by Carmen - Director of The Prop Factory

Friday 9th August 2019 07:59:11


I never use my own props for parties.


You might not believe it but, as a director of the Prop Factory, I hardly ever get to use our props as I organise a distinct lack of parties. In fact, I rarely go to parties or weddings either. My life is my work and helping with everyone else's visions for their perfect party, which I love. Prior to DEBFEST I had organised my son's eighth party two years ago, which was a real treat but also - oh my goodness - so much hard work! I think I put so much pressure on myself to show what the company could do, especially as my little boy was the new boy at the local school and I hadn't met any of the parents yet. Anyway, I'll save that musing for another blog.


It's not like I don't have the chance to get my style on and delve into party planning for myself or a friend. In fact I'm a tiny bit averse to such activity as I feel like the struggling guitar player who gets asked to play in exchange for 'exposure' not cold hard cash. I used to help my friends and family, and friends of friends and their friends... all the time. Yes, I have become a tiny bit selective about where I place my efforts after years of exhausting myself because I used to be unable to say no. I learnt that skill the hard way.


So when I put my efforts into styling a party it has to be for a pretty special reason.


DEBFEST was a memorial party to celebrate the life of Deborah Butler. Not just the mum of two amazing lovely friends, but also she was my friend too. I was so shocked to hear of her parting. Debbie sadly took her own life and requested that she didn't have a funeral. She had written in a diary her funeral plans including 'Carmen to decorate'. Read into it what you will, but I was honoured.


Alongside her son Joab, we planned all the details. Joab covered the logistics - food, music and such - basically anything that wasn't decoration. The management of it all is something I'd be truly pants at. People often say 'why don't you organise your own events?' to which I explain I'd be totally rubbish at it. Decorating events, on the other hand, is what I can do. I was, however, surprised to find my normal methodology didn't quite kick in. Normally I'd start planning event decoration by thinking about a client's brief (or my own) and making a mood board, then a list of props would follow. This time, and I'm really not sure if it was because I felt less pressure or if it was because I was decorating for someone I knew personally, I picked the props based on her personality first, not a moodboard or Pinterest album in sight.


Her son Joab was adamant that it must be colourful so I chose pink, bright props alongside things I knew she'd like. I must admit that, being the eclectic lady so full of life that she was, the prop list wasn't very coherent at all. 


As you can see from the final result, I hope you'll agree that it did come together in the end. I think what bought it together was the predominance of pink and purple. Of course, props like the giant sunflowers and colourful dreamcatchers are somewhat devoid of pink, and certainly lacking in purple. However with the rest of the decoration, their bold and vibrant colour pallets are marginalised. I would never have thought to pitch the green stems of the sunflowers against the delicate pinks and girly sparkles of the unicorn ribbon bunting or the cosmic bar - but it works!


I call this look 'If Katy Perry organised a barn dance' or 'If Claire's Accessories threw up all over your party'.


The sweet bar was a labour of love and the focus of my decorating. It did take centre stage, literally right in the centre of the back wall of the barn, but the band marginalised its glory into the corner. They are forgiven, of course.


Being a total hair-splitter, even against my own will, I couldn't help but perfect the sweet bar. I wanted a Pinterest-perfect confectionery bar, so good you don't want to eat anything from it, only photograph it. Staying up for nights in a row past midnight, pregnant and already overworked, my body said go to bed but my heart said 'make another batch of sweets'. Yes, a good half of the hundreds of sweets were handmade, thanks again Pinterest. Debs would have approved of the outcome, but would have probably told me I shouldn't have worked so much. Then I would have said 'but I wanted to do my best' and we'd have concluded with a happy hug. That's what I imagine.


Every decision I made I imagined Deborah's approval - she definitely approved of everything!


The handmade sweets were mostly white chocolate in silicone ice-cube trays mixed with various sweet foods like shortbread, cherries and strawberry sauce.


I sprayed various mismatched glass, metal and plastic dishes with a muted candy pink to make them all uniform. I always think that, with bowls and stands for sweet tables, it's best to only have one variable - either the colour or shape - otherwise it can look a bit chaotic.


The sweet stand in the middle was an old magazine rack from RIO - Recycling in Ottery - a favourite junk dive of mine. My logic was to make the tongs and sweet bags focal rather than a mere afterthought loitering near the edge of the stand.


Finally, putting my graphic design degree to use, I made the sweet labels on Adobe Illustrator and used pink pegs to attach them. I really don't do any graphics, ever, but this was a very special cause.


To the stand itself, I added a pink striped hood that epitomises vintage sweet stalls for me - a real candy stripe. The sign at the front is our freestanding sweets sign. I really want to attach it to the front of the cosmic bar forever but the sensible person in me says 'no, let people choose if they want them together'. If that is you, and you do want them together, then you might like to know that I simply placed the sign in front of the stand, no tape or glue or screws were used.


Sweets became quite a predominant theme in the barn. I dotted a few sweet bowls about including the purple and yellow bowl head giraffe sweet bowl, carousel horse sweet stand, floorstanding vintage candy bowl and vintage candy bowl stand and filled them with more sweets. These items are unfortunatley no longer for hire but are for sale on our ebay shop here.


Other bits of decoration included our central pole - a grand wooden bunting pole - and our ridiculously pretty old unicorn mane bunting.


I made a pair of carousel horse entrance poles especially for the event as I thought Deborah would love them. Custom prop making is not normally a service we'd offer, but the odd thing here and there to really finish off a theme can't be helped sometimes.



I got super carried away and even made myself an outfit - a candy floss wig and pom-pom dress. I then served candy floss in the evening - a detail Joab was excited about too.


A little bit more about my outfit for all you DIY event organisers out there. The wig was a bit of a mind fluff to begin with as I had no idea where to begin but some chunky knit wool and a plant pot covered with chicken wire got me started. I have to confess I was quite overstretched with my many simultaneous projects for this one event so I enlisted the help of Ceri, one of our production managers, who spent a good four hours finishing the wig. I'm sure it will feature in a photo shoot of ours at some point too.


The dress I bought from a charity shop - what a perfect find. I sent this image of the dress to Joab with the aid of an enthusiastic shop worker. I added a good few hundred pom-poms to the bottom to make 'candy floss clouds'.


The event itself went without a hitch and there was a good turnout of friends and family to celebrate Deborah's life. I hoped you liked what we created for you Deborah, in fact I know you did.


If you want to create this exact look then this link will take you to all the props featured at DEBFEST. 

In memory of Deborah Butler xx

Tags: DIY Sweet Bar Barn Decoration DEBFEST Pink Party Props Sweet Props Sweet Stand Candy Bar