The Keep

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Her Grace, my niece, does not read this blog, so I can tell you now that this is a present for her. It started when I found this wooden box at Value Village with hinged openings, and some delightfully tacky rhinestone clip-on earrings. Bear with me. This is how my mind works. You’ll see.

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HG is at that age where she is into all things shiny and all things miniature. Originally, I planned to create a miniature castle-doll house on the inside, with three levels, a grand staircase, and a chandelier. It quickly became apparent that this idea (WHILE TOTALLY AWESOME) was beyond my abilities and time allowances. Plus it just wasn’t glittery enough. There were few if any rhinestones involved. I managed to come home from my visit to NYC with a red rhinestone adhered to my sock, and HG wasn’t even there while we were in town. She seems to have magic powers where fake gemstones are involved. I also found a pretty little rhinestone necklace, but I didn’t yet know how that was going to fit in.

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She’s also at that age where she’s starting to want to keep some things to herself. I’m not talking about drug smuggling or anything (though she would make an adorable mule), but I remember having the desire at that age (9-13 or so) to have a space to put things where nobody else could see them. Even if it was just a pretty rock I’d found.

So I wanted to build HG something, like a little fortress or keep (because she does love the miniature stuff) where she could, well, KEEP stuff.  But it was also important that it reflected HG’s glittery style. There’s a reason her mother calls her Sparkle.

I took the ugly wooden knobs off and cleaned out the box.

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I grabbed myself some battery-powered LED Christmas lights from Dollarama. A classy keep needs a chandelier, after all.

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I decided to make two chandeliers, because it was easier to drill the right-sized holes if they were a bit smaller.

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I used a power drill to make the holes. Here is the basic idea.

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I also picked up some beaded glass bracelets from Dollarama that would make great chandelier crystals. But that will come a bit later.

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First I needed to make up the top of my Keep so it would look all fortress-y and also camouflage the battery box for the lights. I used Model Magic because it’s lightweight and it sticks to itself.

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So I cut out little squares like stone blocks (the texture of Model Magic makes it kind of look like stone, which I like). I had to make it so you could still access the battery pack to turn the lights on and off.

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Then I set them to dry elsewhere. I’m going to paint them when they’re dry and then glue them in place.

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Figuring out the placement of my glorious rhinestone earrings as new door knobs, and the hasp (Wal-Mart) and mini padlock (Dollarama).

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The earring part of these babies popped off easily, but I was concerned about the stones rattling around in their settings, so I pried them out, filled the setting with hot glue, and then stuck the rhinestones back in.

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Then with some craft paint in hand I started in on the keep itself. The inside is silver, with black borders.

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The outside I tried to make kind of stone-y. I’m not the best at this sort of thing but you get the idea.

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While that was drying I dismantled my beaded bracelets.

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I cut some floral wire and formed it into a spiral for the chandelier. I stuck the biggest bead at the bottom and folded the wire back so it didn’t fall off.

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Then I just continued with the rest of the beads.

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Tested them with the lights.

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Still waiting for all the paint to dry, so I made a quick little beaded keychain for the keys to go on, with HG’s initials.

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I’m not sure how durable it will be but it will do for the initial giving-over of the key.

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Finally the paint on the box was dry, so I installed the lights and chandeliers loosely. I haven’t glued them yet as they will need some adjustment in terms of how high they are inside the box and how much clearance I need on top for the Model Magic stones. I also lined the sides with adhesive rhinestones (Dollarama) to add to the glitz and glitter.

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The rhinestones kept falling off, so I slathered them with a gloss Mod Podge to hold them on. You can’t expect amazing adhesion from Dollarama rhinestones after all.

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Now the time has come to attach the exterior hardware. I also blinged out the hardware.

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The screws that came with the hasp are going to be way too long, so I will have to camouflage them on the inside.

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When in doubt, add gemstones!

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I found these cute little mirrored clips in the clearance bin at Michael’s forever ago and I thought they would be good for secret stuff organization.

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So I used hot glue to stick them to the inside of the box.

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I hot-glued on the rhinestones.

