Saturday, February 28, 2009


Edited 7/20/11: Due to increased interest in this blog and new features available through Blogger I have changed the blog design for Mostly so I could enlarge the photos in my posts so you can see them better. I hope you enjoy. For those of you who've been here before there isn't really any new content. I did add labels to my posts to help people find what they are looking for. Looking back I really think I must be crazy. The kids are now 10, 8 and (almost) 5. The 8 year old would love to have a HP party of his own and keeps asking but I'm not that crazy. Or am I? Time will tell. Never say never.
~ Minerva

On Saturday February 28, 2009 we had a Harry Potter birthday party for 16 children to celebrate our daughter's 8th birthday. While it started out like planning for any other birthday party it quickly began to take on a life of it's own. With the Christmas holiday right before we hadn't given a lot of thought to her party until we made the decision to go forward with it a few weeks into January. The following weeks were consumed with little else due to the limited time before the party. I found the Internet to be hugely helpful and so, by putting this blog together, I am hoping to share our ideas and experience with other party planners, amuse a few Harry Potter fans as well as share some of the photos with friends and family. I hope you enjoy it.

I tried to divide things up into sections. You can quickly navigate to the sections you are interested in by clicking on the links in the archives to the right. PLEASE NOTE: Blogger does not allow all posts to display at once on the main page. Continue clicking on the "Older Posts" button at the very bottom of the page to view ALL posts.

You may or may not be interested to know how we got to this point. If you are, see this blog entry about how it all began:

I also want to thank my friend Janet. You led the way before me and many of your decorations added the finishing touches that made this party so special. I can't thank you enough. (For more about Janet see this post: )

If you are planning a party of your own. Good luck! I hope you don't get as carried away as we did.

The Party Structure

I wanted the party to feel like a real day at Hogwarts, not a birthday party with games and the like. So we picked the afternoon so that we could avoid serving a meal and the classes were the activities. The party was 3 hours long and in reality we could have used an additional hour. I really wanted a half hour or more of free play at the end so they could explore afterward but sadly we ran out of time and kids were still eating cake as their poor parents arrived to pick them up to a room full of kids chanting "Go away Muggles."

As it was, I had a hard time keeping the kids' attention at times. Luckily I had a big heavy bell that was perfect for getting their attention which fit nicely with the stern headmistress persona. Otherwise we'd have run an additional 45 minutes over schedule easy. I still almost lost my voice despite a lot of bell ringing. I highly recommend having some attention getting device with this many kids. Maybe a bullhorn would have been better.

1) Kids arrived and entered into Hogwart's via Platform 9 3/4. Professor Dumbledore (my husband) and Professor McGonagall (me) escort them to Diagon Alley where kids that didn't bring their own borrowed robes and/or pets. We hand out school supplies: The wand, Hogwarts Charm Potion and Spell Book, and potion jar. Each child heads to the Common Room to label their Hogwarts bag and supplies. We all head out onto the porch and I took pictures of each child in front of the brick. We made another running entrance into Hogwarts via Platform 9 3/4 .
2) The sorting hat ceremony.
3) Divination Class
4) Potion Class
5) Transfiguration Class (only lasted a few minutes)
6) Search for the Golden Snitch
7) Handing Out the Reward Money
8) Trip to Honeyduke's Candy Shop
9) Hagrid Cake and Pumpkin Juice
10) Free Play - We ran out of time but thankfully I'd planned this into my schedule or we'd have been in big trouble.

The Invitation

In doing research I saw frequently that a Hogwart's acceptance letter was used as the invitation. It seemed like the obvious choice since I could create it myself at home and it would be fun for kids to receive their own Hogwarts acceptance letter.

I found an example on this website:

But ultimately since I like to write, I wrote my own letter. I hinted at activities that would be included at the party and used the letter from the book for some of the details so it would feel authentic. I even sealed them with sealing wax that was left over from my wedding invitations. From experience I knew they couldn't be mailed with the wax. Because most of the kids live close by or we see regularly we were able to hand deliver them. Evie thought it was better that they arrive by "owl post" anyway, without a postmark. A couple we handed out discreetly before school, but I don't recommend doing that. Because they were hand delivered I was able to use the Harry Potter address: Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive etc. which the kids thought was fun.

I used Microsoft Word to create the letter, the font I used was Blackadder ITC in a custom selected green and the crest image I got off the internet. I would have loved to have had an H for my wax seal but there wasn't enough time to order one and still get the invitation out when I wanted so I used the flower seal from our wedding invitations. I wanted to make sure the invitations went out in plenty of time because Evie's real birthday always falls during the week of mid-winter break and I wanted people to have plenty of notice before going out of town.

Platform 9 3/4 - The Sign

I knew I wanted a Platform 9 3/4 sign so I found the one in the movie, paused it, took a digital picture with my camera and then printed it on paper. I actually used this technique a lot and found it extremely helpful even if the picture quality wasn't great.

