Our Snow White Shoot – “Get The Look” Feature on Every Last Detail!

Did you catch yesterday’s Modern Rustic Snow White Inspiration Shoot, featured on Every Last Detail?  It’s getting a lot of great attention, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.  You already did, you say, and you loved it?  You’re in luck, then!  Lauren is starting a new feature along with photoshoots, and we’re the first ones to get in on the action!  She asked me last week if I’d be interested in participating in her new “Get The Look” series, and of course I said yes!  I am a big believer in transparency and helping people get the best wedding they can have…  So I went back through our receipts to find out the prices for all the pieces we used, and Lauren wrote them up.

We used a mixture of vintage/thrifted pieces and new ones, including mirrors, chargers, and plates from Wal-Mart; moss, wood, and other supplies from Save-on-Crafts and the local flower market; and candle holders (used to hold succulents) from IKEA.

Check out our “Get The Look” feature on Every Last Detail today!

Where’s My Red Pen? Words I Wish the Wedding World Would Use Properly

Today’s post is a bit of a rant…  A list of pet peeves, if you will.  About word misuse and misspelling common to the wedding industry.  I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always the best at proofing my own posts…  But between my background in Copyediting and my English teacher mother, well…  I’ve been known to let the owners of small stores know when their signage was spelled incorrectly.

So this post has been brewing for a long time.

Behold, the list of common wedding word mistakes!!!

  • Stationery/Stationary: The word for wedding paper goods ends in “ery” not “ary” (that’s the word for “not moving/staying in one place”). Therefore, please use “I’d like to order my stationery” and, if necessary, “Our guest book will be stationary that night; it won’t be passed around.”  For the record, I saw this used incorrectly at Walmart last week.  I had to fight the urge to call over an associate and tell them to correct that six-foot long, professionally printed and hung sign.
  • Vow/Vowel: I’m really not sure how this one started, but a “vow” is a promise.  A vowel is one of five special letters of the alphabet that are spoken with an open vocal tract.  Use “We’re writing our own vows to use at our wedding” versus “I love using vowels in my poetry.”
  • Aisle/Isle: An “aisle” runs down the center of a church or concert hall.  An “isle” is in the middle of an ocean or lake (it’s another word for island!).  So use “The bridesmaids will walk one-by-one down the aisle” but “We’re spending our honeymoon on a tropical isle.”
  • Palate/PaletteHere’s the thing.  These can both be valid words in the wedding world.  It depends on what you’re trying to say.  A “palate” is technically the name for the roof of your mouth, but the term is often used to discuss someone’s tastes in food.  So you could say “That wine was a little grassy for my palate.”  But a “palette” is literally a paint mixing board, and is a term used in graphic design to denote a group of colors used in a design.  So you’d say “The palette for my wedding is blush and bashful.”  The version with the “e” and extra “t” is the one most people use in conjunction with wedding design.
  • Petal/Pedal: A “petal” is part of a flower.  A “pedal” is something you push down on, like your car’s accelerator or the dampener for a piano. So unless you’re talking to your musician or limo driver, you’ll want to use the version with the “t” in it!
  • Bridal/Bridel: Puh-lease spell this right!!! It’s “bridal,” with an “al” at the end.  End of story!  Likewise “vendor” is correct (“vender” is not).
  • Monogram/Monagram: Yet another case of the same.  This is misspelled a lot!  Use an “o” in this word.  End of story.
  • Altar/AlterI almost lumped this one together with the last one… But considering that “alter” is actually a word that can be used in the wedding industry, I figured I’d clarify.  To “alter” something is to change it.  So if you need your dress shortened, you’ll want to take it to the seamstress so she can alter it.  But an altar can be found in a place of worship, such as a church.  It’s often the area where a couple will get married, in a religious wedding.
  • Voilà/Walla: We’re talking expressions here…  “Voilà!” is a French expression basically meaning “See, there!” or “Look at that!”  “Walla” is the first (or last) half of a name of a town in Washington.
  • Effect/Affect: This problem isn’t unique to the wedding world, but I see it a lot here.  But here’s the thing.  There’s actually a huge difference between the two.  Starting with the part of speech.  “Effect” is a noun.  “Affect” is a verb.  Again, this is a situation where either could be correct, depending on the context, but you’ll need to know you’re using them properly.  So you’ll use branches lighting to create the effect of being outside in the ballroom, since the impending rain is sure to affect your ability to hold the reception outside.
  • There/They’re/Their: I know this one isn’t particular to the wedding world either, but I see it all the time.  So wedding people…  Take note!  “There” refers to a place.  For example, “Please put the cake server there on the cake table.”  Use “they’re” in place of “they are” – so you’d say “They’re getting ready to cut the cake, so put the server on the cake table!”  In contrast, “their” is possessive – use it in the context of talking about someone’s something…  Like “I have to put their cake server on the cake table.”
  • Aww/Awe: This is another case where either could actually be right.  Use “awe” in the case of overwhelming feelings (as in “I felt awe when looking at the gorgeous room”) and “aww” as an expression, like “Aww, that’s so cute!”  Or, you know, just leave them out.
  • Funky French Words: Just…  Pay attention to spelling these, ok?  They get butchered all the time (and truthfully I have to look them up from time to time myself).  Watch them, though, because misspelling them looks horrible.  The groom wears a boutonniere, you carry a bouquet, and you serve hors d’oeuvres (pronounced “orderves,” just to complicate matters further) at your cocktail hour.  Or just call them “buttonholes,” “flowers” and “appetizers.”
  • {Please} RSVP: I’ve been guilty of this more than once myself.  It happens.  You’re rushing to finish writing invitation copy and don’t think about it.  After all, you want someone to RSVP, but you’re nice about asking for it!  Only, RSVP is short for the French phrase “respondez s’il vous plait,” which translates to “Please Respond.”  Which means that when you’re asking someone to “Please RSVP” you’re asking them to “Please Please Respond.”  Which is kind of redundant.  Don’t you think?