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I used hot glue to keep the lights and battery pack in place, though I was careful not to accidentally glue the battery pack shut so they could be replaced.

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I did some adjusting and then carefully placed the Model Magic parapets on top. It’s best to use white glue with Model Magic so I used hot glue to get it to stick. I’m not good at following instructions.

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Then I painted it to look like the “stones” below. I also hot glued some felt to the bottom of the main section of the box so that the “doors” could swing open freely and so that the box wouldn’t scratch any delicate surfaces.

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All finished. I hung the rhinestone necklace inside if she wants to wear it, and added some perfume samples that came with a present from the Pie a while ago. Just to start off the secret-stuff collection a little.

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I hope she likes it!

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Conversation Bunnies Place Markers

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I saw these on Oh Happy Day a little while back and thought they’d make a neat place marker.  So in the midst of running out apartment hunting (yay, moving again!), I churned out nine of these for our Easter dinner.

I picked up some wee hollow chocolate animals.  Hollow is key.

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Then I cut out conversation bubbles from two pieces of scrap book paper and grabbed a stencil to do the names.

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I also used some foil stars I had leftover from being a professor (no matter the age, all students love a sticker for good work!).

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Then you need some glue and some floral wire.

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Cut the wire so it will fit all the way through your chocolate animal — it will need to stabilize itself at the bottom — and all the way through your conversation bubble.

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Glue your two conversation bubbles together over the wire and jam it into your animal’s head.

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You may need to move the wire around a bit to get it steady but you’ll find the right spot. I stored mine in a plastic container until I was ready to use them as place markers.

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Pseudo-Peonies

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While the weather might be warmer than it was before, and while I pulled these lovely daffodils out of my garden last week …

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… my garden still looks like this.  Which means that my peonies haven’t bloomed yet.  If they’re going to bloom at all.  And I like peonies.  They’re one of my favourites.

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So I’m going to make my own here.  It’s not that hard.  I found a quick tutorial at Two Shades of Pink and had at it.

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Start with a bunch of coffee filters.  I don’t know how many.  A bunch.

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And some warm water.  And some food colouring.  Or watercolour paint.

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Dissolve some of your paint/dye in the water. This is some Crayola stuff I broke off and stirred in.

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I tried this craft paint but it wasn’t water soluble, not really.

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Then dip your filters into the coloured water.  You can do a bunch at once. And they don’t need to sit in the water for more than a few seconds.

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Experiment with the outer edges.

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Versus the inside. Or the whole thing.

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Squeeze out the excess dye with your hands.

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I totally dyed my hand pink.

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Spread out the filters to dry completely.

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Mine took a few hours, less when I fully separated the layers and put them in a place with lots of air flow.

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This is the full stack next day.

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Now, in addition to the filters, you will need scissors, a stapler (with staples), and then some tape or wire (I have floral wire here).

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Grab between 6 and 8 of the filters and stack them up.  Flatten them a bit with your hands.

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Fold the filters in half, then half again so you have a little cone.

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Take your scissors and scallop the rounded edge of the cone — don’t worry about perfection, it’s all good.

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Now unfold the thing and ruffle it up a bit.  Pinch that spot at the very centre where you made your folds.

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Flip the filters over and you can see what I mean by that pinch.

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Staple over that pinched spot to hold things in place.

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Now flip it back over and smooth it out a bit.

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Pull up the edges of the topmost (innermost) filter and, working from the bottom, squish the filter in on itself, leaving a nice fluffy gathering on top.

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Keep going with each successive layer.

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Make sure to keep the top nice and fluffy, while still jamming the paper against itself.

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Gather up the bottom layer and push it upwards, squeezing into the little handle you’ve created for yourself.

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The paper will hold its shape for a short time, but you want to fix it more permanently.  You can use tape around the little nub here or floral wire, which is what I used.

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I attached one flower to one end of the wire and another to the bottom.  What am I going to do with it?  I’m getting to that.

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Because of the variation in the way I dyed the filters, you can see different colour gradations in the finished flowers.

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On this one I put the darker filters in the middle.

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This was the resulting bloom.

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I used 8 filters per bloom and ended up with 18 flowers finished, which means I had 144 filters dyed.

