Down the Rabbit Hole
No milestone birthday should go unnoticed, and my daughter’s 5th birthday was no exception. Up until this point, we had planned low-key family celebrations, such as apple picking. But for the big 0-5, we decided to step up our game in a major way.
The theme was a no brainer. She’d fallen in love with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so I knew that she would be excited. I was also excited because visions of a Mad Hatter tea party, complete with vintage teacups and top hats, were dancing in my head nonstop.
A Very Merry Un-Birthday Invitation
The invitations were the first step in the tea party planning process. I started by writing the text and attempted to capture the playful, off-beat spirit of the book with the graphics. Using three fonts in varying sizes, I invited the guests to join us for a “very merry un-birthday” and asked them to “follow the white rabbit” to our venue. To drive the theme home, I placed a silhouette of Alice and the white rabbit at the bottom of the card. The envelope liner also featured a silhouetted image of Alice, this time of her fall down the rabbit hole.
I enclosed this card in a folder tied with a black satin ribbon. I added a “Read Me” tag with another silhouette. For the finishing touch, I attached a vintage brass key to the ribbon. The key was a nod to the one that Alice finds on the glass table that eventually unlocks the garden door. Spoiler alert: the keys were a big hit with the kids! In fact, many of the guests used the ribbon to tie the keys around their necks and wore their necklaces to the party
Planning the Mad Hatter Tea Party
With the invitations out of the way, it was time to bring my vision of the Mad Hatter tea party to life. Because I wanted to create a crazy, haphazard tablescape, my first task was to source mix-matched tea sets tea and other items that could be strewn about to emphasize the frenetic madness. Luckily for me, Etsy came to the rescue. I managed to find several inexpensive vintage tea sets, pocket watches, and books that fit the bill perfectly. I also purchased a few inexpensive clocks online that had a vintage look and painted them soft pastel colors.
To create the iconic long table, I rented three child-sized tables and pushed them together. A long grass runner grounded my vintage collection. Silk butterflies (leftovers from a Halloween project) and roses were scattered throughout.
I found paper plates from Kate Aspen that were designed to look like fine china. They could not have been more perfect! To increase the glam factor, I made chargers out of Chinet dinner plates and clay beaded molding. Once I’d applied a few coats of gold spray paint, it was hard to distinguish them from the real thing. Because the “china” was only 9” in diameter, the dinner plates were the perfect size to frame them.
A Wingback Chair Re-Imagined
The Mad Hatter’s tea party is always depicted with a wingback chair at the head of the table, and I was determined to have one at mine. You’re probably thinking that I’ve gone too far. I’m not going to disagree with you, but I just couldn’t resist! Originally, I planned to buy a child-sized wingback chair upholstered in a tea party-esque fabric. I imagined one in a beautiful floral pattern or a soft, neutral color to complement my tea party decor.
Unfortunately, I was forced to abandon this plan because chairs fitting this description are only sold outside of the US. And I wasn’t willing to pay more for shipping fees than the cost of the actual chair. Sigh. My only option was to reupholster an inexpensive American chair. This probably seems a little crazy and over the top, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. It was absolutely insane. I had never upholstered anything in my life! But why let a little detail like that get in the way?
Undaunted, I found a child-sized chair with plaid fabric and jumped into the project headfirst. I selected grey velvet fabric to match my daughter’s upholstered headboard. After all, I had not lost my mind completely. This chair had to live in our home after the party.
A staple gun, several online tutorials, and a week later, I had a reupholstered wingback chair. I replaced the basic (or should I say, hideously ugly) wooden legs with turned legs that I sprayed gold and patted myself on the back. A month ago, I knew absolutely nothing about reupholstering furniture. Now, as a result of my unexpected detour, I had a chair that worked better than the one that I had initially set out to find. Funny how things have a way of working out if you let them.
Although our beverages did not cause our guests to shrink, they looked just like the mysterious potion from the book. They were served in glass juice bottles with drink me tags hanging necks. I displayed them in a wooden soda crate that I customized with a coat of white paint and a silhouette of Alice finding the bottle. Our young guests couldn’t resist drinking from the bottles any more than Alice. For the adults, we concocted a special potion that we poured into small teapots that were located at the rear of the table, out of the reach of the little ones.
The Mad Hatter’s Shop
I think we can all agree that a Mad Hatter tea party is not complete without the signature headgear of this infamous character. I set up a millenary shop near the entrance to the party, complete with Mad Hatter style top hats and a (Cheshire) cat mirror for guests to use while trying on the hats. Because no two hats were the same, the guests had a ball modeling the hats before choosing their favorite. I made the hats out of chipboard that I covered with decorative cardstock. I then embellished them with braided trim, ribbon, broaches, and feathers. Finally, I added elastic so that they would stay atop the little heads. The birthday girl received a special hat covered with an ivory brocade fabric and gold ribbon.
A Tea Party With Alice and the Mad Hatter
When the children arrived, a makeup artist dressed as Alice greeted them and offered to paint their faces. A balloon artist kept the children entertained as they waited for their turn with the makeup artist. He created rainbows, butterflies and balloon animals, some of which even had LED lights. A room full of children with face paint and balloon sculptures–what more could a girl want!
After they had eaten, the children were treated to a magic show featuring the Mad Hatter and Alice. They invited the birthday girl to be their assistant as they acted out a truncated version of the story, which included more than a few levitating and disappearing objects along the way. The show thoroughly entertained the kids, as well as the adults. At the end of his performance, the magician surprised the children with coloring books. He then proceeded to teach them how to magically transform the book’s black and white pages into color. Needless to say, the children were over the moon as they left the tea party.