I know that there are other additions that could be made to this list….  But this is a good start…  Keep your eye out for these common problems, whether you’re a couple, a vendor, or a blogger.  These are some important ones!  Special thanks to the ladies of Wedding Pros Serious About the Biz for your suggestions!!! 🙂

What are your wedding world word pet peeves? (Try saying that sentence ten times fast, too!)  Add them in the comments!!!

What Wedding Planners REALLY Do: Mover

Have you ever wondered HOW all the bits and pieces, the decorations and menus and favors and special details, get to a wedding?  The answer is simple: The planner.

The Wedding Planner as Mover

Venues and vendors who know me know that when I first arrive on-site for a wedding or event I “move in.”  Typically my car is completely full of wedding supplies – both from the couple and from my personal stash – and it takes my assistant and I a decent amount of time to truly unpack.  This is because part of my final pre-rehearsal meeting with my couples is to get all their wedding supplies from them.

What does this mean for you?

No worrying about whether escort cards or guestbooks will get to the wedding, or sending your third cousin to your apartment an hour before the ceremony starts to pick up the programs.  We go through an inventory of all the pieces needed for your big day and where they should be at what time, and then I take them off your hands.  Then on your wedding day I stuff everything into my car and “move in” to your venue.

It’s not glamorous, it means a lot of sweat, and it can mean that my home office is stuffed full of your wedding supplies for a few days or weeks.  But it translates to less stress on the wedding day itself for both the couple (no last-second forgotten items) and my staff (everything is centralized and organized, and the function for each piece is known).

I often joke that 90% of my job is schlepping things from one place to another.  But when those “things” are details crucial to your wedding day, it’s one of the most important parts of my job!

Budget Wedding Tips

I’ve planned and coordinated events with budgets of almost nothing (like a party for 80 with a budget of $150!) and those with budgets upwards of $500 per person.  While the scope of each event is different, one thing remains the same.  Each event was special to the client and the attendees.  So no matter whether everyone was eating off of paper plates or bone china (or one of the many, many choices in between), I directed the budget we did have to making the party feel special.

The same goes for wedding planning – very few people have unlimited budgets, so as a planner I try to make every budgetary decision count.  Of course we’d all like to have the perfect wedding or event, precisely as we envision, but sometimes tough choices have to be made.  I’ve seen all kinds of cost-cutting scenarios; some work well, but others leave brides unhappy.  Here are my favorite ways to trim your budget without sacrificing the wedding of your dreams:

Guest List

Do: Invite people you want to be there, and trim those you can’t afford.

Don’t: Invite people just because you feel you should.

I think this is probably the number one cost-cutting scenario across all planners and wedding publications.  Taking the guest list from 250 to 125 not only allows you to save on food, drinks and incidental costs (favors, printing, rentals), it probably will translate into many more dollars saved in the form of a smaller venue.  Instead of tracking down a large ballroom, you may be able to hold your wedding in a more cost-effective location.

Yes – this means that you probably won’t be inviting your third cousins from across the country…  But a smaller wedding can mean less stress for the bride and groom – and more time with your guests.

But try not to get caught up in the “should” game – weddings are often about what we feel we’re “supposed” to do and many brides feel as though they must invite someone, even though they’d rather not.  Even if you were invited to someone’s wedding, or they’re your distant relative, or they’ve asked nicely, you are under no obligation to invite anyone.  Make sure that your invited wedding guests are the people you want to spend your wedding day with – they’ll be in your wedding memories forever.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t invite people that you want to – just that you don’t have to invite people you don’t want to.


Do: Find a location that you love.

Don’t: Go with the cheapest location you can find, just because it’s cheap.

In addition to keeping your guest list down, it’s often easier than you’d think to find a location that meets your expectations while keeping your budget in check.  Want a beautiful outdoor setting?  Many golf clubs offer excellent wedding specials at reasonable prices.  Have a vintage soiree in mind?  Keep an eye out for historical homes, womens clubs, and restaurants.  Often times you’ll be able to find a great location that isn’t well-advertised; my mother found my wedding reception location in the yellow pages (after my husband and I spent days looking on the internet!).

The important part of making this work, though, is finding a place you will love to spend your wedding day.  Make sure that it meets your needs – aesthetic and otherwise.  In choosing a location, keep in mind the following:

  • Where will you hold the ceremony? Indoors?  Outdoors?  A church?  What does the site look like?  What does it need?  Will I be happy getting married here?
  • Where will you hold the reception? Indoors?  Outdoors?  How will the site be set up?  When will my vendors be able to arrive for setup?  Will I be comfortable?  Will my guests?  How far is it from the ceremony?  How will people get there?
  • What is included in the price? Tables?  Chairs?  Linens?  Dishes, glasses, silverware?  Food?  Florals or other decorations?  Heaters?  What will I need to bring in?  Keep in mind that rental prices can add up quickly; sometimes a very inexpensive location without their own equipment can have a bigger overall price tag than a more expensive place where everything is included.  When one of my best friends was getting married last year, I went on site visits with her and her now-husband.  Their number one choice for venue was a picturesque little chapel where every stick of furniture, all the lighting, and every bit of food had to be brought in from the outside.  The chapel itself was a steal to rent, but as estimates skyrocketed my friend realized she could actually save money by having the wedding at a fancy golf club a short distance away, and that her guests could dine on filet and salmon instead of pasta salad because of the money saved on rentals.
  • What is the fine print? Are there restrictions on start and end times?  Outside vendors?  Alcohol or dancing?  A friend of mine is getting married soon and discovered after signing the paperwork with her venue that she has a very limited selection of bakeries at which to get her cake.  She is forbidden by the contract with her venue to get a cake from anywhere except their “preferred” vendors.  Whose cakes just aren’t very good.  Bottom line: make sure you’re actually happy with the terms of your rental agreement with your venue, before signing it!  Very inexpensive venues often have very good reasons for being so inexpensive.

