Ideas for a Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea party

I hope you had a beautiful Easter with time to unwind and enjoy the much needed Spring sunshine? Naish Farm, home of Honeybuns Bakery, is looking truly dreamy at the moment. Bluebells, wild garlic and cow parsley form lacy borders to the paddocks where our resident donkeys graze. Swallows have returned to the big barn to bring up their families and a sense of contentment emanates from our quirky Honeybuns herd of donks, rescue chickens and ponies. Why not come and meet them all? We supply free carrots and hen feed on the first Saturday of each month when our pop up shop is open (closed Jan-Feb). Our next pop up shop day is on Saturday May 7th. After feeding our pets you can also stock up on less than A1 cakes at fab prices for your freezer or cake tin. Details here.

Drove in SpringtimeWith concentrating on getting all our online cake and gift orders dispatched on time for Mother’s Day & Easter, it has been a busy few weeks. As well as baking all of our delicious gluten free treats here in Dorset, we also do our own food styling. We work with a very talented freelance photographer, the lovely Lucy. Whenever we create new gifts and cakes to sell on our online shop we organise a photo shoot to show these treats off to best effect.

Over the past twenty odd (!) years we’ve collected all manner of vintage items from teapots and cake stands to salt and pepper shakers and tablecloths. Our props store is a cornucopia of delights where everything is beautiful as well as useful. As the saying goes “one man’s junk is another one’s treasure!”

Props store

The launch of our brand new gluten free lemon and ginger celebration cake kit

Lemon & Ginger shortbread Celebration cake stack kitTo celebrate the creation and launch of our gorgeous tray bake and cake stand sets we, once again, went a- rummaging amongst our collection of curios and came up with a theme – “A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”. I wanted to keep things subtle – with hints of whimsy and lots of natural elements we could pick from the garden. We wanted to avoid anything too overt – so no top hats or Cheshire cats.

Easter cake decoration ideasChoosing a theme for your garden party

Lewis Carroll’s tale of wonder is enduringly appealing to all ages and is great for firing the imagination. Kids would love this as a Birthday party theme as would grownups who can indulge in a spot of fond nostalgia. The Mad hatter’s tea party meets English afternoon garden party is an ideal celebration of English eccentricity and the “out there” surrealism and enchantment of Alice’s world.

What crockery is best suited for my Alice in Wonderland tea party?

silvered vintage cutleryVintage, mismatched crockery is spot on, visually with the added bonus being it is inexpensive to source. Start with a large china teapot, milk jug (or creamer), sugar bowl then onto tea cups, saucers and tea plates. Local car boot sales, charity shops and school fete “jumble stalls” can all be good hunting grounds. Or try searching for “vintage china for sale” on ebay, Gumtree or free ads.

Traditional English tea party cutlery

Silver teaspoons and dinky little cake forks are perfect. Cute tongs for sugar cubes are also great for creating an authentically vintage table setting. If serving whole cakes, then a lovely old cake slice will help lift cake slices safely to each plate as well as looking gorgeous. If you fancy buying a new, beautifully designed cake slice then try

Home Baking Gifts website. They stock Jamie Oliver and Portmeirion amongst others. You can also buy cake forks from them too.

How to get started on putting your table scape together

I find a spot of day dreaming plus a re-watch of the wonderful William Sterling version of Alice from 1972 is a great starting point. Once you’re thinking and feeling creatively you can better visualise the look you want to achieve.

For our last photo shoot we wanted to set the tea table up outside to make the most of our slightly wild country garden backdrop. If the weather doesn’t permit then you can still achieve great results indoors.

Table Talk

Long or rectangular tables are fine for sitting at and you can create a table scape straight down the middle. Just bear in mind you will need lots of props, decorations and cakes to give the impression of indulgence and for this to come across in photos. For this reason we opt for using round tables – to seat 4. You only then need to dress the central part of the table and you need less props etc to make it look bountiful and “carefully chaotic”. Lucy advises that it is easier to photograph this more compact set up. So if you are after stunning pictures for social media this might be worth bearing in mind.

As for table cloths – natural linens are great for texture and their neutral colours allow your table scape to pop with out creating competing designs or colours.

Mad Hatter props and accessories

For subtle “accents of Alice” we used the following easy to obtain vintage accessories:

Old metal keys. Rust and paint splatters all add to the desired aged look. Try car boot sales, ebay or call a house clearance firm to see if they come across such items.

Easter tablescaping ideasTea pots. Besides a china one for serving tea (or bubbly) look out for silver ones & brightly coloured enamel ones which can be filled with flowers or topped with moss & flower petals. New enamel teapots in a range of colours are relatively inexpensive. Try Falcon Enamelware.

