Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My wedding party: The little details

I had to get creative to keep our costs to a minimum but still have the high-impact, glittery wedding party I wanted. And, since we DIY'ed the music, food, drinks, and decorations at our wedding, I had to get creative with everything. Here are some solutions I found along the way. I'm sharing them here (and, an elaborated version later on Grey Likes Weddings) because I found it quite difficult to find any cost-saving wedding tips online that didn't make me cringe.


I wanted the party to feel like a paper jungle - like you had just walked into a riot of glitter and paper and happiness. Sort of like this, but on a larger scale. So, while watching bad TV and movies and documentaries over the past year, my mom and dad and I made hundreds and hundreds of paper garlands of every design conceivable (on separate sides of the planet!)

We made circle garlands, giant poofy tissue flowers, we strung paper gems into garlands, and cut tissue garlands. I printed out letters and made garlands that spelled things out, like 'best day ever' and hip hip hooray! I also bought a box full of pink streamers and threw them haphazardly around our venue (which is really fun, by the way). And I was really happy with the result! It was light and bright and airy and colourful, which worked well since our venue was pretty much a blank canvas. 

I wanted a way for our families to display photos at our party - is that a Canadian wedding tradition or does everyone do it? - so my mom made the photo display pictured above out of embroidery hoops, clothes pins, gold wire and gold spray paint. Isn't it beautiful? I loved it.

We purchased art from Society6 and Super Rural, framed it in cheap white frames, and displayed it on easels I already had or borrowed. The art had a huge impact in the big white room we had our wedding party in. And now those same prints live in our living room in Malta! 

I spray painted a lot of things gold: lawn flamingos, little toy animals, anything I could get my hands on! I also made the pom pom garlands above, which were inspired by this Etsy shop. And I burnt my fingers a million times doing it, so it's not a project I'd recommend ;) 

I made the glittery letter strings, like the cheese please above, with air-dry clay, children's letter-shaped cookie cutters, glitter, and glue. Easy-peasy. On our dessert table I used phrases like love is sweet, on our bar I used cheers to love, etc.

To encourage everyone to Instagram photos from our party, to provide directions to accompany our unconventional guest book, to list drink options at the bar, etc. I made little signs on Photoshop and printed them out on card stock, two signs to a page. Instead of printing individual programs and menus for all our guests, I designed and ordered two large-scale banners from VistaPrint. One banner welcomed our guests and explained the timeline for the night; the other had a full food and drink menu on it (including allergy information). 

I used metallic gold tablecloths from here on all of the tables at our venue. As our 'centrepieces' I cut up tissue paper into little frilly garlands (it's the easiest decoration in the world) and piled them in the middle of each table. I sprinkled some of these tiny origami hearts from Etsy on top, and some of the hundreds of paper geometric gems and diamonds my mom and I had made over the course of the previous year. You can find tutorials for the gems and for the diamonds (much harder!) on Minieco. My mom bought apothecary jars and we filled those with paper gems, and randomly placed those on tables. I also made little heart and donkey pinatas (inspired by Anthropologie) and tucked them into the tissue pile. On some tables I affixed the text to the poem we had printed on our wedding ceremony - Our Union by Hafiz - that I had punched out, line by line, using a label maker. 

The one decoration element that we splurged on was balloons - hundreds of huge, metallic helium balloons. We purchased alpha balloons, heart-shaped, star-shaped, and circle-shaped balloons here. Since we had so many of them we ended up letting them just cover the ceilings, and tied them to tables and chairs. They instantly made the atmosphere light and fun, as balloons do!


Our guest book was a plain black Moleskin address book. I labelled it, asking our guests to leave us their mailing address (for our thank you cards) and a little note. Not many people realized it was an address book, rather than a guest book (I'll blame it on the champagne), so if you do this I recommend announcing it ahead of time (perhaps before or after your speeches, if you're doing those). 


My mom had painstakingly made sequinned heart pins for everyone to wear at our ceremony, and we re-used those at the party. They were a big hit!