The sign from the movie.

To make my sign I picked up a piece of plywood at Michael's that was about the dimensions I wanted, no cutting required. I had Steve drill holes for hanging it before I started painting, good thing since it tore the wood a bit. I painted the whole sign with house primer. It bowed the wood on the first coat but it bowed back in place when I painted the back. Over the primer I used acrylic craft paint for the entire thing. Because it is a thin paint it required several coats for each of the steps but I was able to get a fairly smooth finish that way.

Then I found a bowl that was about the size of circle I wanted and penciled it in place. I painted the circle white. Then I hand lettered the 9 3/4 with pencil on top of the dry white circle. I then painted that with black acrylic craft paint.

Next I used a yardstick and pencil to mark where my gold frame would be.

I painted the entire sign red up to the circle and the lines for the gold frame as well as the back of the sign.

After the red was dry I painted the gold frame.
The lettering was tricky. I knew I wouldn't get the spacing right if I did it by hand so I typed the words Hogwarts Express in Microsoft Word using Perpetua Titling MT font 180pt and formatted it as an outline. I then printed onto paper on landscape mode. I did a chalk line with the yardstick where I wanted the bottom of my lettered. Then I taped the lettering where I wanted it onto the sign. Then traced the outline firmly with ballpoint pen, elongating the R's to look more like the font from the movie. That left enough of a mark that I could then trace over with a Sharpie. Then I painted inside the lettering with a super fine brush and the gold acrylic craft paint.

I painted the black circle around the white circle freehand as there really is no other way.
When it was all dry I painted the entire sign with several coats of Varathane Waterbased Diamond Wood Floor Finish because I knew the sign would hang outside and it could rain.

I had some black curtain rings that I used to hang the sign with and purchase 1 1/2ft of black chain from Lowe's that I attached to those. This allowed me to hang the sign simply over a hook. Much simpler than the wall mount used in the move sign.

My sign being painted.

The finished sign.

*Edited 8/20/10 to say that for a period of time Warner Brothers had 9 3/4 signs for sale. If you can find one for sale, on E-bay maybe, save yourself the time and just buy one.

Platform 9 3/4 - The Brick Wall

Getting started.

Half way finished.

The finished curtain hanging from a tension rod in the doorway.

My daughter as "Hermoine" posing at the "Platform".

How to:
I knew I had to do something special for the outside of our house and thought it would be cool to have our door actually be platform 9 3/4. Initially I'd planned on buying brick wallpaper but found it didn't come wide enough and it was somewhat expensive. Then I thought I'd make it myself on paper but I started to realize it was going to be a lot of work. I thought if I was going to go to all that trouble I should make it reuseable. Especially since there was a chance I would want it for party for my son, Adrian. I was also excited about the idea that the kids could actually run through it like they do in the movie so I had the idea to paint onto fabric. I headed to my favorite place, the Goodwill on Dearborn, to see if I could find a cheap sheet. I was surprised to discover that people's old icky sheets actually fetched a bit of money but in my search for just the right colored sheet I came across a brown linen curtain. It happened to be the perfect size and color and it cost me $3.99. Actually less than some of the sheets. No cutting or hemming required. I was very thrilled! The Goodwill comes through again!

I picked up a big sponge from the Color Store on Madison and cut it to be the size of the brick that I wanted with my electric knife.

Thankfully I happened to have some brick colored house paint that was perfect.

I started out sponging the bricks starting at the top in the center. I had to focus carefully to make sure my "grout" size remained consistent or my pattern would have shifted and become crooked. I found the technic that worked best was to paint the paint onto the sponge with a brush so it was even and not too thick.

It is supremely important to use a drop cloth underneath as the house paint did seep through and would have destroyed my slate patio. I put newspaper around the sides so when I sponged the brick it would keep it from getting on the dropcloth.

After the house paint dried I went over it with a darker brown in places to give it an aged appearance and break up the uniformity. I used a brush and a paper towel to rub it into the cracks and off the top. I happen to have painted some in my life so I felt somewhat confident I could do it. But this step could have easily ruined the wall and it took a lot of time. If you try this, I warn, be careful during this step.

It took the better part of a day to do this project. Allowing time for making lunch, putting toddlers down to nap etc.

Once it was done I sewed the tab tops to the back of the panel by hand so that the "wall" would go all the way to the top of the door and provide a secure way to hang it as I knew kids would be running through it. I used a 1" tension rod that I purchased from the bath department at Lowes to hang it. It was very secure and did not fall down despite all the activity.

I love to take pictures. One of my signatures is that that I always take individual pictures of each kid at our birthday parties. Part of the reason I did all this work was that I knew it would make a really cool backdrop for my pictures. It also set the tone for the party as the kids passed through the brick wall into the world of "Hogwarts".