Mushroom appetizers!

Food and Drinks

Do: Serve something you want to eat.

Don’t: Feel badly serving food and drinks within your means.

Food and drinks are another area where brides and grooms hear several “shoulds”.  As in, “You should serve dinner,” or “You should have an open bar,” or “You should choose whatever food your guests will like.”  Again, the trick to trimming wedding day costs without cutting down on your day is making the right choices, within your means.  But don’t forget to keep these points in mind:

  • If food is included, am I happy with it? If you want to stop by McDonald’s on the way from your reception, whether it’s because you didn’t like the food or because you didn’t get enough food, it’s not worth serving food at your reception.  While I definitely believe that serving food at a wedding is part of the party atmosphere, I would rather focus on having tasty heavy appetizers than pay for bad dinners.  Some venues will let you cook your own food (these are generally “DIY” venues), which can work if you have a good plan.  Or have a potluck, if you can (although this gets logistically tricky, so be sure you, your guests, AND your planner are well-organized if you go this route).  Or have a short wedding reception sans food altogether except cake.  There are a lot of creative ways to serve good food on your wedding day.
  • For the cocktail hour appetizers, what will you serve? Most weddings include a cocktail hour, to give time for the bride and groom to take photos following the ceremony.  Cocktails and appetizers are served, which can add hundreds or thousands of dollars onto your bottom-line total.  Appetizers are often priced above and beyond your “regular” food cost, and priced per piece consumed, which can add up quickly.  If you are planning to serve appetizers, consider your options.  Often, a “station” can be set up, where platters of food are artfully displayed for guests’ consumption.  This option is typically less expensive, overall, than tray-passed appetizers, and includes more food.  Or give your guests their party favors early:  include individually-wrapped favors such as bags of cookies or candy in pretty containers near the entrance to the cocktail hour space.  Another great option is to create a cookie, candy, or popcorn bar.  Just make sure that your venue doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting this, before you start purchasing supplies.
  • How do you want to handle the bar situation? Some brides and grooms have reasons other than budget to restrict drinking at their weddings, of course.  But even if your decision is purely monetary, not having an open bar is okay.  No matter what your cranky cousin or that wedding “expert” might tell you.  If it’s a choice between having a beautiful wedding you’re proud of and having an open bar, forget the bar.  Even without an open bar, many venues provide a celebratory champagne toast, or wine at dinner.  You could also give all your guests drink tickets, provide an alcoholic punch, restrict the bar to house beer and wine only, or open the bar for just the cocktail hour.  Each of these options provides you with a different set of circumstances.  But remember that most venues price their open bars upon consumption – that means you’ll pay a certain price for every drink that’s ordered by every single guest – and it adds up quickly.


Do: Explore Your Options.

Don’t: Use a photographer with no background in weddings.  Ever.  Just trust me on this one.

Your photographer captures your wedding day, and nothing else from the day will be as lasting.  Photographers’ prices vary widely, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.  Many times there are good reasons for this – some photographers may be more experienced, or have better references, or provide more services than others.  But sometimes as a bride it can feel overwhelmingly expensive just to have someone photograph your wedding.  It may be tempting to completely ignore professional photographers altogether, perhaps asking friends to take photos with their personal cameras.  But there is a reason that pros charge so much: they know what photos to take, and when.  So before you cut out a photographer completely, consider these options:

  • Hire a photography school student.  They often will work for portfolio-building experiences, or for a fraction of the price of a professional wedding photographer.  One caveat, though: make sure that either a) they have photographed weddings before or b) you have a backup.  This case is near and dear to my heart; my husband and I jumped on the offer of free photography for our wedding.  We met the photographer and liked her, a lot.  Her work was beautiful.  She’d never done a wedding before, but we thought it would no problem.  How hard could a wedding be?  The photos she got were – and are – truly gorgeous.  She captured some incredible moments.  But she failed to get several moments on film at all; from the first kiss to the wedding details I worked so hard on, I won’t be able to get those back.  I wish I’d assigned a friend with a good camera to be her “backup” – to make sure he or she took serious photos of all the florals and the major parts of the wedding.  We’ve been able to construct a decent wedding album, cobbling together the photos our photographer took with those provided by friends, but our photography experience has lead me to recommend to all my brides that they be very, very careful if they work with a non-pro photographer.
  • Hire a photographer for just a few hours.  I just have to say it: As a planner I do prefer when photographers stay until the end.  That’s when so many of the best moments of a wedding happen.  Dance offs abound, and candid shots are fantastic.  But in the event that your wedding budget simply can’t stretch far enough, consider hiring a professional photographer for just a few hours.  Pro photographers often can work out an hourly rate with couples to fall within your budget restrictions.  I always recommend that couples hire their photographer for the ceremony, some formal portraits, a few shots of the details, and the “special” parts of the reception (first dance, father/daughter dance, toasts, etc.).  If your photographer has to shoot and dash, work with your planner to create a timeline that “front-loads” all these special items before you sit down to dinner!


Do: Have someone to help you get organized.

Don’t: Try to do it all yourself.