Easter tablescaping ideasClocks. Old fashioned alarm clocks on the table give a nod to Carroll’s permanently flustered white rabbit and his pocket watch. With outside scenes, I’ve also seen stylists hang larger clocks onto nearby tree branches – which looks cool. Style your own pocket watch by adding an old jewellery chain to a broken old fashioned wrist watch. You can pick these up super cheap if they are broken & being sold for spares. Just remove the wristwatch strap.

TablescapingVintage books. Try creating a stack of old books on the table – a selection of faded book covers instantly adds a touch of vintage – you can then balance a teapot on top or a plate of cakes.

“Eat me” & “Drink me” labels. I found gorgeous handwritten luggage tags on Etsy. Sadly I cannot do calligraphy myself so I headed to Etsy and found a good selection there.

We tied the “Drink me” tags onto vintage tea cups and place the “Eat me” ones on top of a cake stand.

Easter decoration ideas– Novelty salt and pepper shakers. These have fallen out of fashion which is great news for those of us who want to add a quirky touch to our tablescapes! You can pick these up at charity shops. Look out for birds, donkeys, rabbits, hedgehogs – we’ve seen them all. This time we opted for our trusted red and white spotted china mushroom shakers. Images of Absolem the Caterpillar languidly blowing smoke rings atop his toadstool spring to mind…

Easter tablescaping ideas– Repurposed tea cups. Be playful and instead of tea, fill your cups with cubes of delicious cake. We have some lovely large traybakes which lend themselves brilliantly to this.

– Moss and flowers. Moss is a fabulous styling material. We are very lucky to have it growing naturally along the shady hedgerows on the farm. It is now easily obtainable online. See our Source Book section for details. With the moss, we used it to fill teapots – first adding scrunched up paper inside the pot to fill it nearly full, before topping with decorative moss. You could then nestle in some brightly wrapped sweets or flower petals amongst the moss. We also filled in gaps between teapots, books and other props with moss & then popped daisies over the top.

“Flowers everywhere” is a good rule of thumb! We love picking little daisies – the everyday ones growing in a lawn are great as they are so dinky, non toxic and really pop in photos – especially against dark chocolatey cakes.

– DIY cake stand. Vintage cake stands are lovely but you can also create your own really easily. Simply turn a pretty china cup upside down & balance a tea plate on top. Very simple & really pretty. Or take a jam jar & pop a set of battery operated fairy lights inside before putting the lid back on. Then find a pretty plate to put on top. Alternatively allow us to provide you with everything you need for a show stopper, centre piece gluten free dessert. Our celebration cake kits include cake stand with lights, a large tray bake and all the toppings you need to make something really beautiful for your tea party.

“The party didn’t happen unless it was on the ‘gram”

….or at least that what my much younger Honeybuns colleagues tell me!

For great Instagram photos it’s great to have photos both of the whole scene and also close ups of detail. So dressing a tea cup and saucer with a “Drink me” label & arranging pretty mini slices of cake around the saucer would be a great details shot.

Similarly, a vintage teapot with flowers loosely arranged in it would make a lovely incidental picture.

The lovely Lucy advises that a great picture ideally has some movement or tension. It might be capturing a gust of wind that causes your table cloth to move or building a leaning Tower of Pisa that is threatening to topple over.

To frame your table think about hanging up super sized paper pom poms in fuschia pink, red, orange and white – colours that will pop.

Source Book

Talking Tables- great for disposable funky table accessories

Dot com gift shop- Fab cups, plates and sundries

Oliver Bonas- Ignore the temptation of all the clothes on here! Stay focused and head for home accessories. They do on trend kitchen and dining accessories

Moss supplier- Triangle Nursery

Anthropologie. Can be eye wateringly expensive but is very beautiful. Even just for styling inspiration

The Vintage tea party book by Angel Adoree is also a great source of inspiration.

Top Tips

  1. Typically we will shoot outside whenever the weather allows as we find the resulting photographs come alive in natural light. They look warmer and less contrived.
  2. If shooting inside why not draw the curtains and illuminate with fairy lights?
  3. Vegan and gluten free meringues in rainbow colours can now be bought online. They add great pops of colour to stacks of cakes.
  4. Pop G&T or bubbly in your teapot to get the party properly underway
  5. Chess pieces fit with the Wonderland theme – dot them around the table too.
  6. Serve Mocktails in teacups
  7. Large paper pom poms hung from overhanging trees or hung on the back of chairs add some pops of colour- especially against the greenery of a garden in Spriongtime.
  8. Catering for coeliacs and/or vegans? Check out our gorgeous range of award winning tray bake cakes here

Comment below and share what you thought of these ideas! Be sure to share with a friend too! Thanks for reading!

– Emma Goss Custard

If you have any questions, do get in touch via this blog in the comments section, or via facebook, email or telephone.

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