt to garrote myself with a bunch of actual wire. That would be super uncomfortable.  At the fabric store I found some crushed gold material in the fancy section I never shop in, that looked like wires.  Next I found some gold tassels, which in another time would have looked fantastic on some Victorian drapery.  I cut a piece to fit my neck and backed it with muslin to give it some structure then added Velcro to the ends to secure it.  After that it was a simple matter of attaching the tassels to the gold material, and the choker was done.

Bracelets and epaulets

I ended up using the choker material to make bracelets, too.  I intended to use spray painted vinyl but I cut it wrong, and the choker material was quicker to make and stretchier and therefore easier to put on.  However, the vinyl did work well for epaulets.  I cut four trapezoids (two for each arm) from some leftover vinyl I had, and spray painted them gold.  I opted not to hot glue Velcro to the vinyl but instead stapled it.  Not really up to my standards but I know nothing about sewing vinyl and this was not the time to break my machine.  I added Velcro to the brown T-shirt to line up with the epaulets.  In retrospect I should have cut six epaulets and added elastic to go around my bicep on the last one but . . . Next Black Panther movie I guess.

Hangy thing/tabard

I don’t even know what a tabard is, and I refuse to use a word I don’t know.  But hangy thing down the front with beads on it clearly makes me sound … well not like a 44 year old woman who knows what she’s doing.  Nevertheless, I busted out some fabric paint to start making the beaded designs.  Before I added the paint, I did add interfacing to give it some structure and make it hang appropriately, otherwise no one would know it was a hangy thing.  I dotted paint in chevron designs and cut a belt buckle out of gold card stock which ultimately did not make it on the costume.  Uhh, someone, I’m not gonna say who, forgot.  Also, FYI tabard is not what I thought it was but I’m just going to leave it there.

Spear, pants, boots, make up and hair – should I shave my skull?

If you’ve read my Black Panther post, you know making a spear ain’t no thang.  A cardboard blade affixed to a slit in a cardboard tube and spray painted silver.  I found some leggings that had some detail that ultimately could not be seen, but made me feel authentic.  I added my rain boots and all costume articles were ready.

Now what to do with the face?  The Dora Milaje are pretty well made up, so I couldn’t go in all naked face, even if it was dark outside.  I did way more eye make up than usual/ever, with some vibranium purple eyeliner and shadow.  I followed that up with a dark lip color to accentuate all of Africa that is housed above my chin and below my nose.

And the hair.  The one time in my life when naturally curly, frizzy, African American hair was a plus.  Just a tad too short to really give that African emphasis.  First I went the Nakia in Korea route and I started looking like Mr. Glass in Unbreakable.  Uh, no.  Shave my head like a real Dora Milaje?  Noooo, I don’t think so.  Bantu knots?  “Knot” enough hair.  Afraux-hawk?  Nope.  I finally did some Afro-punk meets 1940s (just thought that up now, but if I could dress myself the rest of my life according to that mantra I totally freaking would) with three roll ups, like curling the hair minus the rollers, across my crown, and two rows of twist corn rows on the sides.

How’d it go?


Post trick or treat glory, ready to use my spear on some Almond Joy’s.

The best part was walking around the neighborhood trick or treating like a badass and waiting at the end of each walkway like a bodyguard while the boys hit up the neighbors for candy.  Granted, it didn’t seem like many people knew what I was but I was channeling the two women at the beginning of the film who stroll in and eyeball everyone like don’t F with me.  I forgot to mention as an introvert I NEVER look strangers in the eye, I am strictly “hey, look at that interesting object on the ground.”  So that was a lot of fun.  The best was these two older boys with wolf masks passed that were kind of being obnoxious, and I stared them down until they said “Wakanda Forever” and part of me was like yeah keep walking wolves, and another part was all giddy I finally got some recognition.
So long answer to short question, you can make a Dora Milaje costume out of two t-shirts.  Challenge accepted.  And won.

The Wakanda Skirt

As I mentioned on my Black Panther party post (God help me every time I say “Black Panther party” I think of Forrest Gump apologizing for having a fight “at your Black Pantha party”), I was inspired to make an African print skirt to wear.  I typically steer away from sewing clothing unless it’s converting t-shirts into skirts.  I’ve made a few of those and got pretty comfortable with that concept so I figured I could maybe make this happen.


