Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chinese New Year

I know, not exactly the blog post you expected to see on Halloween. Oddly, as much as I love costuming, Halloween has never really been a big deal in my house. I guess I have so many awesome costumed events during the rest of the year, that Halloween just lost its specialness.

Speaking of awesome events during the year, Chinese New Year is quickly approaching! I have no idea why I love this holiday so much. I never grew up with it, it's not something I was even aware of until a few years ago, but it's come to be one of those things that I wish I could celebrate with more flare and fun than I currently do. (At most, my family and I might go out to eat at our favourite Asian restaurant, but that's about it.)

I really wanted to do something big for 2012, since it was Year of the Dragon, but that never happened. But not for 2013! This is going to be a big year for over the top celebration. (No one can ever accuse me of going small.)

I largely blame my plans on Dallas' Chinese Lantern Festival. It was amazing. Just look at these amazing lanterns. Yes, I do have plans to build giant lanterns now, but not for CNY. I'm sticking with the simple round red lanterns, there's just going to be a lot of them.

I found a place online that sells what they call their "no frills" party lanterns for under $1/each. I'm going to go with 6" and 10" sizes, doing alternating strings of each size. Like this:

Isn't that pretty? But, the Dallas CLF made me really want to create a walkway that was lined with columns from which the lanterns were strung. Ambitious? Maybe. But I have some thoughts about how to do this inexpensively.

First, I started looking at examples of carved Chinese pillars. Most of them have a dragon motif, so I'm going to stick with that. Some of my favourite examples:

Now, I'm certainly not going to be carving these pillars out of anything, even foam. That would be too time consuming, and far too expensive. Instead, I've decided to make these pillars in 2-foot sections, with the pattern designed to repeat, and to fit together so it appears seamless. I'm planning to take some posterboard in the right width and height and form it into a tube, then fill that with something rigid, probably expanding polyurethane foam so it will keep its shape. Then I'll build up the basic shapes in Papier mâché, which I'll then cover in a layer of clay to sculpt the details onto.

Once the details have been sculpted, I'm going to make a mold of the pillar section which I can then cast. I have couple of different directions I might go with that. I thought about making each section out of posterboard, filling it with expanding foam so it'll keep its shape, and then skinning the posterboard with a cast latex shell of the design I'll be sculpting.

The second option would be to make a silicone mold of the pillar so I could simply cast the thing in latex and expanding foam. This option would be a little more expensive, but it would cut down on production time considerably. I'm still leaning toward the skinned posterboard, since it's somewhat more cost effective.

(Here's some more info on working with expandable polyurethane foams. Also, a handy calculator for getting the volume of a cylinder!) 

Other than prop and lantern plans, I also have plans to make some gifts for my guests. A traditional gift to give during CNY is red envelopes full of money.

Since 8 is a lucky number, you see quite a few gifts of $8. Even numbers are also considered lucky, as gifts of money in odd numbers is associated with funerals. Eep! I'm going to use chocolate coins in my gift envelopes, because chocolate is amazing.

Oranges and tangerines are also common gifts during CNY. The word for "tangerine" sounds like "luck", and the word for "orange" sounds like "wealth", so they are commonly displayed in homes and businesses, and given as gifts, or served to guests. I found this pretty idea for a centerpiece, which I'll work off of to incorporate the citrus into the decor.

There are also plans for lots of food. Each guest is bringing a dish to share, and I'm planning to make four different dishes, myself - orange chicken, steamed dumplings, crab rangoon, and spider cookies. I'm also considering making a green tea cheesecake, but only if I can get the recipe to work out. I did manage to find this awesome website that is full to bursting with Asian recipes. :D

So, that's some of the planning I've been doing. I'll keep posting about the things I'm working on for this, since there are tons of little projects that'll be going on. :) I've also started a Pinterest board for my Chinese New Year preparations, so be sure to check that out, too.


  1. Omg I am so excited! I really hope I can have dairy by then bc OMG YOUR CHEESECAKES ALWAYS LOOK AMAZING!!

    I dont know what I could help with but I learn fast! This is so exciting! If nothing else I will have my trusty camera to lend a hand with memories of the night :D

    1. Hooray for having dairy again! :D I'll have hot and cold green tea going, too, but if there's a drink you'd like, feel free to bring it. :D

      And I can definitely use your help! I'll be casting at least 30 pillar sections, as well as the feet and toppers for each pillar, so I'll need help assembling and painting everything. :) Also...SO MANY LANTERNS. I'll need help putting lights in them and hanging them. :)

  2. This looks AMAZING. So ambitious. Can't wait to see pics.

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