Our more formal wedding favours were little glassine bags with candy that we had collected during our travels in Europe: nougat from Amsterdam, hard candies from Poland, chocolates from Sicily. I tucked a little note in each bag explaining what the candy was, hand wrote a little thank-you message, and put all the bags in a big biscotti box I had purchased on my first trip to Sicily. 


To keep things simple we limited the menu to a barbecue and cold salad bar, a charcuterie table, a simple drinks bar, and a spread of homemade desserts. We made everything the day before, including our burgers and salad dressings, and chilled them overnight in friends' fridges. We hired a cook to grill the burgers the night of, so our family members could sit back and relax, rather than work the grill for us. This worked out really well - the cook grilled burgers on demand, so everything stayed hot.

The star of our DIY-catered wedding party was our 24-foot-long charcuterie table. We got our tiny cheese plates and that fabulous glittery cutlery from Posh Party Supplies. I labelled all the cheese, crackers, and accompaniments with labels I made on Photoshop (printed on card stock, glued to skewers), because I find that cheese tables are much more eagerly consumed when everyone knows what's on them.

The glittery cocktail toothpicks I picked up at the supermarket in Malta, and the little toothpick holders I just made out of corrugated display board. I didn't want to buy or borrow a million cheese boards, so I adhered white butcher's paper to the table, wiped it clean, and placed the cheese directly on it. I did end up borrowing cheese knives from family members since, it turns out, you need a lot of cheese knives for 24 feet worth of cheese! 

We put olives, sun-dried tomatoes, nuts, and other charcuterie accompaniments in these little red, heart-shaped bowls. We used heavy-duty paper bags to hold bread and crackers and bread sticks. To mimic Uashmama's reusable gold paper bags, which were out of my budget, I simply spray painted regular paper bags gold, and folded down the top. They turned out much better than I expected! It's a trick I'll be using in the future for large gatherings. 

We wanted our burger bar to feel gourmet and special, so we bought a ton of different burger toppings (like peanut butter - it's a Halifax thing) and specialty cheeses and greens and buns. I put the condiments in Mason jars, which turned out to be the cheapest way to serve dozens of condiments in matching containers. It was also great for prepping, since we could fill them with spreads ahead of time and then just uncap them before serving. I labelled every jar with labels I printed on card stock, and tied on with cotton twine.

We purchased all of the serving ware we needed (salad bowls, serving trays, etc.) from the dollar store! I'm not embarrassed; they were all white pieces so you could hardly tell they only cost $1-$2 each, especially when they were covered in food. I used old marmalade jars my grandparents gave me to put cutlery in, as well as some extra-large gold painted paper bags, and some old vintage cookie and soap tins. 

To serve coffee and tea we borrowed a Keurig machine and threw several dozen K-Cups in big pink bowls with sugar cubes and pink paper cups nearby. My grandmother, mom, and mother-in-law pitched in to make dessert - mini heart shaped sugar cookies, brownies, butter tarts, and mini heart shaped spice cookies. Since I knew I wanted lots of hearts at our wedding, I had my mom go out after Valentine's Day and snap up from big, heart-shaped trays, which we served the desserts on.

We ordered Chinese take-out boxes online to hold burger toppings for our burger bar, but they were smaller than we anticipated. No matter. Mike is crazy about chewy candy - Swedish berries, gummy worms, you name it - so we filled them with candy and spread them throughout the venue to munch on. Since we couldn't leave our charcuterie and BBQ bar spread out all night (giving everyone food poisoning was one of my biggest worries!) they were the perfect solution to late night hunger.


We served beer, wine, spirits and soda, and three mixed drinks at our wedding party: Maple gin lemonade, lime cuba libres, and Sharktinis (a nod to our university days, it's sort of like a wine spritzer with [awful Nova Scotian] local 'Great White Shark' wine). We used one of those charts on Pinterest to guestimate how much liquor to buy, but we ended up with tons leftover because we forgot to factor in the size of our glasses! For example, our champagne glasses were smaller than regular flutes, so we had 2/3 of our champagne leftover. D'oh! Luckily we were able to return them for a refund (I highly recommend buying from a liquor store that lets you do that).