Foolish Forever! Black Panther Birthday



It’s been so long since I last blogged I have a new job and new co-workers.  And that co-worker keeps asking me to blog.  So this one’s for you Irene!


Irene is not smaller than me, I just have a bigger skull apparently. Just a little light protest against sexual assault on our break.

So way back in February I and 50 other black people I did not know lived in my neighborhood sat down in the theater to watch Black Panther.  I think it was the movie I have waited my whole black life for.  Where TF was this movie when I was 12???  So I was delighted when Geoffrey asked for a Black Panther birthday.  I brought the full power of my vibranium cranium to the table.


The Invite



Silver acrylic paint on black velvet – noice!


Yes, I could have done a easy silver stencil on black card stock and been done a lot quicker.  But this was for Wakanda.  As Okoye would say, “Black card stock.  So primitive.”  I decided to overcomplicate it and stencil black velvet with the Black Panther mask and then glue it to card stock.   On the reverse side I took nerdy pleasure in wittily calling Geoffrey “G’Challa”.  I had the luck to listen to an NPR piece about the costume design for the movie so one thing I was looking to do was try to incorporate the same geometric shapes.  Very happy with how the invite turned out.


Birthday Banner and Tablescape

I decided to use the colors of the ancestral plain at dusk for the sign, so purple, blue, violet, and black paint were used.  For the “10” in the sign I drew a shortened vibranium spear and a shield.  The shield ended up being a tad overworked for my taste but at a certain point I was trying to cover up mistakes so I finally had to stop adding stuff to it.  Overall I still liked it so much I had a hard time throwing it away afterwards.  Like for three weeks I’d just pass by it in the hall, unable to return it to paper’s ancestral plain, er recycle bin.



Enter a caption

The tablescape may have been the thing I was most excited about.  I had a really fantastic idea for the purple flower which ultimately did not work out but it still came out awesome.  I digress.  I started with about 4 yards of muslin, because it’s cheap.  I wanted to cover the hideous table the party venue provided and I didn’t think a Party City table cloth would be long enough.  Eh, I just wanted to make my own, who are we kidding.  I used the invite stencil to spray paint a pattern along the edge, then decided to add some color using geometric sponge stamps.  Unfortunately two things happened.  One I got paint on the driveway which has not faded (sorry HOA).  Second, the triangles I put around the mask looked like clown hair, like T’Challa and Pennywise switched DNA.  So I had to go back and add more paint/stencils and finally stop, much like the banner.


Next were the runners.  They were supposed to be tapestries but I found out I couldn’t tape anything to the walls of the venue.  In any case, I took some black burlap and taped off geometric shapes with masking tape and spray painted them silver.  Done.  Good enough for T’Challa’s throne room at least.

My new coworkers know me so well that when Pepsi saw some large foam circles by the recycle bin, well . . . He immediate thought of me and said, I think you can do something with these.  I sat on them for months and then it was time to make them into a shield.  Since the masking tape stencil worked so well on the runners, I replicated it here after gluing brown craft paper to the foam so I could spray paint.  Since this was a Dora Milaje shield that doesn’t exist in the movie, I felt free to paint it red.  I made two spears from tightly rolled craft paper and added a cardboard blade to a slit at the top of the tube, and then spray painted of course.  My neighbors are so used to the sight, smell and sound of me spray painting.  I added an image I saw on Pinterest with the Wakanda salute to the shield and that was good to go.



You might be thinking this is more than enough by now.  Nah-uh.  Nope.  I wanted glowing purple flowers in a mortar and pestle.  Who doesn’t?  My idea was to dip a wax calla lily in purple glow stick juice but I could only find silk flowers.  I tried to waterproof them with paint and modge podge but it did not work too well.  Additionally, dipping them in glow juice did not work.  I refused to let this idea go.  I had gone to the thrift store to find wooden bowls and scored big time.  After toying with purple aquarium sand, purple glass stones and ultimately dismissing them as too expensive, I bought some artificial ivy type leaves and filled the bowls with those.  I filled the bottom of the bowls with a crap ton of purple glow sticks and an LED tea light for good measure, as well as inserting a glow stick inside the flower for some extra oomph.  A final touch were some large banana-type leaves under each bowl.  I was really, really pleased with how this turned out.


