Friday, September 7, 2012

Outline of a DIY Wedding

(Continued from Part 1 and Part 2)

(This is a much longer post than usual, that outlines the planning of a family wedding.
If you like reading about weddings, you might like it.  If you don't, you might find it too long.  Just saying!)

This is the story of James and Abby's wedding preparation and day....

They planned to be married in the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at 11am.  
What to do around the rest of their wedding day?

Abby liked the idea of a simple but elegant, DIY reception at home.  James wanted a venue reception, and to have it be a little fancier, especially for the sake of family he had flying over from New Zealand.  Abby disliked the idea of a hall, or a regular wedding venue.  The toasts were important to James.  Abby wanted the colours of pink, green and white...

  James wanted three groomsmen.  Abby wanted her sisters close by.  James wanted to use his uncle's car.
Neither wanted to detract from the temple ceremony...

The Venue

My advice is that it's nice to look around to see what's available, but better to sit down and think about what you would really like and then make that happen, if you can.  Which brought me to the Brisbane Riverstage - a large, open-air entertainment stage next to the river, in the City Botanical Gardens.   It's usually used for outdoor concerts.

 I had once phoned and asked them if I could use or hire the stage for a dinner party of 16 people - and they agreed to rent it to me for $20!  For that princely sum, I was told that I could have the use of the open top floor, if I preferred, which included the use of the toilet facilities, lighting, and parking right next to the stage.  Yes please!

It seemed perfect for our wedding reception..   Abby is somewhat dramatic and they have both featured in school productions - so putting them on a stage would be a natural fit :)   The evening weather outdoors at that time of year would be as ideal as could be.  If it did rain, the stage and roof were open but covered.  There was a kitchen to work from.  There was parking.  It was close for everyone to come to.  It was in the middle of the beautiful Botanical Gardens.. 

It was also directly across the river from the temple and we could, appropriately, see the temple spire through the trees from the open rooftop area - which area was perfect as a pre-reception drinks and greeting area.

If we began the reception at 5pm, we could enjoy the view and see the temple from the roof while enjoying hors d'oeuvres and watching the sun go down, listening to a string quartet.  (Abby played the viola in quartets herself.)

Could we hire it for our wedding, please?

(These DIY covered shoes are explained here.)

Yes!  Although the days of $20 to hire were way gone!  But it was doable.  Plans began to take shape...

The Day Unfolds..

.. In a busy home with all hands on deck!  Food preparation was well underway, the bridal dress was finally almost finished (don't ask!), and the flowers were all ready.  Things were being packed up to go to the venue..

I made sure that Abby had some breakfast.  Abby made sure that it was some left-over melted chocolate, scraped 
from a bowl and shared with her sister over some cut-up fruit.  (It was reassuring to see that some things don't change!)

Abby sat on the floor to straighten her hair in front of a mirror..

And took a call (from James?)

...While helping her sisters to get ready.  It was a busy morning, but nice and relaxed too.

Finally, off to the temple to get married!

One of Abby and James' main requests was for a good photographer and lots of photos of themselves!  (I told you a stage venue was perfect for them!)   They needed time with their photographer, and had chosen a few significant locations for the shoot, all of which were close to the temple and the venue.

After group and family photos around the temple, we packed them off with a pre-prepared picnic lunch into the care of their driver (James' uncle) and their two photographers.  It was also a great way for them to have some (almost) alone time and a chance to catch up with one another before the reception began.  Their first stop was across from the temple, at a spot overlooking the river, where they had often picnic-ed.  You can see the Riverstage just peeping above the trees.

James' uncle is a sign-writer and made this special name plate as a surprise gift for them.
Another uncle drove them about in his beautifully restored old car.. 

In the Botanical Gardens they enjoyed a picnic lunch - important to keep them (especially James), going through the day.

.. Which also gave them some welcome time to really relax and chat about married life so far.

Before getting some beautiful photographs in the gardens.

- While our family headed over to the stage to get set up. 

I had organised some trusted friends to help by beginning to set things out, (following detailed plans), while we were at the temple.  We hired in tables, chairs, white picket fencing, potted trees, tablecloths, chair covers and sashes, serviettes, glassware and carafes, and a mobile cold room.   After pricing the cost of hire versus buy, I purchased enough cutlery and plain white dinnerware for all of the settings, since we're sure to use them again.  When each of our seven children marries, we have given them a plain white, eight-place setting - which we can borrow from each other on occasion as needed.