I’m not saying you need to hire a full wedding planner.  I know that it’s not a realistic expectation, and that hiring a wedding planner is not at the top of every bride’s to-do list.  I’m also not saying this just because I want you to hire me.  But a planner can be especially valuable to budget couples in a variety of ways:

  • Consult with a planner for an hour or two; pick their brain and just pay their hourly rate.  Many planners don’t advertise this service.  But most of us are open to the idea.  As long as we know up front that we’re only consulting with you – please don’t pretend that you’re a potential client! – we’re happy to help.  You’ll likely make a quick agreement, pay up front, and receive your recommendations directly from the planner.  Depending on what you agree to, you may have more than one a-la-carte consultation.  You may even get an inspiration board or design plan out of it.  But let me reiterate: please be up front and honest.  Most of us don’t bite.
  • Hire a Coordinator instead of a Full Planner.  If you’ve got this planning thing down, you might not need a planner.  I happen to be biased about this because I think that everyone can benefit from the guidance full planning offers – but I’m also realistic.  For some people it’s simply not in the cards!  A Coordinator can still help keep you on track, and on the day of your wedding will help make sure that your wedding day runs smoothly.
  • Have your planner keep track of your budget.  I’m not sure if anyone would do this service a-la-carte (I usually only offer it as part of my planning packages), but one of the perks to hiring me as a planner is that I keep track of your major budget items.  This means that you know where your money is going – and how much of it is left – at all times.
  • Ask your planner for recommendations.  You might not know the awesome little bakery that makes tasty custom wedding cakes for under $2 a slice, or the florist who specializes in stretching every penny.  But your planner does.  She also might be able to help you with your invitations, rentals, and favors, because she deals with these things all the time.  She might be able to buy in bulk or wholesale; she might even have a stash of wedding items just for her couples to use (I do!).  Your planner might be able to save you serious cash if you ask her to help you keep down your costs!

In short: do consider alternatives you haven’t thought of yet (such as a “more expensive” venue that actually costs less overall, a-la-carte consulting with a planner, or hiring a photographer for part of your day) and don’t let planning your wedding on a strict budget stress you out.  You can do this!

Photo credits:

What to Look for When Choosing Wedding Vendors

This post has been inspired by some conversations I’ve had over the last few months, both with other vendors and with clients and potential clients.  Every single point addressed here has come from more than one source, so I hope no one feels singled out!  I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a while!

Ah, wedding planning.  The fun! The joy!  The feeling of balancing on a tight rope with hundred-pound weights on your feet.

How do you know where to go?  For advice?  For support?  For recommendations?  After all, Aunt Mildred might have known all about wedding planning when she got married in 1943, but things have changed.  Drastically.  Even in just the last ten years.  Even in the last five.

With the advent of the internet, it’s incredibly easy to do research on your own.  And it can be incredibly overwhelming too.  How can you decide what you want when everything starts melting together after hours of searching into a big puddle of jewel-encrusted, lace-embellished, rose-scented goo?

Budgets are important of course – and it’s certainly not a good idea to spend more than you feel comfortable with.  But having been both a budget bride and a wedding vendor who works with brides who have budgets of all sizes, I think there are some other really important – and often overlooked – points to keep in mind when you’re choosing the vendors who will make your wedding day special.

  • How does the vendor talk about his or her clients? Client reviews are obviously the number one way that potential clients find their vendors.  If a vendor has high ratings, chances are that you’ll be more inclined to check them out.  But check to see, too, how a vendor talks about his or her clients online – in blog posts and comments, on Facebook and Twitter, and anywhere else they might be interacting with other vendors and clients – and to you specifically.  Are they excited?  Engaged?  Interested?  Helpful?  If a vendor consistently has a whiney, pushy, snobby, or complaining tone, it’s a big red flag.  I’m not a big fan of vendors who bash their clients.  And if a vendor ever tells you “Well, you don’t know, because you’ve never been married, but I’m an expert at this, so listen to me…”  Well, let’s just say that it’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine.  To clarify: I know you’ve probably never been married before, and I try to be an expert.  But I will never ever tell you that you must do something my way, just because I “know” what to do.

  • How does the vendor present him or herself? How do they come across online? On the phone?  In person?  Do they type in complete sentences or netspeak?  Do they answer e-mails promptly?  Do they dress professionally?  Do they have an informative website?  This is not to say that a vendor has to have the prettiest, flashiest, or most up-to-date website (goodness knows it took me long enough to have one I was proud of!).  But if they consistently come across as unprofessional, uneducated, or unprepared, they probably are.
  • Does the vendor’s work come across as high-quality? Please don’t confuse “work” with “photos of work,” unless you’re talking specifically about photography/videography.  Even then I have a caveat (see below).  High quality work doesn’t always mean high-quality photos or high-budget items.  Just like any foodie can tell you, the most authentic and best-tasting food can often be found in less-than-picturesque locations.  When you’re looking for a talented designer (florals, invitations, dresses, or weddings in general), look for thoughtful details, carefully placed.  Often, the most creative styling goes into the event with the smallest budget – it takes an out-of-the-box designer to stretch a few decoration dollars!  Instead of looking for exactly the details or the design you’d want, and instead of judging a wedding vendor by the budget of their last wedding, look for a vendor who puts thought into everything they put out, whether or not they have the best photographs.  By the way, this same principle can be applied to photographers too – don’t judge a photographer by the details in his or her photographs, but rather on the quality and composition of the photos themselves.