Goody bags

Ok this time I did go with the simple stencil on a black bag.  I was either out of ideas or time or both.  I wanted to make claw necklaces, but that was more complicated than I had time for.  I did make some kimoyo beads by you guessed it, spray painting!  some wooden beads and then adding a blue communication dot.  I wanted to put all the little designs on them but it did not show up well and it was really hard on a curved surface.   I threaded elastic string through them and tied it off.  Kids loved them.  Next were some purple vibranium coins, aka chocolate.  I wanted to put some grape juice so the kids could drink the powers of the Black Panther but ultimately opted not to.  I didn’t know what else to put in when I came up with Wakanda salutes, which are pretzel twists that I thought looked like the crossed arm salute.  I thought that was kind of inspired.  Desperate, whatever.


Well, that was about it for the party.  The venue took care of everything else.  There was no Black Panther design at the bakery, so I did add some elements (shhh – I took a party napkin and glued a “10” cutout to cardboard and toothpicks), but nothing fancy.  All in all it was a successful party, and I swaggered around like Okoye and Nakia wrapped up in one.  Actually this movie inspired me so much to get in touch with my African roots I made what I call an African skirt to wear to the party and ultimately a Halloween costume.  But that’s another post.  Wakanda Forever!

A Foolish Inspiration; or a message/inspiration board


So . . . this is WordPress?  I say that because I am pretty sure I last posted something in August.  Maybe.  Thank goodness I remembered my password.  To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of time for creativity lately, which is probably why I have been so cranky.  Well that’s my excuse.  Clearly somewhere between August and November, I realized I had gift cards from my birthday nearly a year ago that I should probably use, one of which was for the fabric store.  I knew I should use the card for myself — normally at the fabric store I am buying fabric to make something for someone else.  So this was a real exercise in selfishness.  Me.  Me me me me all me.  I discarded several notions and came up with creating myself a message board, if nothing else to take up space on the blank wall above my sewing table, where I could pin lists, timelines,  scraps, ideas etc.  At first it was going to be just fabric on cork board, bam I’m done.  But it is never that simple.  I’m a complicated simpleton.

I wanted something usable, practical, and easy to hang.  Molly screws and drills intimidate me, and when I start a project I just want to get it done.  So I elected to use foam-backed poster board and hang it up with ribbon (which didn’t happen.  Not to give away the surprise ending or anything).

Now what to cover the poster board with?  What was my theme?  At first I was going to buy some of that beautiful brocade fabric I always drool over, but then I realized I do not want to be damaging this material poking holes in it with push pins.  So the French message board with padding and fabric and ribbon went out the window.  I considered other themes, such as a Turkish message board with crisp white linen, tassels and a jaunty fez, but I managed to be talked off the ledge on that one.  So I opted for rustic burlap.  Now here’s where I got stupid.  I could have just bought printed burlap and been done with it.  But I wanted to do something way more personalized (read: time-involved).  So I decided to paint my Crafting Fool on it instead.

With this idea in mind, I gathered my supplies:

  • Two 24 by 36 foam poster boards
  • 2 yards of burlap
  • hot glue gun
  • stapler
  • black glossy acrylic paint
  • fabric medium
  • decorative ribbon

I attached the two boards together on the short side by hot gluing a piece of sturdy cardboard where the two pieces met.  I attempted to iron the more obvious wrinkles out of the burlap, and then laid it down with the poster board on top and trimmed it with a good 2-3 inches clearance on all sides.  Starting from the middle and pulling the burlap as tight as possible,  I stapled the top and bottom center, and then the center of the sides, until all the edges were stapled.


I tested out the acrylic paint by itself and with the fabric medium on a scrap of burlap, and both seemed fine. I opted to go with the medium because I was afraid the paint alone would crack over time.  I traced the outline of a jester (a Fool, if you will) with a Sharpie, followed by a paint palette, scissors, and a sewing machine.



These I filled in with black paint, and accented the palette and scissor handles with color.  I considered adding some color to the Fool, but I think I just like the silhouette.


Now here is where I got a little Valerie Clark creative.  I took some very thin ribbon and hot glued it in a vine-like fashion away from the needle on the sewing machine as if the thread was unspooling from the machine.  Normally you would not want this to happen with your machine because it means either it is: 1) in desperate need of maintenance, 2) hopped up on meth in its downtime, 3) a Bizarro machine in which everything works backwards, or 4) in need of an exorcist because it is spewing thread.  However, I like to think that the wayward ribbon represents the flow of ideas that usually develop when one is being creative.   That last bit is why those who know my thoughts and writing best say I could go either way in the advertising world, depending on if I’m in a pessimistic or optimistic mood.  When you could describe your bathroom wall color as either chocolate pudding or dookie colored . . . well, we all have choices.


