Amidst the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, my younger sister turned 16 years old. Now, pandemic or not, she's not the type of person who really wants to be the center of attention, so not being able to celebrate her sweet 16 with friends or extended family wasn't a really big deal to her- in fact, had the world allowed it, she still wouldn't have wanted to have a party at all. But, 16 in many cultures is considered a milestone birthday, so we still wanted to give her something celebratory. Ultimately, we decided to throw her an Alice in Wonderland-inspired "Unbirthday Party" in the house and leaned heavily into the decorations to make-up for no attendees.
As some background on the concept, an "unbirthday" is a phrase that Lewis Carroll coined in the 1800s when he wrote his book Through the Looking Glass, but was more visually popularized by Walt Disney's animated version of Alice in Wonderland. In the movie, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare sing about celebrating their unbirthdays at a whimsical tea party in the forest.
From that original source material we decided to create a magical garden tea party that incorporated elements of children's storybooks, untamed greenery, and an abundance of textures and materials. The décor is a mix of DIY'd items, thrifted items, paper art, and items we already owned and had in the house.
In the center of the room we created a large tablescape that featured several iconic Alice in Wonderland items as well as functioned as serving station for small hand-held desserts such as pastries, macarons, and sticky buns from a local bakery.
Tea Cup Centerpiece - The centerpiece was created using a thrifted candle holder, tea cups, and plate. In the cups, floral foam was used to full the empty space and as a base to attach the fake florals from Michaels to using hot glue. The key was to use a variety of floral types and then fill in the empty space with green moss to completely fill out the centerpiece and make it feel alive. This is a simple DIY that is easily customizable based on your color palette and style.
Eat Me / Drink Me Food & Drink - Straight from the pages of Carroll's book, we created the food and drink Alice partakes in that changes her size and help her fit through the doorway at the bottom of the rabbit hole. For 'Drink Me,' you can add food dye to a favorite drink (in our case lemonade) and put in small bottles of varying shapes. I then used present tags (either pre-cut or hand-cut) and simply wrote drink me on them. For people whose forte isn't cursive, you could also print out tags with writing or use stickers to complete this piece. For 'Eat Me' I simple wrote on macarons I picked up from T.J. Maxx with food markers. As long as you pick a food that has a smooth surface (like fondant or royal icing) you will be able to write your message on it.
Book Page Table Runner - The last DIY for the tablescape was a table runner. I was fortunate enough to thrift one book that had pages of varying colors of aging. Certain chapters were much darker than others, which gave the table runner more depth. (If you're unable to find a book with aged pages, you can always antique the pages at home by soaking them in tea or coffee.) I started with regular printer paper to make the relative length of the runner I was looking to create and attached those pages together. I then used an utility knife to take the pages out of the book and glue them in a varied manner to the printer paper base I created. I then used a matte Mod Podge to cover all the pages.
Assorted Items - In addition to the three DIYs I mentioned above, I set the table with a variety of items from around the house and the thrift store. Some of the items included were tea cups, plates, and a rabbit tray; elegant and old books; a wooden clock; our family-owned marble chess set; bird cage; small mirrors with golden frames; assorted real and fake flowers. After placing all the items down, I used moss to cover the table and incorporate everything (I used one bag of moss from Michaels for the entire room.)
If you have the ability to do so, hanging décor from the ceiling can completely transform a space in my opinion. I believe having décor above you head helps to better immerse your attendees into the world you're creating. For this Sweet 16, we decided to utilize several types of ceiling swag to give the room a more eclectic and whimsical look. (We used Command hooks to hang all the swags from the ceiling.)
Icicle Lights - I believe that light strands always transform a space. We used hanging icicle lights to add some warmth to the room and brightness.
Crepe Paper - Crepe paper is an easy and cheap way to add swag to a room, whether you're outlining doorways or hanging it from the ceiling. I recommend always using two colors and twisting them together to get a more interesting look when hung.