Handcrafted rice paper circle "sculpture" table runners by Events by Elisa

  • How do they work? This can sometimes be hard to determine from websites alone – you usually need to ask your potential vendors this question when you meet them. First and foremost, it’s important that you have compatible working styles (if you expect constant communication and they expect to not have contact with you after your contract signing, you might not work well together!).  But more than that, learning about their working style will help you to know whether you can trust them to really give your wedding special attention.
  • Value is not the same as cheap.  You’ve probably heard that you can have either low cost or high quality service.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to that idea – I think that it’s very possible to get a good balance of both.  But the best value service is usually not the lowest cost service – it’s the best mixture of quality and price.  Couples will often get so focused on the bottom line of their wedding that they overlook a vendor’s lack of experience or expertise.  I even made this mistake when planning my own wedding (despite my years of planning events for other people – it’s an easy trap to fall into!).  A good value vendor will be one who goes above and beyond the minimum, who offers you consistently good service and communication, and who knows how to make things happen.  Think of wedding vendors like purses – the ones who offer you the most value are not usually the least expensive.  Low quality purses can be expected to last a week or a month before breaking.  But high quality purses will easily last for years, and often buying a single high-quality purse can end up saving you money in the long run over buying low-quality pieces.  The same principle applies to vendors – if you’ll have to provide your DJ with a CD of all of the songs you want played at your wedding, or your florist requires constant attention, or your coordinator shows up an hour before the wedding ceremony and hasn’t even glanced at the timeline she didn’t help to make, you might be paying rock-bottom prices, but what are you really getting?  Look for vendors who go above and beyond the minimum, and your dollar will be well-spent.

Beautiful Handmade Guestbook

  • Book early! It’s never too early to book a high-quality wedding vendor.  For one thing, good vendors are in demand.  Waiting until late in your process can mean that you miss out on your favorite vendor because he or she is already busy on the day of your wedding.  For another, prices can go up (sometimes several times a year) as vendors find the best pricing structure for them.  And for a third, the earlier you book a vendor (particularly a coordinator/planner, but any vendor, really), the more value they can add.  From referring other quality vendors to adding on extras to helping you to create your design vision, good wedding vendors, when brought in early, can actually save you money, time, and hassle.
  • Do you LIKE this person? Your wedding vendors are going to be spending a lot of time making your wedding great.  It doesn’t make any sense to hire them if they don’t seem like someone you’d enjoy being around.  Coordinators, planners, designers, DJs, photographers, and officiants are integral to the success of your day.  Florists, graphic designers, and bakers won’t actually BE at your wedding, but you’ll still be trusting them to make your wedding day vision happen.  TRUST is key.  Don’t hire anyone you don’t like!

Photo credits:

To DIY or Not to DIY?

DIY (or Do-It-Yourself, if you’ve been living under a rock) details can bring heaps of personality to your event.  The handmade look is “in” – but more than that, there’s a real sense of accomplishment when you look back at an event that just screams that you were the host.  Details you created by hand can take your wedding from blah and everyday to unique, interesting, and personalized.  And – sometimes, if they’re done right – they can save you money.

I am a huge supporter of DIY projects for weddings and events.  But there’s a catch.  If you want to Do It Yourself, you have to Do It Smart.
Handcrafted rice paper centerpiece for the family's round table by Events by Elisa

It’s a natural tendency.  The insistence on being Superwoman (or Superman!), on taking everything on.  We all do it.  But it’s one of my jobs to alleviate stress for my clients, so I will always have the same advice:

Choose wisely, plan ahead, do a trial run, start early, leave plenty of time, work efficiently, embrace imperfections, be realistic about costs, and know when to go to plan B. 

Okay, it’s not poetry.  But trust me on this, it’s advice worth heeding.  Unless you actually like to be stressed out, up working on projects all night right before your wedding or event, of course.

Choose wisely

While you might be painfully aware of every single detail that goes into your wedding or event, your guests only ever see the final product.  They won’t notice if your tablecloths are the perfect shade to compliment the bridesmaids’ dresses.  They won’t judge you for buying premade sweets for your buffet.  They simply won’t care if you’ve hand-embroidered every napkin.

Oh, they’ll see the overall look.  Some of your (more event savvy) guests might even notice a few of the special details.  But as a rule, your guests only notice a fraction of what you put into your wedding or event; so choose your handmade details wisely.

I always ask my clients who are considering making the details themselves what they want most to see at their wedding or event.  When in doubt, go for the visual impact – the big wow.  I also ask whether they have any experience with the DIY project at hand.  After all, baking and decorating a dozen cupcakes can be a challenge for someone who rarely cooks, but baking and decorating twelve dozen is tough even for the most experienced baker.  Likewise any project that you haven’t done before has a 50/50 chance of being harder than it looks (I, for example, am a disaster at making cake pops, no matter how many tutorials I read or watch).

When discussing strategies with my clients for designing their wedding or event, I always suggest to take on only one or two DIY projects; with careful advance planning you can do more, but beware the totally normal tendency to try to do it all.  Taking on too much might mean not getting it all done.

Plan ahead

French chefs are trained to cut first, cook second.  Instead of searching frantically through drawers and cupboards for just the right spice as the dinner is bubbling away on the stove, they measure just the right amount of each ingredient into little nesting bowls, all laid out on their workspace, before turning on the stove.

The trick to a smooth DIY project is to prepare your own mise en place (“putting in place”).  Read the instructions for your project, or figure out your plan of attack if it’s a totally unique idea.  Read them again or sketch out exactly what you need.  If you’ve heard the expression “measure twice, cut once,” that’s exactly what you need to do here.  Especially if a project is brand new to you, the last thing you need is to get halfway through and realize you need to make a run to the store.  Make yourself a shopping list and always get more supplies than you think you’ll need (if I’m making a dozen tissue paper flowers and my instructions say I need ten pieces of tissue paper per flower, I’m picking up 130 or 140 pieces; always better to have too much than too little, in a case like this!).  Lay everything out on a nice stable, permanent surface, and expect to dedicate the surface to your project until it’s completed.  And don’t forget to find a storage place for your finished project, before you start!

Do a trial run

I get a lot of questions from clients asking how long a project should take them to complete.  There’s no short answer to this question, even if I’ve done the project a thousand times before.  For example, it might take me twelve minutes, on average, to fold and fluff a tissue pouf.  But I’ve made dozens of them, so I have the advantage of experience.  I also have ripped dozens of them (it happens), and I know that certain tissue papers will be more cooperative than others.  If I tell you that you should plan on 15 minutes apiece, that might be an excellent estimate.  For me.  But if you have less of an affinity for the project, you’re exhausted from a full day of work, or the tissue paper you’re using is particularly thick or thin, it might take you closer to an hour.  Or you might get so frustrated by the whole thing that it just doesn’t happen at all.