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When I was finished I gathered some of the blossoms that were tied together and I used an additional piece of floral wire to wind their stems together.

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And it made two lovely little bouquets of 9 flowers each.

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I don’t even want to talk about that horrible plaster job in the background.  The landlord took our chimney away and now I have no place to display my work.

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So until I figure out how to compensate for my lack of a fireplace, I’ve put my pseudo peonies flanking my television.  Because I’m classy like that.

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Pre-Spring Paper Tree

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It may be spring where you are.  Here in St. John’s, however, we don’t put away our snow shovels until after the Victoria Day long weekend at the end of May.  It’s kind of the rule.

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So in the absence of spring, I’ve decided to make my own.

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Interfering a bit with my marine mobile while it’s at it.

This branch fell victim to yet another of our vicious wind storms last night and managed to scare the crap out of the dog by moving along the sidewalk just as he was about to sniff it this morning.  In retribution we captured it and will torture it into submission.

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In actual fact one of the major branches on it was broken.  This branch was walking wounded.

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So I fixed that up with some floral tape.

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For this project you will need some paper.  It can be scrap booking paper, origami, magazine paper, whatever you want.  I picked a spring-themed magazine because I thought I could get the best colours from it.  I should have really cut out the paper in the shapes of leaves, but I’m super lazy so I used my 2″ circle punch instead.

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Some floral wire, a pair of scissors, a paint brush, and some glue would also be handy.

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So you start by cutting out your shapes. Whatever they’re gonna be. Us lazy people like our circles. It’s “modern”. Deal with it.

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Then you put some glue on one side of a shape. Then you take a leaf-stem length of floral wire, bend it a bit so it won’t just slide right out again, and slap it on there, with another shape on top. BAM.

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And then you do that a bunch more times. Until you run out of shapes. Or until you get bored and don’t want to make any more shapes.

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Then you take your branch and anchor it in a sturdy vase.

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And then you start winding the shapes onto the branches, following the line of the branch, bending them a little bit for depth. It ain’t that hard.

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And you keep going.

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Make sure to spread them out as you add them so that when you run out of shapes and don’t want to make any more you don’t end up with bare branches.

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And then you put it somewhere and admire your handiwork!

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Here it is on my mantle.

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Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake – Day Two

First thing to do this morning is take the white chocolate frosting and the fondant out of the fridge to come to room temperature.  Don’t forget!

Right.  So when we left off, we had just set the gum paste ivy leaves out to dry overnight. Fortunately for me, they didn’t completely dry, so I was able to cut tiny sticks of floral wire and stick them into each leaf as a stem.  Had I known how rigid and brittle dried gum paste got, I would have done this the day before, when the leaves were still flexible.  Also, the thicker the leaf, the better it worked.My plan was to wrap these new “stems” around my green licorice whip “vine” and then drape the whole thing over the cake.Of course the leaves were pretty heavy and the licorice was pretty delicate so of course the vine broke.In any case, I got all the stems in and flipped the leaves over to dry completely.My next idea was to simply drape the licorice vine over the cake, pin it in place with a few concealed floral wire “staples”, and then stick the leaves directly into the cake in strategic places.  Of course I wouldn’t get to see if my plan worked until the following day.  The tension starts to build.The worst part of decorating the cake today was that I had a medical procedure scheduled for late in the afternoon, and I wasn’t allowed to EAT ANYTHING until after it was over.  You try icing a cake and not licking your fingers.

Now, when you make a tiered cake you need to give it support so it doesn’t sag.  Not to mention the fact that a three-tiered cake is tremendously heavy, so everything has to be strong and secure.