Pop-Up Paper Lanterns - This strand of pale pink and metallic rose gold lanterns was purchased from Party City. They come flat and you need to pop them open and insert the wire shape-holders.
DIY Fabric Garland - Our DIY fabric garland is one of my favorite elements in the space and one of the first things I knew I wanted to create. The beauty of this type of garland is that it is completely customizable. We decided that we wanted an array of textures and patterns so we picked out complimentary items that fell into a lighter color palette. Our garland is comprised of tulle, fabric, and assorted ribbon. When creating this, you have a base string that the rest of your fabric is tied. Then you decide how far down you want the tassels to hang and you cut stripes of fabric and ribbon that is a little more than double the length. From there you simple tie on the stripes you cut. (When I tied on our ribbons, I used a Lark's Head or Cow Hitch knot so the ribbons would hang flat.)
Bird Cage Chandelier - The chandelier was a last minute addition that my sister was able to create with the addition ribbon, lights, and florals we had. We hung a bird cage from the ceiling fan and then she arranged the above items in the cage with some strands hanging below it as well.
As with most birthday parties, you need to have a birthday banner of some sort. Since we were going with the theme of an unbirthday (to pretend it wasn't actually her birthday) I created a banner that reflected that above a styled credenza with assorted found objects.
Un-Birthday Banner - From the same book used to create the table runner, I took individual pages and simply used a black marker to write individual letters in varying styles on the pages. If you're looking to make a similar banner, I recommend looking up fonts and lettering on Pinterest to give you endless options.
Credenza Décor - On the credenza, we used multi-print gift boxes from the dollar store, thrifted golden frames, real and fake florals, a small strand of battery-powered lights, and small assorted bottles. The arrangement was sporadic and reflective of the tablescape.
Wall Art & Other Décor
Much of the wall art and other décor elements in the space were created from plain black or brown craft paper, which is a cheap way to cover larger amounts of space. Whether or not you have some drawing ability, utilizing paper is a great way to help transform a space into a new world.
Leaf Curtain - This sitting room has an abnormally large doorway. In order to fill it with something more than just a foil curtain we decided to cut one iridescent foil curtain from Walmart into smaller chunks that we spaced out in the door way. Then, from the same book I created the table runner from, I cut dozens of leaves. I then stapled those leaves to a great curling ribbon. We placed those strands intermittently in the doorway to add a little more of the garden theme to this space.
Craft Paper Keyhole - The keyhole is simple a piece of brown craft paper that I drew some of Wonderland's whimsical flowers on. The keyhole is one of the iconic visuals from the story and helped to bring in another element of the storybook part of the theme that we were trying to achieve.
Alice Falling Down the Rabbit Hole Pictures - These pictures (again on brown craft paper) were a collaboration between my sister and I. The wonderfully drawn Alice's were done by my sister, Nichole, while I completed the pictures with the background items. These photos were actually created to cover up childhood self-portraits me and my siblings drew that always hang on the wall. In order to keep the theme, we covered up the normal décor with these photos. (You could also have printed images from the internet to cover everyday photos as well.)
Craft Paper Tree - This tree is an enlarged version of a drawing from Lewis Carroll's book. There was a lot of empty wall space in the room and this was a great way to add another storybook element and bring our theme to some of the blank space.
Chessboard Wall - One of the most transformative elements in the space was the chessboard wall. I purchased one book of black craft paper, created a diamond template, and then cut out paper diamonds (1 per page). I then used painters tape to attach them to the wall. The contrast between the black and the light gray walls look stunning and added depth to the room that had so much light colored décor.
Amidst a pandemic, we were able to create a small, yet immersive experience for my sister's Sweet 16 that played into things she liked and how she feels about birthdays. She was completely surprised by the sheer amount of the décor in the room and I think she was secretly happy that we decided to do this.
If you try your hand at any of the DIYs we made for this party send them my way to I can check them out!