To estimate how long a project will take you, to determine if you like the materials you’re using, and to make sure that you can even complete it at all (cake pops will never again be something I attempt!), you must do a trial.  Get enough of the supplies to make a single trial piece, set a timer when you start, and go slowly to make sure you complete all the steps.

Tissue Poms

Start early

Of course your trial run will help you establish a ballpark figure for how long your DIY project will take.  But a rule of thumb is that something is always going to happen to get in your way of finishing on time.  I always, always, always suggest to my clients to estimate that their project will take twice as long as they think, and to plan accordingly.  And, except for perishables, I strongly encourage them to plan on finishing no less than a week before the wedding or party (the earlier the better).  That way if the family dog gets sick, or the Maid of Honor can’t make it to help, or the store is out of supplies, you won’t be in the weeds.  You’ll just calmly pick up where you left off, a day or two after you’d anticipated, or add a day or two on to your finishing time.

Starting early has another advantage, too.  You can tell before the-wedding-eve if you might have trouble finishing, and call in reinforcements (what’s the wedding party for, anyway?) or move on to the next item.  And it’s an exceptionally satisfying feeling to look around you two weeks before an event and think, “I have no more DIY projects to do – I’m going to the movies!”

Leave plenty of time

This might sound redundant, but it goes hand-in-hand with starting early.  Especially for weddings, the days leading up to the Big One can get hectic.  Family comes into town.  Nails and hair need doing, the dress needs one last fitting, the rehearsal needs rehearsing.  It’s easy to overschedule.

Even for a social event, if you’re working a full-time job (full-time mommy is a job too!), or you have other obligations, it’s easy for time to slip away.  Something I’ve learned to do is carve out large sections of time for projects, but even that can get tough.  Leaving yourself plenty of time, solely dedicated to preparing your DIY projects, scheduled into your week, is the best way to ensure that you’ll be able to get it done.

Work efficiently.

You know how big manufacturing was revolutionized?  The assembly line was invented.  One person did the same thing over and over until all of the pieces for all of the items being manufactured were made.  And only then (if ever) did they start on something else.  The same principle should apply to any DIY projects you might have.  It’s much faster to cut 100 strips of paper to use as belly bands for your invitations than it is to cut each strip individually, as you need it.  And if you think “in bulk,” you’ll be inclined to think of things like minimizing the number of sheets you can cut at once while still maintaining quality, or how best to make the minimum number of cuts (I once received a “finished” piece from a designer that required four cuts per strip of paper, with little tiny stripes of white between each strip…  I almost threw my paper cutter across the room!).  You can use this principle to make backdrops or table runners, embellish details, and assemble just about anything solo.

But working efficiently can mean recruiting help, too.  After all, what makes a project go faster than spreading around the workload?  My favorite method for assembling boxed candy favors is to create an assembly line where one person folds boxes, another places paper shavings inside, a third adds one type of candy, a fourth another, a fifth closes each box securely, and a sixth ties a pretty bow or adds the sticker on the outside.  Yes, it gets repetitive.  But it ensures that everything is done consistently, quickly, and with minimum fuss.  And it’s a heck of a lot more fun than putting everything together by yourself.  This goes the same for assembling Out of Town bags, invitations, and a multitude of other repetitive tasks.  It’s also a great way to involve people who might not be as artistically inclined – they can make precise cuts, count out exactly the number of candies that go in a box, or stick adhesive to an invitation, and still make a big contribution to your wedding or event, without you having to redo their work.  That said, working efficiently means not redoing work – so if you worry that one of your loved ones might not be able to handle the task at hand, don’t assign it to them!

photo by Stephina Photography

Embrace imperfections.

Handcrafted events are just that.  Made by hand.  Unless you’re secretly Martha Stewart (and if you were, you’d tell me, wouldn’t you?), your DIY projects probably won’t look like they belong in a magazine.  Especially the first time you make one.

But that’s okay.

In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s excellent.

You made this piece.  With your own hands.  How often can we really say that, in today’s grab-and-go world?

I think one of my favorite reasons to DIY is to just get my hands dirty.  To feel the paint and the clay and the wood and the paper.  It brings me joy.  And it should bring you joy too.  Remember art class in Kindergarten?  Your project didn’t have to look perfect.  It was perfect because you made it.

The same thing goes for your DIY projects.  Unless you’ve been sewing, or painting letters on a sign, or making tissue paper poufs, since the age of three, you probably will need a lot of practice to just make something that doesn’t look like a mess.  And even if it does…  Who cares?  You made it.  Be proud of it.  That’s the charm of “handmade” after all.

Be realistic about costs.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about DIY projects is that they’re always less expensive than buying ready-made pieces, or hiring someone to make a piece for you.

I’d like to tell you that it’s true.  But it’s not.

Between buying equipment (staple gun, paintbrushes, drill, paper cutter, sandpaper, etc.) and supplies (paper, wood, paint, ribbon, etc.), a simple-looking project can turn into a money pit.  Many artisans can actually make a handcrafted project for you for less money (and in less time) than you could, because they already own the equipment, buy supplies in bulk, and know how to do the projects to ensure that they don’t waste anything.

This isn’t to say that you can’t create an inexpensive DIY piece.  But if budget is really an issue, it pays to be extremely aware of the costs of all of your equipment and supplies before purchasing anything.  Don’t forget to factor in extra supplies for your trial/learning.

Sweet Table Tags by Events by Elisa

Know when to go to Plan B.