The Reception

The reception began with drinks and hors-doeuvres on the open roof-top, accompanied by a string quartet.

After forty minutes of socializing the guests were ushered downstairs to the stage, just as night fell and a full moon rose. 

Friends and some young women from church were happy to serve as wait staff.

After dinner  and speeches, James surprised Abby by singing her a beautiful Luther Vandross song, 'Always and Forever'.  - except that James sang it even better :)   His mother and Abby's sister sang back-up beautifully.  Magic!  


The chocolate mud wedding cake was made by a friend and decorated with flowers and lace.
This is one way you can save several hundred dollars.  The first wedding cake I made was my own, when I was 21 and could barely cook, so it's not hard!  I first covered a cake in almond and white plastic icing when I was 19, after about a minutes's worth of instruction.  You can do it!   Like most cooking, all it takes is a good recipe and a willingness to follow it..   Piping royal icing is finicky and careful work, but fun too, if you like that kind of thing :)  Some practice certainly helps!

James and Abby, both fabulous dancers, had secretly practiced an amazing swing routine for their first dance together, as a surprise for their guests..  Who all loved it!  It was pretty amazing!

Can you feel the love? :)

As a surprise for Abby and James that neither were expecting, I'd organised to have rose petals softly fall on them from the open-air roof above when they began their dance.  Romantic!  (You can see the delighted faces of the guests!)

The surprises continued with a bracket of songs and performance by James' grandfather, who is a pretty fabulous Elvis impersonator!   He is a great performer and brought so much fun and personality to the reception! :)

A good friend of our family provided professional DJ services as a gift, and we all had a great time dancing up a storm until the night was over.  Although we didn't take photos of it, the last thing we did to send the new couple off with our love was a farewell circle.  The bride and groom start together at one point in the circle but go in opposite directions around to give everyone a goodbye hug, until they meet up again.  It's one of our favourite wedding traditions.

After looking into fireworks, and finding they were just too expensive (! :)  I found some extra-long sparklers that we lit and gave out for all of the guests to form an honour guard down the driveway as the wedding car moved slowly away.  The challenge was to get them all (the sparklers that is, not the guests), quickly and secretly lit and distributed to the guests in time to give the new Bride and Groom an unexpected sparkly send-off.

They didn't have far to go.  As a wedding present, we had arranged for their first night to be at a lovely hotel in the city, just a couple of minutes away from the venue.

The last surprise for the couple (though they may have guessed this one), was a large honeymoon basket waiting for them in their hotel room - full of food goodies for the week ahead, (to save having to shop too much in the first few days), and romantic touches like candles and Bride and Groom flip-flops!

Our DIY Elements:

The wedding dress, the two bridesmaid outfits, and the groomsmen' ties were all home-sewn.
The bridesmaids' and the bride's shoes were DIY fabric-covered.
All the main and desserts were home-cooked.  (A friend made and served the hors d'oeuvres.)
The flowers for the bouquets, buttonholes and centerpieces were bought at the market and arranged at home.
The wedding cake was home-made.
The wait staff were friends who gave their time.
The wedding car was provided and driven by a family member.
A family member video-graphed the day.
We did all of the planning, ordering and organizing ourselves.
Abby  and the girls did their own hair and make-up.
The professional DJ was a friend who very kindly offered his services free of charge.
Our fabulous Elvis entertainer is a much loved family member.
The invitations, place-cards, heart-decorated candles and Bonbonnieres were home-made.

What Wasn't DIY?

Our two big non-DIY elements were the lighting and the photography.

Our Best Decisions 

One of the best decisions we made was to send Abby away to a day-spa with Tammy, the day before the wedding.   We were so busy at home and I didn't want Abby to be any part of the rush.  I wanted her to be able to relax and feel peaceful, and I think it really helped.  It was also a great time for her to be pampered and feel special before her wedding day.  Another benefit was that it gave her the opportunity to spend some bonding time with her much-loved older sister.

Although I looked into hiring and rigging the lighting ourselves, this was something we decided to outsource instead.  After the photography this was our most expensive outlay, at about $700!  However, I'm certain it was one of our best decisions.  The centre of each table was individually spotlit, as was the buffet table.  We also had spotlights for the performances, and the lights and the tints were constantly adjusted to fit whatever was going on at the time.  The lighting specialists (two of them) were there for about 5 hours before, to set up, and stayed through the reception to monitor and tweak the lights as the night progressed (for example, the dancing part of the night almost had a disco feel, then the lights came up again for the farewell circle) - they were really great and added so much.