The entire cake rests on a cake board, which you can buy at any cake or craft store.  My lovely father decided he’d make one for me out of plywood, as a cake board is essentially just a board wrapped in foil.  In addition, you need cake circles, essentially made of cardboard (though my dad used matting board here) that are exactly the size of each of your upper tiers.  They will go on the bottom of each upper tier so that you can move them around and so cutting one tier won’t result in cutting all three tiers.  It’s really amazing the amount of hidden structural material goes into a wedding cake.Now, you want to keep your cake as cold as possible, so I worked in shifts, putting each tier back into the fridge when I was finished each step.  A cold cake is stiffer and less likely to come apart on you.  Of course, the fridge I was using was downstairs in the basement and I had to negotiate several hallways in between.  As the cakes became more and more complete, my mantra became “Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …”

First you need to level the tops of your tiers.  Use a long serrated knife to remove the round bit at the top.  To ensure a perfectly smooth top, I flipped my tiers over so the natural “pan line” was the one that showed.  I had to work super hard to get the 16″ tier to come out level.

Use some royal icing or other stiff-drying frosting (which I also purchased) and plaster some on the surface of each cake circle.  This will be your glue, and will prevent the tier from sliding off when you move the cake.I did the same with the cake board, and placed the tiers on their respective surfaces, cut-side down.Then I wrapped up the ones I wasn’t using and put them back in the fridge. Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …I’m sure I’ve spoken to you before on the importance of a crumb coat.  It is what it sounds like: a coating of icing designed to freeze all your crumbs into place so they don’t show up on the surface of the finished cake.  So, smooth a thin layer of white chocolate frosting all over the cake and try to keep it as even as possible.  Then chuck the tiers back in the fridge for at least fifteen minutes so the frosting can firm up.

I found the smaller tiers easier to decorate if I placed them on an upside-down plate on top of an inverted bowl.  Of course, if you have a rotating cake stand then you’re ahead of the game.And a handy tool like a fondant smoother is useful when you are trying to make your sides uniform.  And on your second coat of icing, be generous.  This stuff can hide many mistakes.  Chuck the tiers in the fridge again after the second coat.  Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …As I mentioned earlier, this cake is no lightweight.  In order to avoid a Leaning Tower of Pisa thing, we have to provide adequate structural support for each tier on top of the bottom one.  We are going to create hidden support columns for our tiers, putting them inside the cake itself.  This next part is a little weird, but you gotta trust me on this one.

Enter the Slurpee straw.Let’s ignore the fact that I had to purchase a Slurpee in order to make off with all these straws.  The key to Slurpee straws is that they’re incredibly wide, which makes your support column all the more strong.  Another plus is that they come in lurid colours, so you are unlikely to mistake them for the substance of the cake and consume them by accident.

So, you take your bottom tier.  Rest the edges of the pan of the next tier on top for a second, just to leave a wee mark in the frosting where you want the next tier to go. 

Insert the straw into the centre of your guideline, pointing straight down, press it all the way to the bottom, and remove it.  You will remove a tiny plug of cake while you do this, but don’t worry, you’re going to put it back. 

When you pull it out you can see the line that the frosting has left on the straw.  Cut the straw at this point, then cut four more sections of straw to match this length.

Return the centre column to its original position in the cake and insert the other four columns around the centre one to evenly distribute the weight.  Repeat this straw process for every tier except the top one and put the cakes carefully back in the fridge.Now we are going to start on our fondant embellishments.  Slice off some fondant with a sharp knife and knead it with your hands to make it more malleable.I used a small amount of the icing colour we used to make the ivy leaves to create this pale green.I rolled it flat and used a pizza cutter and a metal ruler to cut long strips of the stuff.These are going to form bands at the bottom of each tier.Working carefully, so as not to stretch the fondant strip, place them along the bottom of each tier.  Because my fondant was a little on the dry side, I found it easier in the end to cut the fondant strips into sections and handle them with a fondant smoother.  You can see that I’m wearing gloves in this shot to avoid putting fingerprints on the fondant.

I used the smoother to provide support as I pressed the strip portions onto the cake.

Then, with a soft paintbrush, I gently brushed on some green lustre dust for texture.Not bad, not bad.  You won’t notice all the imperfections from a distance, once the ivy is in place.Next I rolled out some white fondant and got out the French curvesI traced the edges with a sharp pointed knife and pulled away the excess fondant.

Then ever so carefully transferred the shapes to the cake.  I used the biggest curves on the bottom tier.On the top two tiers I used used the smaller curve.Now put those all in the fridge and leave them there.  More on Monday, when we put this baby together!