Aidan’s Teddy Bear First Birthday Party in San Marcos, 02*18*2012

I have been doing a lot of talk about weddings lately, but it’s not all I do!  I also design and plan social events (birthdays, showers, and other parties and galas).  Today’s event is a birthday party!!

Aidan’s mom Jennie e-mailed me in mid-January, asking for planning and design help with his first birthday party.  She had a pretty clear idea of what she wanted, but needed assistance tying everything together and making it happen.  The challenge was getting the sweets buffet to look elegant and beautiful without it looking girly, and to keep Jennie’s fantastic ideas under budget. 🙂

I think that the result was a great balance of whimsy, elegance, and boyish fun, tying together the themes of teddy bears and milk and cookies.  We featured a sweets buffet in the center of the backyard and a build-a-bear vendor on the patio, along with bunting handmade by Aidan’s dad Sal.  Jennie got in on the handcrafting too, making all the tablecloths and runners as well as all the savory items and some of the cookies and cupcakes!

Jennie purchased printables online at Pink Pickle Studios, including hats, water bottle labels, and a banner:

And Jennie used Aidan’s red wagon as a focal point.

The younger guests had so much fun with Fabbiola of My Beary Best Friend, choosing their animals and watching them be stuffed:

Of course we had to have teddy bears (with individual cookie jars at each table, inside and out!).

Aidan’s parents designed an extra special birthday cake for him, which was brought to life by the amazing Stevi at Hey There, Cupcake!

And now…  The showpiece of the party.  The fabulous sweets table!  I had waaaay too much fun styling this, using my pieces and Jennie’s.  And at her request I made the fantastic fabric flowers from some tutorials I pinned on Pinterest (whew!  Try saying that three times fast!).  I LOVE them SO much!

Yes I know.  They’re just fabric flowers.  But I adore them.

Anyway, on to the rest of the sweet table!

And of course you can’t have a first birthday party without a smash cake!

Aidan’s Teddy Bear First Birthday Party in San Marcos, CA 02*18*2012 Details:

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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:

Inspiration: Vegetables

I love using everyday items in unexpected ways!  Vegetables are so often overlooked as being boring.  But they can be so beautiful and colorful.  They bring a different texture and feel to events than flowers.  I love the idea of using veggies in place of more expected elements – like on the “sweet table”, in the bouquet, and as “bunting”, and I couldn’t resist including my use of them to bring interest to the baby shower table!

Vegetables Wedding Inspiration Board: Events by Elisa

Vegetables Wedding Inspiration Board: Events by Elisa

Photo credits (clockwise from left): Seed Packet Invitations, Boutonniere, BuffetBunting, Escort Cards, Cabbage, Tomato Favors, Artichoke Centerpiece, Garden Box, Bouquet,

Vintage Children’s Book/English Garden Baby Shower!

I loved designing this gorgeous Vintage Children’s Book/English Garden-themed Baby Shower!  The hostess and I worked on the details for about two months and I’m really pleased with how it all turned out!

This party featured lots of lovely details and used LOTS of my event inventory, including my new beverage dispensers and thirty mason jars.  In addition to some of the hostess’ own serving pieces and my event inventory, I used lots of pieces from local thrift stores and the swap meet, some handmade goodies like bunting and poms, and flowers from Trader Joe’s!

Sweet Table with Homemade Bunting - Events by Elisa

Sweet Table with Homemade Bunting - Events by Elisa

Themed Cupcakes by Sweeter by the Dozen - Events by Elisa

Themed Cupcakes by Sweeter by the Dozen - Events by Elisa

Scones Table - Events by Elisa

Scones Table - Events by Elisa

Savories Table - Events by Elisa

Savories Table - Events by Elisa

Homemade Tissue Pom - Events by Elisa

Homemade Tissue Pom - Events by Elisa

Garden Box Display - Events by Elisa

Garden Box Display - Events by Elisa

For more photos, check out my Facebook page!

Pretty Book-Themed Baby Shower Invitation!

I have been waiting to share this one with you for a while!  I absolutely adore this custom-created Baby Shower invitation, featuring completely original artwork based on the characters of A. A. Milne (illustrated by E.H. Shepard) and Beatrix Potter!  The characters from both authors are sitting down to a beautiful picnic and tea!  I absolutely loved this beautiful invitation – and creating it was a great reminder that the creative process is all about collaboration.  I’d come up with something completely different and had a sort of vague idea of an alternate invitation.  When the party’s host saw my alternate invitation draft, she told me to run with it – and offered some crucial ideas about how to make it better (namely, add more characters!).  The result is one of my favorite projects EVER!

Baby Shower Invitation Featuring Custom Artwork - Events by Elisa

Baby Shower Invitation Featuring Custom Artwork - Events by Elisa

Check in tomorrow to see photos from the shower itself, or visit my Facebook page!