Back to practicalities, the ribbon also took up some dead space as well as added some color.  In keeping with this idea of colorful dead space, I added some two inch wide ribbon to the opposite corner to either tuck larger pieces of fabric, or photographs, or whatever the hell else it is you would do, and because I had extra ribbon, I added some purely decorative red bows from the thin ribbon I used to represent thread.


Since hot gluing the board to the wall is not an option (but an interesting one), I bought some old-fashioned antique-finish binder clips, and clipped them to the top of the board.  From there it was a simple question of marking with a pencil on the wall where I wanted to put the nails.  From there it was a not so simple question of getting the holes level without the use of a level, because who wants to walk down three flights of stairs to rummage in the cold garage for a level designed for exactly this purpose when you could hammer ten holes in the wall trying to get it straight?

In any case, I am now the proud owner and creator of a personalized Crafting Fool message board.  My next step is to make a companion, Frenched-up board for the opposite wall with white burlap and the two inch wide ribbon.  But for now, message board impossible is complete – cue the Lalo Schifrin Mission Impossible music.  Excuse me while I get my bongo drums.


A Minimalist Harry Potter Birthday; or a fool’s Felix Felicis


Dearest WordPress — so surprised that I even remember my password, it has been so long.  Almost 3 months.  Coincidentally, the length of time I have been living in this funky 1000 sq. foot apartment with 3 boys just waiting to get the hell out of here and live in a bigger place.  So on the eve of our move across town, it is the perfect time to post a blog and pretend like i don’t have to pack all this crap up again.  This should be called the Crafting Procrastinator, not the Crafting Fool.  Anyway, since we were in transition this summer, I called a temporary halt to all my normal birthday craftiness.  However, Big Bro wanted a Harry Potter birthday — I mean if you want a theme that stimulates the imagination, HP is it. As much as I wanted to go full blown, I knew I had to take it down a notch, so I distilled it to its minimalist essentials, goody bags for classmates and a cake for Big Bro for his family birthday party.

Hedwig Goody Bags/Paper bag craft


The goody bags were a lot of fun, but in retrospect I might have rethought doing this for a class of 25.  I was up till two in the morning making them.  Anyway I used:

  1. white paper craft bag
  2. 16 1.5 inch white paper circles
  3. 2 1.5 inch black paper circles
  4. 2 2.5 inch orange paper circles

They are pretty simple to make.  I folded the top corners of the paper bag to make a triangle shape, and folded the point down to what I thought was a pleasing, owlish, if you will, level on the front of the paper bag to make the beak.  Starting from the bottom of the front of the bag, I glued four circles across the front of the bag to mimic feathers, and repeated this again with an overlapping layer of 4 circles until I reached what I thought was a good place to stop under the beak, which was four rows of feathers.  If you calculate this in terms of 16 feathers per goody bag and you made 25 of them . . . well I know 16 times 20 is 320, so this crazy lady punched out over 320 circles for these goody bags.  That is where I started to question my sanity and berate myself.  I might as well have gone out and hand plucked an owl for the individual feathers by that point.  After the feathers were completed, I glued the large orange circles under the beak, and then placed the black circles inside to make a suitably fierce owl scowl.  I know Hedwig has yellow eyes.  And now you know Melody had only orange paper handy.  So guess what?  Hedwig got orange eyes.  I folded the beak down for good and used a Sharpie to color in the triangle for the tip of her beak.  It would have been great if I had enough of those round double-sided velcro pieces to keep the beak down, but as it was I used some double sided tape instead.  Goody bag done.

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans


  1. Sheet of address labels
  2. Confectioners-looking scrapbook paper cut into 2 inch strips.
  3. Snack size ziploc bags.
  4. 2-3 bags of jelly beans.

Super duper easy.  Using Word I printed “Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans” on the address labels.  I cut the scrapbook paper in strips, and then measured the width of the snack bags to make a piece big enough to fold over the top of the ziploc bag.  I then divided up the jelly beans amongst the bags, selflessly sampling each color to ensure they deserved the Bertie Bott name, and then folded each scrapbook strip over the opening and stapled it.  Last touch was affixing the address labels to the scrapbook strip.  Every Flavor beans, done.