Including beautiful handmade projects is a fantastic way to personalize your wedding.  But not every project is for every person, even if you’re crafty.  I learned this the hard way when I was making pipe cleaner Mickey Mouse ears for a friend’s Disneyland bachelorette party last year.  I can whip out a tissue paper pom in no time, but twisting a simple pipe cleaner around a cup to make an attractive ear shape, and hot glueing it to a headband, was impossible.

I ended up making a lumpy, gluey mess.

Luckily my sister was on her way over and just happened to be a pipe cleaner Mickey Mouse ear prodigy (who knew?).  The project that I’d been struggling with for an hour to make a single, awful-looking piece was done in forty five minutes.  And she made twelve.

I share this story to demonstrate that no matter how crafty you might be, you might not be able to make your preferred project, no matter how hard you try.  And in the event that you don’t have a crafty backup person whose strength just happens to be in the area of your weakness, you might have to come up with a backup plan.

Repeat this with me: It’s okay to use my backup plan.

If you’re struggling, slogging through hours of DIY without getting good results, getting angry at yourself and your supplies, or completely unhappy with your finished pieces, don’t forget it’s okay to stop.  Set yourself a time limit or a specific date (at least a week prior to your wedding day) by which you must finish all your projects, so that you’re not still trying to furiously work on DIY projects at 3 am on the day of your wedding.  Trust me on this one: it’s better to substitute your original plan with something more doable (buying or renting napkins instead of hand-embroidering them, hiring a graphic designer instead of creating your own invitations, or buying decorations instead of making them, for example) than to stress yourself out over finishing it.

I promise.

So if you do decide that you want to Do It Yourself, keep in mind the simple rules I laid out above.  Choose wisely, plan ahead, do a trial run, start early, leave plenty of time, work efficiently, embrace imperfections, be realistic about costs, and know when to go to plan B.  And don’t be afraid to ask for help, from a more experienced friend or family member, an online advice forum, or your wedding planner (who has probably already done this sort of thing!).

Oh, yes, and have fun! 🙂

Happy crafting!

Photography credits:

What Wedding Planners REALLY Do (a new series): Editor

Today I’m starting a new feature series here on my blog.  I’ve got so many post ideas that end up being so extremely long that I’m trying very hard to break them into smaller, more digestible bites.  This one came out of a discussion I had earlier this month with my newest couple (Diana + Julian).  Julian was skeptical that they really needed a coordinator to help with their wedding day preparation, and it got me thinking about all the different “hats” I wear in my function as planner (or designer or coordinator, but for this particular series I’ll be using the term “planner” to encompass all parts of the design, planning, and coordination process).

There are a lot.

So I decided to write them out.  Give a little explanation.  To give you some insight into just what your wedding planner does, on and before your wedding day.  You might just be surprised.

The first of my functions?  Editor.

The Wedding Planner as Editor

Do you remember playing as a kid?  Imagination abounded, you could be and do anything you wanted.  Possibilities were endless.  One day you had your heart set on being a rock star when you grew up.  The next it was a doctor.  The next an astronaut, or a paleontologist, or a baker who made cakes 100 layers high.  Do you remember that feeling?  That there were so many amazing opportunities for you?

That’s kind of how it feels when you’re first planning a wedding.

Actually, I know that it’s not the case for everyone (some people flat out hate wedding planning, and that’s where another of my roles as planner comes in, but we’ll get to that in a future post).  But for so many of my couples, their wedding is this fantastic opportunity to do whatever they want!!!!  Bubbles, rice, confetti, streamers, sparklers…  The possibilities are astounding.  And those are just for the end of the ceremony!

Most wedding planning journeys take a lot of twists and turns.  You might choose a theme but be completely stuck on colors, or decide on one look and then suddenly realize it’s wrong for you.  One of my former clients looked into three separate “feels” for her day.  Sometimes remnants of one theme stick around after that theme is long gone.  Sometimes there are just too many ideas to decide.  Sometimes there isn’t much clarity at all.

In my role as wedding planner, I help you to pare down all those ideas and unify all those themes.  Part of my job in the planner/designer capacity is to make sure that your ideas all tie together on your wedding day.  I try to look at your overall plans and tweak them so that they make sense.

For example, when designing the details for Emily + Jeremy’s Wedding, we knew that the very!bright! color of the pool house wasn’t going to tie in with her wedding day style.  So we created a showpiece using Chinese lanterns, and brought them into the other spaces in the wedding.

For The McAwesome Wedding, Neva came to me with a few ideas – elephants! birdcages! The Party! lanterns! peacock feathers! daisies! – and her wedding invitation (which featured a round cutout piece of patterned rice paper) and we sketched out a basic plan for her table runners and reception decor, bringing them all together.

Handcrafted rice paper centerpiece for the family's round table by Events by Elisa

For E+D’s Wedding, I remember when the bride first sent me the link to her inspiration photos in Google Docs.  There were over 40 different photographs there!  Together, we went through, prioritizing, discussing options, working to unify her disparate ideas.  In the end, we pared things down to just what was really important to her, carried the bird theme loosely throughout the day, and I threw in a couple of fun surprises.

Welcome Chalkboard

Your planner will ideally be able to help you create an overall vision for the day, cut out the pieces that simply don’t fit, and put a pretty little bow on top.  Because your planner has seen how all the elements of a wedding interact with each other on many occasions, she can tell you what will make the greatest impact or how best to make all your ideas work in concert.  But only if you share your vision with her and listen to her input – otherwise, she’s got nothing but a blank page!

Photo credits:

First Dance Songs I Love Right Now

I started writing this post over the weekend, after my ohmygoshamazing wedding.  It obviously took me a few days.  I also realized that I’m severely behind on posting.  Like, I still have weddings to blog from last fall, behind.  When I get busy with planning weddings, posting on my blog sort of goes by the way side.  I also have been furiously working on my website (good news: content is almost all done…  bad news: design doesn’t work…  back to the drawing board!).