We used pink Solo cups and plastic champagne and wine glasses at our bar. I would have loved to use glass glasses, but to make our clean up go faster plastic made more sense for us. 

We placed opened bottles of wine on each table, to keep an informal vibe; it's something I saw at a British wedding once and loved. I also like parties where you feel comfortable enough to pour your own drink.

We had hired two bartenders for the evening, but their main job was to keep the bar well stocked, the drinks cold, and to wander around and make sure no one's glass was empty. We served beer in bottles, since it was a summer barbecue, so our bartenders ended up walking around with trays of bottles offering them to guests. Everyone thought that was quite a novelty!

I didn't have the budget to buy those gorgeous vintage-looking beer buckets you see at so many weddings. Bar equipment is so much more expensive than you'd think! So I purchased an inflatable catering buffet (they come in lots of colours and shapes) and filled it with ice balloons (found on Pinterest here). Ice balloons are perfect for big parties like this, since they don't melt everywhere. This drink chilling solution worked well, except for one emergency leak since we hadn't communicated to our bartenders not to put ice cubes in it. No big deal, our siblings stepped in to wipe up, and we were none the wiser (THANK YOU!)


Real talk: Feeling bored at a wedding sucks, especially if you aren't a member of the bride or groom's family. (We've all been there.) So my husband and I wanted to make sure there was plenty for our guests to do to keep themselves entertained that night. 

Besides our photo mobile, we also put our a shoebox full of other travel and childhood photos for guests to look at over drinks (we made copies of irreplaceable photos, just in case). We had a giant Jenga set made (thanks dad!) that was a huge hit at the party. We planned on borrowing bocce ball and croquet sets to play with that day, too, but since it rained until our party started the lawn was too soggy.

We also made pinatas and filled them with candy, those tiny kitschy champagne and wedding cake bubbles, noise makers, and mini (plastic) bottles of booze. We had our guests take a gold-painted broomstick to it during our first dance, which was a great way to take the spotlight off us, and have a more intimate moment to ourselves. It was also hilarious to slowly turn around the room with my new husband and hear the chorus of 'Ooohhhs!' as the little booze bottles fell from the sky around the piƱata whackers. It made us smile wider, if that was possible. 

These little activities took the pressure off of us to constantly make sure everyone was occupied and happy. Our guests had more fun, we had more fun. Win-win!


Read my blog post about DIY DJ'ing my wedding - including my full playlists and YouTube links to every song - on Grey Likes Weddings.


So, there you have it! All of the little tips and tricks I picked up on my DIY wedding journey. Are you exhausted yet? If you made it to this point in the post you must be planning a wedding soon! May the force be with you. Hah. 

I kid, I kid. But seriously, like Meg Keene writes in A Practical Wedding, saving money is the wrong reason to have a DIY wedding. If you like making things (check!), or if keeping your hands busy is going to keep you sane (check!), or if none of the pre-made options are for you (check!) then a DIY wedding is a good option. If you answered no to all of these, hire someone.

Because I checked all these boxes I had a lot of fun with my DIY wedding, and saved a little money in the process.

I'd happily do it all over again. In fact, I've already signed myself up to do my little sister's in twenty years or so (she just doesn't know it yet).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Our wedding party!

Our wedding party was the funnest. I wish someone would just invent a Pensieve already, so I could collect all of my thoughts and memories from that evening and show them to you. Until then, these inadequate words and beautiful photos will have to do.

The heavens opened that day over Halifax, thundershowers rolling in over the Atlantic. At our venue - a boat house on the ocean's shore - I watched the rain flow in sheets across the grey water and hardly cared if it didn't let up when our party started that evening. I was in a state of wedding zen (read about it here). Even when things went wrong, nothing felt wrong.

Of course, it helped that I was warm and dry (and already married!) inside, spreading metallic gold tablecloths and throwing pink streamers everywhere, while my amazing team of helpers braved the weather to transport our party supplies in the storm. (Thanks again, guys, especially to our brothers Jere and Tim and my dad.) 

Fast forward four hours and our top-to-bottom-DIY wedding party was ready to rock. The decorations had been hung, the easels were up and the art was out, the balloons were bobbing around the cavernous room, the drinks were chilling, the music was on, and I hadn't even raised my voice once.