Pencil Wands



  1. pencils
  2. brown and gold paint
  3. brown yarn
  4. hot glue

Ah, the pencil wand.  It developed out of knowing a wand needed to be included but not wanting a bunch of 7 year olds running around with pointy painted chopsticks inflicting damage on each other quicker than you can say “Stupefy!”  I thought a pencil might be economical and hey at least one end is cushioned with an eraser.  To mimic the wand handle, I wrapped the eraser end of the pencil with brown yarn about two inches up the pencil.  At the same time I had the glue gun warming and affixed the end of the yarn with a dab of glue.  That I managed to do this without burning myself is anyone’s guess — that’s usually how my adventures with a glue gun turn out.  I have no fingerprints left because of this.  On my off days I’m a cat burglar.  No trace. Anyways, after I affixed the end of the yarn, I rotated the wand (Pand?  Wencil? It was a weird hybrid at this point, neither wand nor pencil, and just looking for a place to belong.) while dribbling hot glue on it to make it look more like knotty wood, and less like a No. 2 Ticonderoga unsharpened.   I broke out the brown paint and started painting.  This was definitely a step where spray paint and a space to spray would have been great, but that was not going to happen.  After painting them brown, I took some gold metallic paint and applied some antique-y looking detail to the hot glue part.  Following the advice from a blog that now I can’t find (sorry blogger, not trying to steal your thunder), I poked holes in a drumstick box that we selflessly emptied of drumsticks (also part of the directions from that blog) to place the wands in while they dried.  Wands, done.

Scroll of Spells



  1. Paper
  2. Tea
  3. Twine

Would that I were not a Muggle so I could conjure up parchment, or the Galleons to purchase said paper from Office Depot, or a Memory Charm so that I could forget how cheap I can be sometimes.  Anyway, I found a list of spells with a description of what they did from the world of Hogwarts, and printed this out on regular paper.  It looked so dull.  So I decided to try a little experiment.  I made a bowl of strong tea with three tea bags (I probably could have used more for a more intense color) and dipped a foam brush into the tea and swiped it over the list of spells to try to make the paper look a little more parchment-y.


To speed the drying process, I turned on the oven to its lowest setting about 200, 250, got it warmed up, and then turned it off.  I placed the paper in there and this actually had the unintended benefit of kind of wrinkling up the paper so it looked a little aged and crinkly like parchment.


I would have loved to distress the edges a little bit, but figured I was pushing my luck. I guess since I was using the oven I could have tried a controlled burn, but I think we all know that would not be the brightest idea.  Try to explain that to the hot firefighters.  I rolled up the list and tied it with twine.  Scroll of Spells, done.

Easiest, Felix Felicis, You-Decorate-It Harry Potter Cake



  1. A store bought cake
  2. Pocky Sticks
  3. Groucho Marx glasses

It might be good to explain at this point, for those of you who may have forgotten, that Felix Felicis is also called Liquid Luck — one swig and you’ll have good luck.  Now I don’t know about all that, but I do know this part turned to pretty well given my last experience with decorating a store-bought cake with a Batman logo in crushed Oreos. Never again.  When I ordered this cake, I asked if they had a Harry Potter design, which they did not.   Plan B.  Here comes the easy part.  You’re gonna beat me up.  I asked them to decorate the cake in red and yellow for Gryffindor, and leave the bottom half of the cake blank for me to decorate.  I went to the party store and found a pair of 40 cent Groucho Marx glasses.  I removed the nose, eyebrows and ear pieces with scissors.  Next I went to the grocery store hoping they had Pocky sticks, which are kind of like a very thin long pretzel-type . . . thing covered in chocolate.  I placed the Pocky stick, which was now a wand, on the cake at an angle, and used some chocolate sprinkles to simulate magic and wonder sprouting from the heart of the Elder Wand.  On the other side, I placed the glasses.  Bam.  Harry Potter Cake — done, y’all.  Was that so hard to do, Safeway?  But then again, that would have denied me the right to uncomfortably but very necessarily crow about decorating a cake and having it turn to right.

I would love to do another Harry Potter party on a larger scale because I saw some fantastic creative ideas on Pinterest, so I guess I’ll have to depend on the boys to have that party, or maybe throw one for myself when I turn 50 — because the “F” in “fifty” means you can do whatever the f you want.  Even act like an f-ing fool.

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