There are many different kinds of Laura fans. No matter what their specific interest, most fans love to “play Laura.” What better way to play Laura than with a party? There are several different ways to theme a Laura party. Today we’re going to look at how to host a Bring Your Own Bonnet party, a party on the prairie.
Olde Thyme Party Inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Usually when I write articles I try to be as historically accurate as possible, but today we’re just going to play at our Laura theme party. Our goal is to have Laura themed fun whether it’s accurate or not. A friend of mine calls that being Olde Thyme.
My suggestions below assume that you’ve gotten deep enough into Laura fandom that you have, can buy, or borrow certain “pioneery things.” But if that’s not you, don’t give up! Just take out your pioneer spirit and think the same way Ma did when making apple pie out of green pumpkins and chicken pie out of blackbirds.
You’re Cordially Invited
The theme for the party starts with the invitation. You can get notecards or postcards with a Laura theme from any of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites. Alternatively, you can handwrite a note on pretty notepaper. Have a little more time? Make it look like a slate or a telegram. Scrapbook or know someone who does? Make creative personalized invitations.
Be sure to include:
- Request for guests to come dressed in a pioneer outfit and a bonnet
Dress for Success
Part of the fun is getting to play dress up in pioneer dresses and bonnets. If your guests don’t have pioneer dresses yet, don’t worry. People usually rise to the challenge of putting together a Laura outfit, especially with a little advice from their friends.
If a guest asks you for prairie dress advice, suggest a trick used by volunteers at small museums across the country. Find a blouse with a normal collar. Museum volunteers usually pick white, but any color or print that reminds you of Laura will do. Take the collar and stand it up on end. If the collar comes up far enough for it to rub against the bottom of your face fold it in half with the extra on the inside. Then overlap the ends of the collar & hold it in place with a brooch. This will create an artificial high neck collar.
Pair it with a long skirt. Volunteers normally go for black skirts, but again anything you think looks “pioneer” will work.
No bonnet? They are available at all the homesite museum gift shops, which help keep the museums going and at craft fairs, thrift stores and even online. Or try making your own from scratch using the official Little House on the Prairie® fabrics from Andover and a simple pattern. If you don’t have the time or inclination to sew, here are directions for a paper version.
“Mary Put the Dishes On”
Pioneer meals normally were eaten all together so if you can get everyone around the table, that’s best. Don’t worry if a big table has to be improvised or if chairs are mis-matched, pioneer things didn’t always match either.
People associate Ma’s red and white checked tablecloths with the books, so that’s a great choice. If you don’t have one, you can get a few yards of red and white gingham at any fabric store. Another fun touch could be to make a tablecloth using one of the Little House on the Prairie® fabrics from Andover.
Cloth napkins are a nice addition. They can be purchased ready-made or you can make your own napkins out of either a solid color fabric or a matching or contrasting fabric to your tablecloth. You really don’t need to hem the fabric for a one-time use if you aren’t up to the challenge.
People like to think of Laura as having very basic equipment. So for plates, use pie pans. Set the table with them and whatever silverware you have. People enjoy it when you have tin cups. Tin cups can be purchased at most of the historic homesite giftshops or online.
No pie pans available? Ask guests to bring their own or buy disposable pie pans or use plain plates. Need a substitute for tin cups? How about stainless steel cups or spatterware cups from a camping supply store? Or try simply decorated mugs or teacups.
As we know from Little House in the Big Woods, “Ma liked everything on her table to be pretty.” Use this inspiration to decorate your table with a nice bouquet of flowers. The flowers can be store bought, but think daisies not roses. Put them on the table in a canning jar, not a vase.
A finishing touch is putting a kerosene lamp in the middle of the table. No kerosene lamp? Substitute a candle or pick something else from the books like a china shepherdess or a Charlotte doll to add to the table.
The Dime Social
Whether you want to serve just a piece of gingerbread or a full meal, the menu is up to you! Use your imagination and what you remember from the books.
Beverages: Lemonade is the obvious drink choice, but do NOT use it if you go the tin cup route, the acid in the lemonade causes a reaction that can permanently blacken the cups. If you choose to use simple clear glasses, jelly jars, or Mason jars, go for the lemonade. Garnish it with a couple of lemon slices. It’s good to have a second non-sweet choice like iced tea, water, or milk.