Anyway, I was thinking a lot about wedding songs.  First dance songs in particular.  Couples so often want them to sum up their relationship in one neat and tidy bow, or be the “theme” on which their reception is built.  First dance songs can be meaningful in other ways to the couple (first song you danced to, silly song you sing to each other, etc.), but for the couple who doesn’t have “a song,” it can be a challenge to agree on something.

So I made a list.  Of some of my favorite songs for first dances.  Just some of my favorites now.  It’s not exhaustive (I know for a fact I’m missing a huge swath of older R&B, pop, country, and swing, for example).  But I tried to go for songs that you might not have heard yet, or considered (although I did sprinkle a few of my “tried and true” songs into the list).

I found myself writing, “I love these lyrics!” over and over again, so I’m just listing the songs.  But you can bet that the lyrics are either adorable, romantic, or otherwise perfect for a wedding:

  • “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz
  • “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds
  • “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
  • “Giving Up” by Ingrid Michaelson
  • “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
  • “At the Beginning” by Richard Marx and Donna Lewis (from the Anastasia soundtrack)
  • “Only Hope” by Switchfoot or Mandy Moore
  • “One and Only” by Adele
  • “I Could Not Ask for More” by Edwin McCain
  • “She’s Under My Skin” by Peter Bradley Adams
  • “You Are Everything” by Matthew West
  • “She is Love” by Parachute
  • “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop” by Landon Pigg
  • “After Tonight” by Justin Nozuka
  • “I’ll Follow You” by John McLaughlin
  • “Till Kingdom Come” by Coldplay
  • “She’s Everything” by Brad Paisley
  • “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain
  • “The Day Before You” by Matthew West
  • “Stay With You” by John Legend
  • “Glitter in the Air” by Pink
  • “Then” by Brad Paisley
  • “Lucky” by Cobie Calliat and Jason Mraz
  • “Look After You” by The Fray
  • “This” by Darius Rucker
  • “With This Ring” by Kenny Loggins
  • “Answered Prayer” by Keri Noble
  • “Would You Go With Me” by Josh Turner
  • “They Bring Me to You” by Joshua Radin

What songs would you add to this list?


If you’re in the middle of your wedding planning, you’ll certainly agree that things change.  From the moment you get engaged until the moment you walk away from your reception, the details of your wedding day are likely to change plenty.

Changing your mind is totally normal.  But what happens when you pull a switcheroo and don’t tell your wedding vendors?

Or when you ask them to do something way beyond their contracted duties?

In my last blog, I talked about tipping only vendors who go above and beyond your expectations.

But what happens when your expectations end up being above and beyond what you – and they – agreed to?

It’s hard to say for sure.  It does depend on the vendor’s resources and time.  But from the planner’s perspective, when a lot of changes are made, especially very close to a wedding date, it creates a good amount of background chaos.

When you hire a new vendor within a week or two before your wedding day, we need to add them to all correspondence, timelines, and diagrams.  And make sure that they know exactly what they need to do, which is actually more difficult in many ways than just getting them into our timelines.  Even the best vendor added at the last minute will have a lot of confusion about what they need to do, when, and where.

And when you add new duties for your existing vendors, especially right before the wedding itself, they may not actually be able to do a good job with the duties you’ve already asked them to perform.

For example, let’s say you plan to put together your own centerpieces but realize the day before the wedding that it won’t be possible.  You ask your coordinator to do them instead.  She might be able to.  But it might be at the expense of hanging lights, or placing favors, or helping your groomsmen put on their boutonnieres, or making sure that the caterers are setting up in the right place, or just plain managing other bits and pieces of your day.  She might not have enough staff to make that change so close to the wedding day, or she might need to start working even earlier on your wedding day than she’s expected to (and a good coordinator will already be working a 10-12 hour day at least, so please don’t ask her to get there earlier!).  Let’s say that you have very basic centerpieces, and every one takes an average of 10 minutes to put together (the amount of time goes up as the complexity goes up, and a coordinator might not actually have the ability to execute something very complicated!).  If you have 10 tables, that’s 100 minutes – almost two hours – that your coordinator wasn’t expecting to need to spend on your centerpieces.  At minimum.

The same thing happens when you ask your florist to “just put together the flowers we bought” in addition to the ones she’s already bringing, your DJ to set up the dance floor lights you rented, or your caterers to set up place settings that you weren’t able to get your volunteers to do.  Or you add extra pieces to your tables, or extra decor to your ceremony.  Trust me, a good vendor team will do everything they can to make your wedding day amazing.  But if you’ve made a change or addition, they might not always be able to find enough hands, or enough time.

So this is my very special request: When changes to your wedding day vision happen (they will), please keep your affected vendors informed, as soon as they happen.  No matter how small and insignificant they seem.  Please don’t wait until the last minute to spring a change on your vendors, and expect that they can make it happen.  Please don’t balk if your vendors tell you that, because of the additional work you’ve added, they will need to hire more helpers at a higher cost.  And please don’t hold it against your vendors if they’re unable to make a last-second change happen the way you’d like.

I’ve been incredibly lucky that my brides have truly been amazingly communicative and reasonable, and my vendor teams have truly been amazingly talented and flexible.  But if you’re a bride who’s thinking of springing a last-second change on your vendors so that you don’t have to pay them extra (it happens), please reconsider.  And if you’re a bride who’s made a last-second change with her wedding and is wondering how to proceed, please contact your coordinator and all affected vendors to explain the situation as soon as possible, and be understanding and flexible of their reactions!

Oh yes, and if you do spring a last-second change on your vendors, please consider this a situation in which they’ve gone above and beyond, and tip them!