Diagon Alley

Originally I planned to close the door to my son's bedroom which is off the main living area but as I started thinking things through I realized how great it would be to have the kids come in and go straight to Diagon Alley to get their school supplies. This was really fun but a total pain to pull off because all his things had to be boxed up in order for the room to really look like a shop.

 He already had shelving so we removed the toys that were on them and put up the potion jars that each child would receive. I used his dresser to hold the wands and spellbooks (also party favors). To fill up the shelves we added stuffed cats, owls, toads and rats. It turned out some kids wanted to borrow. So that worked out great.

I got a Hedwig from Alivan's for $6.50 that I put in a bird cage we already had. We hung a bat from the ceiling. Janet had brought some brooms so we hung one from the ceiling using fishing line with a Nimbus 2000 sign. She also brought cauldrons which helped make it look like a real witch and wizard store.

My sister lent us a really cool brass coat rack. I picked up wire hangers from the dry cleaner that I hung the robes my friend Janet had lent us on. Kids that didn't bring their own robes were able to borrow and all kids were "in costume". Using the coat rack was perfect because it left enough floor space to squeeze all the kids in the room.

Each child received a black Hogwarts bag to put their things in. I made these by printing the Hogwarts crest (from the internet) onto full sheet stickers I got from Office Depot and cut with a paper cutter. The labels were then attached to the black paper bags I'd purchased from a paper store.

Warning: Don't bother trying to make this Nimbus 2000 sign unless you happen to have a graphic design background like my husband.

The Wands

The party favors: Wands and Spellbooks

Steve had made the kids some wands out of bamboo earlier in the year. Then at Halloween he made some more and we discovered that even the small Bamboo is sometimes hollow in the center, making it not always ideal for wands. The bamboo wands were pretty quick and easy to make but we were concerned that bamboo might break.

So in the end we opted to buy oak dowels from the lumber store.

Steve then made a lathe out of his drill and carved each of the 16 wands individually by hand so each was a little different. WARNING: THIS IS DANGEROUS. They were then stained using wood stains we already had. And clear coated with Rustoleum clear spray paint so the stain wouldn't rub off on the kids' hands.

I'd read on one of the party sites that a woman had put the wands in a light up cup so I thought I'd give that a try. We used a cup from The Rainforest Cafe (I got a 24 oz electric lemonade out of the deal.) and I covered the logo with an Ollivander's label I made by using a picture I found on the internet. The button is on the bottom of the cup. I had each child select a wand but if the magic cup did not light up it was "not the wand for them" and they had to select another. It was fun.

Sometimes they'd get the right one the first time sometimes it seemed like they had to try every wand in the cup. It's hard to see in the pictures but it was a cool effect and the kids loved it. Of course they eventually caught on but were still good sports as they selected their wands.

The Hogwarts Charms, Spells and Potions Book

I really wanted the kids to have Spellbooks as party favors. I looked for some to buy with no luck so we decided to make our own. I wish I could say this was easy. I found the information on the internet and thought oh this will be easy enough to copy into Word, change the font and print at home. I didn't count on Word having some major formatting and spacing issues that took hours to fix. I assume this is because I was copying web content.

I thought I'd be able to print them at home but then realized that a 50 page booklet isn't easy to print if you don't have a duplexing printer. So I thought I'd have it done at Fedex Kinko's. But they didn't have the paper I wanted so I bought that from the Paper Zone and brought my custom stock with me. The black cardstock was thick and with 12 pages of paper the booklets had to be trimmed to look their best. After the hours I'd put into them I figured $5 extra was worth it.

Then I had my husband design the labels using a Hogwarts crest image I found on the internet. We made some modifications in Photoshop and printed them onto full sheet (8 1/2 x 11") labels I purchased at Office Depot. I then cut them with a paper cutter and applied them to my booklets.

I was surprised at the amount of time and money these booklets took but in the end it was worth it. The kids loved them. I anticipate my kids will use them for years. There are references to the books which I hope are accurate but figure if they aren't it'll give the kids something to do to check them.

The finished cover.

The title page. Obviously we aren't real publishers this was just to make them look authentic.

There were three sections: Charms


Potion Ingredients


  Each section had a place to take notes at the end.

The Spellbooks on display in "Diagon Alley".

*Edited on 8/20/10. As I said above I got the information for my booklet off the internet. It would be illegal for me to sell the booklets and I don't feel comfortable giving them to others.  If you want to make them yourself that is your choice but as I warn, it was a LOT of work and they are expensive to print. How I did it is explained above. For those whove been unable to find the spell information themselves you can find a list of the spells on Wikipedia and the potions and ingredients at The Harry Potter Lexicon.  There are probably other sources for this information as well.