As you can see, these lights were warm, with a pinkish tinge, rather than cold and harsh.  I'm sure not many people consciously thought about it, but without doubt the lighting helped enormously to set the atmosphere.  We could have used the stage lights provided, and paid nothing, but the reception would have felt quite different.

This is perhaps a little one, but I really liked that we had round tables and that there was no 'head table' as such.  On the bridal table with the newly-weds were both sets of parents and the grandparents, along with Abby's older sister - leaving the attendants to sit with their families.  It was nice and brought more of a relaxed family-feel.

I think it was a good decision that Abby made to be un-fussy about hair and make-up on her wedding day.   When she got married, it really looked like her, which I think is nice.  Her hair was clean and shiny without being pinned and lacquered   I think the lack of fuss helped her to feel relaxed and comfortable.  She seemed to laugh and have a good time all day!

The personal touches and surprises all made the day special, unique and original, and fun!

One of the decisions we enjoyed was to have all of the members of both families invited to dress in the wedding colors of pink, green and white.  This helped to include everybody in the extended family, and also worked well for the photos.  It was like having an extended bridal party!

I think that the schedule for the day worked well.  It was good for Abby and James to have some time alone before the reception, and for them to have a breather before the evening celebration.

Personal Touches and Happy Surprises:

James and Abby took the time to write a personal message to each of their 90-odd guests on the back of each of these table place-cards.  I think these were much enjoyed and appreciated by all.  It was lovely of them to do it!

The wedding dance was spectacular, and a wonderful surprise for their guests too!

The gently-falling pink and white rose petals were unexpected and magical!

James' song was a special surprise for Abby, as well as for the guests!  It was nice to have family singing back-up too.

James' grandfather (Elvis) was so much fun, and made the reception quite unique and very personal.

Each of the guests found a pen and printed linen page with their name at their place-setting, with the request that they write a message of advice or whatever they would like.  These were collected into a book.

The giant sparklers, while not as exciting as fireworks, were quite magical, and a wonderful way to give a special send-off.

Although hardly a surprise anymore (since it's now a tradition), the honeymoon basket is always a great idea.

What Would We Change?

The photography was our biggest expense, yet with the ready availability now of  both great digital cameras and great photo-shopping programs, I think perhaps we might have saved the money and managed this ourselves, by asking several family members to take photos all day long?  I know that James and Abby were happy with the photographers we had, and the photos they have, but this is potentially a great area to save money as a DIY-er, so worth considering if anyone in the family is an interested amateur.

But that's probably all!  It was a happy day with a lot of love evident from family and friends :)

Phew!  :)


  1. I'm exhausted just reading this! LOL! But yes, it was a beautiful wedding :)

    xo Tammy

  2. i loooooooove the riverstage venue and the white picket fence is darling!

  3. Lol I was a little exhausted reading this too - SUCH a BIG and WONDERFUL day!!! :) And I agree with Lauren also - LOVED the riverstage venue and the white picket fence!! Also loved pretty much everything!! :) The surprises were fun - I LOVED the falling petals, James' song, Koro's Elvis set and the sparklers when we left!!! Oh that last photo reminds me, did you mention the flowers?! Bought at the local flower market and arranged by you and my friend Sarah?? These posts really make me want to help with someone's wedding!! :) Anyone?? :) xo

  4. It was such an amazily gorgeous and beautiful wedding!!
    Whenever I think of Abby and James' wedding reception the word that comes to mind is 'magical'.
    I just absolutely loved it. I think the lighting is what really gave it the magical feel. The soft pink lights. I know you gave it a lot of thought at the time and I remember thinking it wasn't a big deal and probably a waste of time and money but you're absolutely right in saying that it made a massive difference. Whether people realised it or not.

    You are truly a cracker of a wedding planner Mum! You could totally make a business of it if you ever felt the desire to do so :P

  5. Sandy, this is really great. With two more daughters to marry, I am pretty sure you will be hearing from me when it happens. Some fabulous ideas here, and especially love the venue. Stay tuned!

  6. Tracy, I would love to hear from you anytime! :) These 3 posts were inspired by our daughter's friend who is getting married soon and who came over to get some advice. I love planning weddings - actually I love planning anything big! :)