All of those worries about letting my inner Type-A out, bossing people around and working myself into a Level 10 anxiety attack had been for nothing. (I consider it a little victory against the bridezilla label.)

And then the skies parted in the dramatic way they only do on Canada's East Coast, and the sun shone bright and warm on our wedding party just before our guests began to arrive. Our sparkly, metallic decorations came to life, we threw open the windows and doors, and let the last of August's warm breezes blow our heart shaped balloons around the room. We queued up our iPhone playlist and the party got started.

Our party was held at a municipal (public) boat club, so while we celebrated on the building's upper level, at water level below us people popped by to fish and paddle. As I had at our ceremony, I took great satisfaction in seeing our wedding unfold as real life unfolded all around us.

As the last paddlers pulled into the boat house and the final lines of the day were cast, the sun began to set on the Atlantic. In a brilliant stroke of luck the sky blazed with pinks and oranges and golds that matched our wedding decorations. You know it's a great sunset when everyone stands outside with their iPhones, snapping away.

I have a very vivid memory of standing in the middle of the party when the last of the sunlight flooded the room and thinking I couldn't have planned it to look this beautiful if I tried. It was surreal.

Then, after the sun went down, the music went up.

It was so special to see, for the first and last time, our friends and families mingle. It's a heady mix of surreal and satisfaction when your worlds collide like that.

We ate, we drank, we laughed, we danced. We danced. I don't even like dancing, but I danced at my wedding (must have been the endorphins...or the champagne). I danced like (in the words of that awful song) no one was watching. There is - to my embarrassment - photographic proof.

We couldn't wipe those sickening we love love! smiles off our faces that night.

Let's blame it on seeing the business man, the small child, the parent, and the childhood friend play a life sized game of Jenga together. The sparklers our photographer brought for us and the group photos we took with them. The three tables full of cheese. The desserts two generations of mothers had made for us. Our parents and siblings, our oldest and youngest relatives, our best friends breaking it down on the dance floor, and that dance floor literally shaking beneath our feet as the party wore on. The silly photo booth pictures. The maple gin punch. The wonderful, surprise, and impromptu speeches our parents and friends gave for us. (Thank you.) The tears. The champagne.

Our wedding party fit us like a glove. It filled us up with all kinds of warm fuzzies. And above all, it was fun.

Until I have a Pensieve I will hold on tightly to the best gift we received that night: the memories (a word which seems inadequate to describe the impressions that I carry from that night). I will collect them in photographic and written form and share them here. I will replay them over and over with my husband in an effort to preserve them. Because life isn't always zen and sugar cookies and glitter and dancing, but that night was. Life isn't always perfect, but that night was.

Life isn't always fun, but that night was the funnest. 

(There was even an inflatable, remote-controlled shark. So how could it not have been?)




Giant Jenga - Thanks Dad!

Decorations - Thanks for your help and patience Mom!

Food - Chicken burgers, lamb burgers, beef burgers & tabbouleh, garden and Caesar salads, Italian potato salad, coleslaw - Thanks to our moms and everyone who washed and chopped!

Dessert - Brownies and butter tarts - Thanks MIL! / Sugar cookies - Thanks Grandma! Spice cookies - Thanks Mom!

Set up - Thank you siblings, cousins, and parents! You guys made it all possible. We owe you big time.

Tear down - Thank you to each and every friend and family member who stayed - without being asked to - after the party and helped us tear down and clean up. It went much faster and smoothly than we expected (except for throwing Mike's iPhone into the trash...) and was a beautiful reminder of the helpful, loving spirit of the Maritimes. We also made some great memories, even while picking up garbage, because of all of you. You will forever have our gratitude. 

Guests - Thank you to everyone who traveled - down the block or across the country - to celebrate our marriage. We were blown away that you took time out of your summer to support us at this strange and wonderful party. It meant so much to us. Thank you. 

Photography - Thank you Evan, for being fun and calm and understanding and everything we wanted our photographer to be. And for these, my favourite photos ever.