The Paintings - The Fat Lady & Eye

My father is a painter and I hit him up to help with some art for the party. Initially we planned on doing a lot of quick paintings to reproduce the fantastic paintings you see in the halls all throughout the movies. As I started thinking about all the work involved and how best to be able to reuse it, I decided on canvas board and artist grade acrylics which I got from Utrecht on Capitol Hill.

The most notable portrait in the movies is "the fat lady" so we started with that. She guards the Gryffindor common rooms and the students must give the password before she will allow entrance. Since in the movies the portraits are moving and played by actors they are not the same in all the movies. We opted for using "the fat lady" from the 3rd movie and the scene where she asked the students to wait while she attempted to break a glass with the "mere sound of her voice".

A scene from the 3rd movie showing the paintings in the halls. Again I used the technique of pausing the movie and taking a photo which I then printed on my home printer to use for inspiration. "The Fat Lady" is at the top of the stairs and "The Eye" is on the right.  

While he painted I worked on the Hogwarts Express sign and made lunch.

We chatted while we worked and it was really fun. Evie and Adrian were on break and kept coming in to watch us.

Nearing completion.

Although he finished this piece in 3 hours (which in the painter world is extremely fast) and I'm sure he would consider it rough, he did a fabulous job as you can see. Everyone who sees it is stunned. What a great thing to do for your granddaughter.

It turned out so well that I had to find an amazing way to display it. Incredibly it was a perfect fit inside my friend Janet's antique ornate gold frame. We were able to attach some blocks of wood to the back and strap the frame onto a door that we already had. The door was then strapped to a TV cabinet so it wouldn't fall over and crush a kid during the party.

It was the perfect touch for the "Gryffindor Common Room".

He also painted the eye which can be seen in the 3rd movie.

I got a frame for it, from the Goodwill, that I painted with gold paint. I already had Victorian style pictures hanging in our dining room so I simply removed the pictures of our family and replaced them with the eye and a holographic picture of Shakespeare we were lucky enough to find at the Goodwill for a few dollars.

Since the paintings are alive in the movies having a holograph was a great small touch and was fun for the kids.

The Sorting Hat Ceremony

I'd considered skipping this part of the party (I didn't want to buy the hat) but am glad that I didn't. Evie really thought it would be fun and it turned out to be one of the easier activities to pull off. We bought a sorting hat at Izilla's Toy Store on Capitol Hill. I read the poem from the book and then sorted each child into their houses.

I was going to put them all in Gryffindor to avoid any hurt feelings but it became clear that a few of them wanted to be in a different house. (I would quietly whisper asking each kid their preference as I leaned down to put the hat on their head.) Although by far the majority chose Gryffindor because it is Harry, Ron and Hermione's house. Evie's cousin wanted Hufflepuff but then was sad that she was the only one who chose it so we then had to resort her into Ravenclaw. It was fun to vary what I said with each kid and use the voice of the hat from the movie.

Divination Class

My long time friend Kelly agreed to come be Professor Trelawney the Divination teacher. We removed the sorting hat from the table and placed a tray full of Divination items including a candle a crystal ball with a picture of Voldemort in it (that was really a picture frame), a set of runes and tarot cards that I already had, and a tea cup.

She sat in a chair on one side and had a student sit in a chair on the other side. She then asked the students what they knew about any of the Divination arts. They raised their hands and gave answers. The items on the tray clued them in.

She then read many of their palms giving cute fortunes such as "I seeeeeeee cake in your future." Or "You will live a long life with much laughter and good friends."  "I see many birthday parties in your future." etc. etc. She was GREAT! She totally looked and acted the part. Thank you Kelly for being such a good friend!!!

Then we did tea leaf readings for the kids that didn't have their palms read. Same idea as with the fortune telling, simple easy to tell fortunes.

Oooh, I think she sees "The Grim". Actually we didn't do that, but that would have been good.

Then she pretended to see a scary vision in the crystal ball and that was the end of the class as we moved on to Potions class with Professor Dumbledore.
A closer look at the Divination tray.

Potions Class - The Fun

Unfortunately my Professor Snape wouldn't agree to come (You know who you are.) so Dumbledore taught Potions Class. The kids really had a blast. We had a few do-overs and a couple spills but that was to be expected.

The kids were pretty good about sharing the ingredients but I made sure to have lots so kids weren't standing around waiting.

On second thought perhaps test tubes full of concentrated food coloring wasn't such a good idea.

Some kids even dared drink their potions. For that reason I only used edible ingredients. That's not to say it tasted good.
"Hermione" consulting the potion book to make Polyjuice Potion.

This is how gross they got.

Instruct the kids to dump any rejects in the toilet (and yes they did dump and start over) NOT the sink unless you happen to be a plumber.

The aftermath. I was really glad I used a plastic tablecloth.

Sadly I was so busy the day of the party that I forgot to get any good shots of the potions table beforehand.  But I did take some pictures of the ingredients afterward, they are in another post. It really did look cool.