Life Without Balloons

Make Bunting Not Balloons!

It’s M’s birthday this week, so I spent a bit of time last night getting the dining room ready. My mom always “surprised” us with a decorated table on our birthdays, and I have fun carrying on that tradition. We have a few things that we use for each person’s birthday each year: A personalized birthday sign, a long accordion folded animal train birthday card that my parents gave A on her first birthday, and a vintage porcelain floral frog in the shape of a gander known to us as “The Birthday Goose”. Each birthday person gets to pick flowers for their table and photos or a tablecloth (or both) to go under the Plexiglas cover on the table. My parents gave us the plastic cover cut-to-measure for our table about 6 years ago, and we love to put photos under it. We save our calendars, cut them apart, and use them to decorate the table; sometimes we buy a new calendar when they’re marked down to about $1 each in the summer, so we can add to our collection of table images. This year, A wanted a fancy tablecloth, and M wanted sea creatures (I used a blue tablecloth and photos from a coral reef calendar for her).

The Birthday Goose on A’s birthday

On top of all this, for A’s first few years, we bought balloons to tie to the front porch and her chair at the table. By the time M was born, we had stopped buying balloons – Too many popped or floated away, and it was impossible to avoid the truth that we were adding a dangerous sort of refuse to the world. If you live on an island and your birthday balloon floats away, it doesn’t require mental gymnastics to arrive at the conclusion that your balloon is likely headed for a watery grave.

The Birthday Goose on M’s Birthday

Around the same time we gave up on balloons, I came across a no-sew fabric bunting banner project in a Martha Steward Kids magazine. I made a few bunting banners Martha’s way, then I changed the directions a bit to accommodate my lazy self, and to create less waste (there is plastic wrapped along every inch of the fusible tape she calls for). We have enough of the-is bunting now to decorate our dining room, front porch and back yard, all of the places we used to put balloons. It isn’t one of those parental whitewash statements for me to say that my kids love our fabric banners even more than they love balloons.

banners over the birthday table

Here’s how we make them:

Step 1: Get yourself some fabric. We love to find sheets at a thrift store or garage sale, and our local fabric shop sells fat quarters meant for quilters; those are the perfect amount of fabric for bunting, too. We pick out 3-4 different fabrics for each bunting strip, each 3 yards long.

Step 2: Get yourself some extra wide double fold bias tape, one 3-yard piece per banner, or make your own.

Step 3: Get yourself some craft or fabric glue if you want to make this as a no-sew project. If you want to stitch this together, you’ll need whatever you’d like to use for that – I’m going to give no-sew directions, but feel free to upgrade to the stitched version for less waste and better durability.

Step 4: Make yourself a pattern. I drew a shape I liked freehand, a basic semi-circle with the flat side running 9″ wide x 6.5″ tall. I used the back of some sort of food box and it’s still in great shape 12 banners later.This size works well with 3 yards of bias tape, leaving enough tape on the ends to attach string for hanging, or to pin into.

Step 5: Iron your fabrics then use pinking shears to cut 6 of your shape from each piece of fabric.

Step 6: Decide how you want to arrange your fabrics, then open up that bias tape and start to glue the fabric into place, one piece at a time. Set the straight edge of your fabric pieces even with the inside crease of the bias tape. Before you place the fabric onto the bias tape, put a thin bead of glue on the bottom of the tape, then add another thin bead on top of the fabric and fold the top of the bias tape down flat onto the fabric. Run your fingers over the freshly glued area, pressing gently to stick everything together, then move along to the next piece. It’s a good idea to lay the whole pattern out with the bias tape before you start the gluing, so you know how much bias tape to leave free at each end. As you glue, snug the fabric pieces up so their edges just touch, and set the whole thing where it can dry flat.

Voila! You have fabric bunting that can be tied or pinned into place, indoors or out, good for years of festive decorating. True, the glue makes the bias tape a bit stiff, and it can’t be put through the wash; you can remedy both of those things by sewing everything together. But I’ve been able to decorate years of parties now without having to wash our glued-together bunting, and nothing has fallen apart when left out in the rain and damp overnight. Sometimes I do need to add a bit more glue to a panel or two, but that’s easy enough to do. Of course, the plastic bottle the glue comes in is wasteful, as is the fabric if you buy it new, but there are no balloons to find their way to the ocean and into some creature’s belly.

back yard banners

2 comments on “Life Without Balloons

  1. […] and bias tape, no sewing required if you use a bead of fabric glue down the center of the tape (directions here). For a couple of years, I made a new strip of bunting for each new birthday, with the birthday […]

  2. […] We make ours from fabric remnants and bias tape, no sewing required if you use a bead of fabric glue down the center of the tape. For a couple of years, I made a new strip of bunting for each new birthday, with the birthday girl in charge of fabric selection, but now we have plenty to decorate the front porch, the dining room, the living room, and outside along our fence and favorite trees. […]

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