I’m not crafty. I don’t care how many times someone says I am, I’ve just realised that there are varying grades of craftiness.
I’m pretty awful, but what makes me different to the ones that comment on how great something looks is that I attempt to have a vision, I’m skilled at googling, I use twitter for help and I do what I can and accept my limitations. THAT is why I can bring to you how I made an octonauts party without spending 20 days preparing for it. All my mistakes are here for you to read. I’ve also given you links to stuff online. I think that helps alot. It’s all fine and well saying what you did, but if you then can’t find anything on google, then it’s a headache.
I have been looking at various things online (if you want a proper crafty guide then check out this post from Knitty Mummy) and had established that I wanted to try a cake and put up some decorations. I figured that was about all I had time for on the day of the party (a 3pm start. I can’t emphasis enough how critical having a late afternoon party is. Perfect for a last minute dash if you forget anything).
My foray into cake making hasn’t always been great. I was pretty terrible if the truth be known. Not just with the making of an edible cake but also with the decorations. Sculpting, I’ve decided is not my skill in life. I have tried fondant icing on Pickle’s cake once (with an edible Rapunzel topper I’d ordered online) but it was so bumpy and I was so peeved about it I vowed to never use fondant on a whole cake again. So I use buttercream. Much easier and my children prefer it.
The successful making of a cake also took time. I found out (after my 3rd failed attempt) that cake baking is about practice. Knowing your oven, continually checking the cake and making mistakes is part of the learning. Once I found out this, I stopped giving myself a hard time. Also, for the last 2 birthdays I had used Betty Crocker packet cake to ensure a perfect cake and to spend more time doing the decoration. This time however, I found the perfect Chocolate cake from Nigella’s website that was recommended to me. One practice and a note about the cooking time and I went with it. It turned out ok. It’s here
Now I didn’t use her icing (but her icing is amazing). I needed to colour the icing for the Octonauts cake, so I had to use a normal buttercream icing recipe. To do that, I used my Rachel Allen Bake recipe and did her buttercream but left out the cocoa and substituted the cream for milk. It’s here.
I didn’t use her cake recipe as it was my go to chocolate cake but was increasingly going wrong all the time. I personally think you have to shop around for a cake that works for you. This one was always too hard for me, no matter what I did.
On the Friday before the party (2 days before) I started to make the fondant Octonauts for the cake. It’s good to give it a couple of days for the icing to harden. I had found various version on Pinterest and opted for a 1D version of all of them. I then downloaded a pic from the Cbeebies website. I had done this for the Iggle Piggle cake last year and it worked really well. I had underestimated how many fiddly pieces were in an Octonaut though and didn’t finish it. If you want to do it, then go for it. I took my picture and blu tacked it to the dining table then sticky taped some parchment/greaseproof paper over it to hold it in place. I then traced the outline and all the major sections onto the parchment. Then I rolled out the fondant (ordered from most cake suppliers and if you send the pic to them they’ll match your colours for you) put the parchment over the top and using a knife I slowly marked through the parchment and through to the fondant. I do it like a dotted line, remove the parchment and then finish by cutting it all out with the knife.
I got this far and realised I was in too deep for my skill level. I could have done it, but it would have taken me about 6 hours (it was an hour at this point) and I wouldn’t have been happy with the way it looked at all. I threw in the towel and rethought my cake plans.
So I then decided to sit with my 5 year old and together we did some sea creatures. I used no templates and when it went pear shaped, I just rolled the ball of fondant up again and had another go. It’s like play doh only stickier, so make sure you use icing sugar a bit to counteract the stickiness.
Between us we made about 4 orange fishes (complete with gills cut in and a little black eye), she made a pink puffer fish and I did a very bad shark. Then we did a few little seaweeds.
I then took the magnetic letters from their board and pressed my son’s name into some dark blue fondant and then cut around them, so he had his name on the cake. I have tried to use regal icing and do writing on a cake, but I’m really rubbish at it. It is quite stressful to do as I feel I can’t make a mistake. This is an example of knowing what you can and can’t do. Fondant letters it is. If I make a mistake, I can make a new one.
The day before the party I baked the cake (as per recipe above) and left it to cool before putting it in a cake container. I bought this one last year and it is a great thing to have. I store it above my cupboards when not in use. It’s really roomy, so can store a cake with decoration on it.
On the day of the party I made the buttercream (recipe above) and I tripled the quantity. I also used milk instead of the cream. I added about 4 TBSP of milk and then added more at the end to give it consistency that would be easier to spread. I then used a blue colouring in the last few whisks to make it blueish.
Next is to dollop it on the cake. The top could be as messy as I liked as it represented the sea, but I used one of these to tidy up the sides. I used the non spiky side. I find buttercream so much easier to use. I didn’t make it too thick on top that anything would sink in it with no trace, but thick enough to hold everything. I then popped 3 octonauts figurines that had come with various Christmas presents (one had arrived that morning). One of them toppled over fairly quickly so had to be cleaned up and the buttercream fixed, then I repositioned it so I got the centre of gravity right. Then I popped on my son’s name and the rest of the seaweed and fishes and voila. The cake was done. (I have pixellated the name out, sorry. Just an anonymous thing).
I hadn’t planned on sticking the shark at the front. I created it using black and white fondant. Just kept kneading it together. In the end I needed to put something there, so I chose that.
Now for the decorations. I had already purchased these so had the party tea decorations under control (cups, plates etc) and I had ordered the octonauts party bags too. However I wanted to create a bit of an “under the sea” effect in the main room without going over the top too. Again, Pinterest was great, but I was ill on the Saturday night and had limited stuff available to me.
I had done some seaweed designs for my daughter’s Mermaid party last year. I had used crepe paper and twisted it on the wall and sticky taped it into place. However, I threw it all away and only had tissue paper available to me. I don’t officially have a craft box but I bought a load of tissue paper for an Easter hat competition last year and I hadn’t used any of the shades of green. So I googled, asked on Twitter and decided to have a bash at it. This is what I ended up with.
The dark green seaweed was cut out by going a fifth up the tissue paper and literally cutting a wiggly seaweed shape up and down. I took out each 2nd piece to have a gap between them. I then took the other green paper and cut lots of long wiggly strips out. I used sticky tape to put to the wall (3 year olds don’t care) and then added the extra strips in between letting in fall behind the original dark green seaweed. The waves were cut out in the shape you see, although I had one sheet x 4 thick so it took 3 seconds to make all the panels.
I then mucked about making some fish shapes and a funny pink starfish. I then cut out a few Octonaut pictures from one of The Monster’s magazines and stuck them on to.
You can just see in the forefront of this photo some seaweed hanging down. We cut out and hung some of the strips from the door frame (it’s the old french door leading to the extension, so it’s very wide). Effective but very easy to do.
That was it. Not mind blowingly amazing, but fully appreciated by the 3 year olds (and a few adults alike). It dressed up the room a bit, said “Octonauts Party” without saying “Look at me, I’m trying really really hard to impress everyone”. I actually enjoy these smaller touches at my parties, I enjoy trying to figure out how to do something, getting a teeny bit stressy and then compromising on something I thought might work.
I hope it is of some use to anyone who thinks they aren’t very crafty but want to do a few things.
This is my only party at home this year. My soon to be 6 year old is having a big entertainer/hired venue party for 31 children this year. I’m planning on remortgaging the house to pay for it!