For something different, try ginger water. People sometimes react strongly to the taste, but some people really love it and it’s always fun to watch it bubble. Be sure to pick a pitcher big enough to leave a gap between the mixture and the top because it will bubble up once the baking soda is added. You can restart the bubbles several times by adding another teaspoon of baking soda after they die down.
“Then she split two cold corn-cakes and spread them with molasses. She gave one to Mary and one to Laura. That was their dinner, and it was very good.”
Little House on the Prairie, Chapter 4 (yellow paperback, p. 46)
Bread and Dessert: Decide if you want a full meal, just desserts or somewhere in the middle. My somewhere in the middle would be some kind of bread, plus a dessert. I think a good choice is to have baking powder biscuits and cornmeal, but some sourdough bread can also be fun.
“‘When you haven’t milk enough to have sour milk, however do you make such delicious biscuits, Laura?’ she [Mrs. Boast] asked.
‘Why, you just use sour dough,’ Laura said.”
By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 21 (yellow paperback p. 195)
Sourdough starter is available from bakeries if you don’t have or want to make your own. Find out how to make it here. Serve whatever bread you choose with a selection of butter, jelly, preserves, or honey. Thinking about Laura and Mary picking plums? Try plum preserves.
Follow up with dessert by picking what you like from the books or TV show. The best choice is Laura’s gingerbread served with whipped cream or chocolate frosting. Other great choices would be vanity cakes, pound cake, or Laura’s wedding cake (find recipes in the Little House Cookbook). Ice cream is always a welcome addition.
Coffee, tea or cambric tea are all good choices to end the meal.
Crafts and Challenges
After you eat, it’s time for fun and games. The fun in this case is a craft that also serves as a reminder of all the friends who attended your party. You can make either name cards or an autograph album (find directions for both in The World of Little House book). The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society sells both a replica autograph album and sets of name cards, which include replica ones like Laura and Almanzo’s plus some blanks.
You can make blanks yourself by purchasing business card blanks from an office supply store or by cutting cardstock of assorted colors into pieces roughly 2 by 3 ½ inches. Make sure each guest has as many blanks as attendees so they can exchange. Have guests decorate the blank cards with stickers or rubber stamps and carefully write their names in pen on each card.
Another challenge could be to sew a quilt square. Pre-cut fabric triangles (preferably in strongly contrasting colors including one that doesn’t have a right or a wrong side and one that has a very obvious right and wrong). Guests then can try to thread a needle and sew the two pieces together along the longest side of the triangle. A similar but quicker idea is to sew a button on a square of fabric.
Let the Games Begin
Next up is fastest fingers! Set up at least two stations and ask for volunteers. Each station gets a bowl, an apron, a cookie sheet, and the ingredients. The contest is to see who can make biscuits and get them on the cookie sheet the fastest.
A memory challenge can be to have a spell down or give each guest a list of the first 10 Presidents. Guests have ten minutes to study and then ask for volunteers to try to stand and name them off.
End the party by going around the room and asking each guest what their favorite book or favorite episode from the TV show was. Get more ideas for games and crafts from the 19th century The American Girls Handy Book and other resources listed below.
Goodbye for Now
I hope you have enjoyed “attending” my Laura party and that you’re well on your way to throwing one yourself. Check back for posts on how to do a Laura Tea Party or a Laura Garden Party (subscribe to the free newsletter for an alert when these posts publish). Send your guests off bundled up warm with buffalo robes and hot bricks for their feet.
Sources and Additional Information:
- The American Girls Handy Book by Lina Beard and Adelia B. Beard – First published in 1887, this book was written by two sisters and is full of genuine Victorian party plans, games, decorations, and crafts. It’s been reprinted a couple of different times, so it’s relatively easy to get a copy of this or try The American Boys Handy Book which was written by their brother.
- The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker – Find Cambric Tea (p. 186), Ginger Water (p.185), Ice Cream (p. 209), Laura’s Wedding Cake (p. 206), Lemonade (p. 188), Plum Preserves (p. 60), Sour-Dough (p. 77), Vanity Cakes (p. 202). These page numbers are from paperback edition.
- My Little House Crafts Book by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson
- The World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson – Hailstone Ice Cream (p. 120), Laura’s Autograph Book (p. 93), Laura’s Gingerbread (p. 131), Laura’s Name Cards (p. 97), Town Party Lemonade (p.61).
- Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is an engaging one-hour documentary about the personal and professional life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was directed by Dean Butler who portrayed Almanzo Wilder in the television series.