Vintage Carnival – The Decorations

With game booths and activities planned, lots of messy treats, and a slightly larger guest list than normal (since we were combining both boys’ parties), we decided to have The Gaines Bros. Vintage Carnival Party at our local neighborhood park. I obtained a park use reservation/permit and set out to plan how I would transform the gazebo and lawn areas into a carnival, within a very limited timeframe. Normally, when we have parties at our home, we have days leading up to the party to decorate the house and prep.  But with a party at a public park, we only had a couple of hours to set up, decorate and get EVERYTHING ready for guests arriving at 2:30. My husband, father-in-law and I were channeling some serious “carny” energy, when at 2:15 (not yet showered or dressed for the party), we were still trying to put the finishing touches on game booths and decor, waiting for a party vendor to arrive, and briefing our fellow “carnies” (teenaged family and friends) on how to set up and run the booths.

When I first saw the gazebo, I immediately thought “how can we make this look like a tent?”…with painted canvas backdrops! Measuring the distance between the posts of the gazebo, I figured we could do four backdrops: one for a photo booth backdrop, one for the candy buffet, and two incorporating the cameos used on the save the dates and invitations. I purchased three canvas drop cloths from Lowe’s and my husband set them up in our living room (rigged with bungees and clamps onto the banisters) for me to paint.

The save the date and invitations had a distressed striped background on a hessian cloth texture, so I incorporated wide yellow stripes onto two of the drop cloths. Rather than marking off the stripes, I simply followed the folds in the fabric, straight out of the packaging. They were the perfect width and no taping or measuring was required.  Over the stripes, I projected the silhouettes and painted in the cameos with dark gray paint, followed by a teal shaped outline.

On the third drop cloth, I painted the red-curtained scene for the photo booth. Because the canvas drop cloth was unprimed, and I didn’t want to spend too much time or use too much paint, I did a quick dry brushing of the curtain. The painting wasn’t very opaque or vivid, but I figured it would add to the distressed, vintage vibe I was going for.

For the fourth backdrop, used behind the Sweet Shoppe candy buffet, I took an old king-sized IKEA duvet cover we’ve had since the mid-90s, and cut the seam so that it would be one large piece of fabric big enough to fill the space between two posts of the gazebo. It happened to be an adorable polka dot design, in the exact yellow of our color scheme.

Other elements of our Vintage Carnival party decor included:

1) Table runners using cheap kraft paper (instead of plastic table cloths). I always have a large, industrial-sized roll that I use for painting prep, crafts, and gift wrap/packaging. I love kraft paper…it’s so versatile and practical. I also used leftover scraps of embossed, wood-grained card stock (from our 2011 family New Year cards) to make an old fashioned paper ring garland (seen behind the Sweet Shoppe sign).

2) Printed signs. For the craft station, prize and game booths, I printed out a tiled image of each sign and mounted it to pieces of cardboard boxes I had saved, trimming the edges in burlap ribbon.

3) Handmade tissue paper poms.  I ordered tissue in bulk from Paper Mart and my mother-in-law (Nana Sue) and the two birthday boys helped me make an assortment of red, teal and yellow poms.  We simply folded a stack of 8 sheets of tissue into 1.5″ accordion pleats, tied jute string tightly in the center, trimmed the ends into a point or round, and then fluffed all the layers of tissue. It was super easy and the boys enjoyed helping…they’re crafty like that!

4) Food signs were printed onto oval labels and stuck near each food item, either onto the kraft paper or on the concrete tables. I also printed coordinating labels for the candy bags (which were leftovers from some of the weddings I’ve done); goodie bags (for the prize booth) using brown paper lunch sacks that I ran through my printer; hand-cut shape cards to create the pennant banner for the Sweet Shoppe and cute signs for all treat jars and trays; and made lanyards out of glassine bags (also leftovers from weddings) for the kids to collect their carnival tickets.

5) Assorted baskets and containers in teal, red and yellow were purchased at Dollar Tree; I found yellow and teal glass bud vases at the 99 Cent Store (for sunflowers); glass mason and candy jars were from Cost Plus World Market and Walmart; and Julie bought the paper straws from a seller on Etsy.

6) A piece of pegboard was painted for one of the games, the Lollipop Tree…but since it was colorfully painted, I consider it part of the decor.

7. Some of the decorations from Isaac’s vintage circus themed bedroom were used for decor. This electronic carnival game was used (and broken) at Isaac’s 2nd birthday (Western themed), so we brought it to the park as a prop.

8) I hand-lettered a custom chalkboard welcome sign, as well as a sign for the photo booth (borrowed the design from a wedding on my Pinterest board).

The key was to have as much made ahead of time as possible, have everything loaded up in the cars the night before (including tools for assembly), and to try to keep some things  simple (like kraft paper instead of table cloths, poms instead of streamers or balloons, etc.). We also had A LOT of help from family and friends…Nana Sue stayed behind at the house to prep all the food; Papa John helped Aaron (my husband) set up all the booths and hang up the canvas backdrops, Pepa Bill shuttled supplies back and forth from the house to the party; my sisters and brother-in-laws stepped in to finish decorating and setting up so I could go home and change my clothes, and our friends Jenny and Cho helped style the candy buffet while I went back to the house to grab food.

It was indeed a labor of love because there were so many design elements, colors and thematic details that I wanted to include for this party. But everything for the most part turned out as I had envisioned it and most of the decorations have now found a place in my home or have been used for other parties and events. For instance: the poms and paper ring garland are now hanging in my office; I use the canvas backdrops as drop cloths when I paint; the lollipop tree and photo booth sign were donated to our elementary school for their annual Country Fair; and my niece, Maylie, and our friend, Makala, were able to use the decorations for their birthday parties.


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  2. […] FUN!!!  For the MARVELOUS Gaines Bros. Vintage Carnival Party, a painted drop cloth used as party decor created a delightful backdrop for our version of a photo booth. And since my boys enjoy dressing up […]