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Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 | 8 comments

DIY Kids: A Birthday Party Inspired by Project Runway

DIY Kids: A Birthday Party Inspired by Project Runway

When you’re 10 and you love fashion and the reality show Project Runway in which the contestants compete each week to design and sew runway “looks,” it goes without saying that you’d love a birthday party that mimics the show. My daughter Ana was thrilled to plan her Project Runway 10th birthday party from begin to end, with me just adding a few suggestions here and there. She wrote out the agenda for her 3-hour party to be nearly identical to an episode of the show.


My family were game to play the roles of judges. We have me doing a not-very-convincing Heidi Klum, my husband Matt as Michael Kors, his brother Brian as Tim Gunn (he did the best impression of all of us, having watched Tim Gunn video clips to get into the part), and my mother-in-law Donna as Nina Garcia.


Ana invited seven girlfriends to her party and decided she’d split the group into teams of two. Every one of the girls had seen Project Runway except for two, but we decided to make sure they wouldn’t end up together as a team. Still, watching the show was not a prerequisite for enjoying the main event of the party. To let the girls pick their partners, “Heidi Klum” used the infamous “button bag” from the show, which had the contestants names written on oversized buttons.


Then, she described the challenge: Each team would receive a box containing all of the supplies they would need to create their “look.” (On the show, they never say “outfit,” it’s always “look.”) They must use some of everything in the box. They would also receive scissors, safety pins, straight pins, a notebook for sketching, a pencil, and some money (Monopoly money) to spend at “Mood,” the world-famous fabric and notion store in NYC. She said they would be designing a dress or gown to wear at a fancy reception and awards ceremony taking place in the evening.


“Heidi” handed out the boxes and the girls immediately scrambled to look inside and started discussing their ideas with their teammate, holding up the fabric to see what may work. Another change we made from the show was to have each team use one of the members as the dress form, if you will, and the model.


“Tim Gunn” came into the “workroom” next (my mother-in-law’s living room) and announced, “Designers! You have 15 minutes to sketch and then we’ll all go to Mood where each team has $250 to buy items to accentuate your look. Your time starts now!”



On the show, unless it’s an unconventional challenge, the contestants go to Mood to buy everything they need to create their look — the fabric and notions. At Ana’s party, we decided to sell unusual items at our Mood store, such as duct tape, smaller pieces of fabric, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, sequins, buttons, and even one of the most popular items, the crochet flowers from a summer yarn bombing project.


We created a list of prices for the items — designers had $250 to spend. We priced the fabric pieces at $100 and worked down to $.50 for 5 buttons.


We provided calculators so they could quickly figure out their total.


It was really fun to watch the girls choosing their items thoughtfully, but with the same frantic nature you see on the show. Time was of the essence!


They all scurried back to the workroom and got busy cutting and shaping their looks.


We did not provide sewing machines, in the interest of time, and instead allowed the girls to use safety pins to secure the fabric in place. Also, I provided an “SOS” area where an adult could assist with the glue gun, thread a needle with embroidery floss or sewing thread, or provide hem tape. The girls made great use of this added benefit as you’ll see later.


It was really fun to watch the girls’ creative problem-solving and energetic workmanship, and especially watch as their visions came to life.



Every once in a while, “Tim Gunn” would come through the workroom. He’d announce, “Designers! How is everyone doing?!” He’d then go around to each team, and make typical Tim Gunn comments like, “I’m concerned about this….” or “This is gorgeous…” and then, before leaving, say, “Designers, you have 45 minutes to design, and then we will go to the accessory wall. Make it work!” And just like in the show, the designers would groan and exclaim, “we need more time!” and then work even more avidly.



After we were sure everyone had finished their dresses for the most part (we stretched the time a little, so as not to cause undo anxiety — it was a party and not a reality show competition, after all), we let everyone pick and choose from the accessory wall that Ana, her friend Allie, and her grandmother Donna had set up that morning.


Donna let the girls choose from her collection of high heels and some costume jewelry we had found at a yard sale…


As well as purses and scarves, a mix of Donna’s and yard sale finds.


They hurried over and grabbed the items they wanted as Tim yelled out “use the Blue Fly accessory wall wisely everyone!” Ana’s partner snatched up the bright yellow heels right away…


Knowing they’d complement Ana’s look perfectly.


Before the runway show, I used the glue gun to help the girls with their handmade flower pins.



We called all the judges to the room, put on a Pandora “techno/club” mix, and then let the girls strut their stuff while we cheered them on.  We asked the teams to “describe their looks” which they did very articulately. The judges each made comments, always complimentary and some funny like this from the Michael Kors character, “it’s like a butterscotch snowstorm with a peep on top.” Heidi then said, “if I call your name, please step forward. She called the name of every single girl and then stood up and said, “This is a first in Project Runway history, but we decided that you are ALL winners!”

After some cake (made as Ana has the past couple of years together with her friend Bea and her mother, owner of P.S. Cakes) and cheese fondu, they each went home with a small party favor and the option to take their new gowns home with them, minus Donna’s shoes and accessories of course.


  1. I LOVE THIS! Brilliant idea. Thank you for sharing!

  2. this is amazing. what a fun day! LOVE the judges.

  3. Totally fun!!! I love the photos. Really great progression. But I wanted to see a photo of all of them in their final splendor lined up together on the “runway”! Such a great idea for a birthday party! Such creative designs … and descriptions on the part of the girls. Well done!

  4. This is absolutely awesome, and I feel like I want to do it for MY birthday party! Love seeing the reappearance of the crochet flower. Acrylic never dies!

  5. I stumbled upon this blog while looking for help in planning my 10 year old daughter’s project runway party and wow, am I glad I did! This is amazing (esp as I am not artistic or handy!!) I have a question though…What did you start the girls off with in their “packet”? I’m trying to figure out how much to give them to let them work with, versus pick out in Mood….

    • Hi Heather – It turned out to be a great party. In their “boxes” to start, I put some fabric, 1-2 larger pieces and some smaller; a piece of tin foil, some thread, some pipe cleaners, 2 pom-poms (you could get more at mood), safety pins, scissors, drawing paper and colored pencils, straight pins, and butcher paper (to simulate muslin). Have fun and let us know how it turns out for you!

  6. This is fabulous, thank you so much!!

  7. what a wonderful day. thanks for sharing all the details and lovely photographs. I am sure this was a memorable event for your daughter.

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