Cinderella-Inspired Vintage Concept Table

The invitation

The invitation I created for the "wedding" concept, featuring hand-drawn artwork!

I am so, SO proud of this design.  Seriously I’m in love with it.  And I’m so excited to share with you!  I realize I owe several blogs (including the end of my “Any Ideas?” series, which I promise is coming!) but I finally had a few minutes to check over my photos from the last week and I am thrilled with the results!

Today’s post is dedicated to the Cinderella-Inspired Vintage Concept Table I put together for Alfred Angelo’s “Girls’ Night Out” event.  It was a small evening where vendors were invited to showcase their talents, and I’m so very glad I could be a part of it!  The store’s assistant manager and I go way back (he helped my sister find her Maid of Honor dress for my wedding three years ago!) and I was so excited to be able to participate in this event with him and his excellent staff!

As for the table…

I saw this fantastic brown metal “birdcage” while browsing around at Ross a couple of months back.  It’s in the shape of a pumpkin carriage, but it’s not frilly or overly princessy.  I fell in love with it and, despite putting it down and walking away three separate times, finally had to buy it and bring it home.  Seriously.  Love.

I actually had been planning a pretty concept shoot or two around it, but when this opportunity came up at Alfred Angelo I jumped at the chance to have an “excuse” to create my table.  I was lucky enough to get connected up with the incredible Melissa at Pow Wow Vintage Rentals, whose incredible finds have me drooling.  When I mentioned the event (and the manager’s suggestion to bring a “small round” table) to her, she suggested instead a beautiful rustic dark wood piece.  I immediately said “YES!” without even seeing a photo (I saw it later on her site and was giddy about it!).   What an incredible combination with my pumpkin carriage!

Then my good friend Jessica from Sweeter by the Dozen created the adorable cake for me.  I just said my colors were pink and white and she came up with the design.  I love the beautiful fondant rose!  And the flavor?  SO amazing!

I was originally planning to skew a little less pink and a little less frilly than I actually went with this event (despite the Cinderella theme, I didn’t want it to scream “princess”, but as I was picking out pieces to use (almost everything on my table is from my inventory – I’m so behind updating my event rentals catalog!) I kept being drawn to frosted glass and milk glass, and lots and lots of pink.  I just decided to go with it (and bring in some pretty browns and greens to help create that vintage feel) – after all, Cinderella is a princess!

I tried, in this table, to demonstrate what I do.  I included a printed invitation, a card “box” with tag, a sweet table setup, some pretty florals, and some fun details, so that you can get the “flavor” of what such an event would look like.  Obviously this particular table is nothing you’d actually have at an event – no one would be eating dinner at your sweet table, and your cards would likely be elsewhere – but I think it’s a great demonstration of what I can do.  I even made about six yards of bunting by hand for the event.

This event is a great example of why I say that I prefer having a long lead time for event design – especially if I’ll be shopping for new pieces – because I had just over a week to plan it out and it was a major marathon at the end (I wanted a small table to complete the look and went to every thrift store within 25 miles, only to find the one I did at a shop less than a mile from my house).  I love ordering items online and just barely received the glass slipper with hours to spare before the event.  And because good design takes time, I was making changes to my table up until setup (which is normal), including buying ivy at the store less than an hour before leaving my house (not normal).  I also wish I’d have had more prep time because the taffy were really supposed to be pink French macaroons that I simply ran out of time to make or order.

I really was wishing I had another few days to prep!

But despite the short prep time, I’m seriously seriously adoring this whole table.  I sort of want to create one for each fairy tale princess now (someone hire me to do that for their wedding, please?).  I love the whimsical and unexpected details (like the mouse – people couldn’t get over him!) and the fun vintage feel.  I can definitely see Snow White’s table with a big dish full of apples and bunting made with antique blue fabric with little red flowers.  And a mirror of course.

But I digress.  And I should just post the photos already and let you see what I’m so very proud of!  I hope you like it just as much as I do!  Oh – and obviously I’m no photographer – so some of these may be lacking in composition points.  Please don’t hold it against me! 🙂  And for more photographs, visit my Facebook page!

My pumpkin carriage

My pumpkin carriage, which inspired it all!

A last minute detail

A last minute detail - ivy in frosted glass!

Pink rock candy in milk glass

Pink rock candy in milk glass

A mouse!

A mouse! 🙂

More ivy and Cinderella's shoe!

More ivy and Cinderella's shoe! (this was the ivy I was buying at the store just before the event!)

The full display, including table and place setting by Pow Wow and cake by Sweeter by the Dozen

The gorgeous full display, including table, lace cloth, and place setting by Pow Wow Vintage and cake by Sweeter by the Dozen