Category Archives: DIY

Eureka Moment: Heirloom Centerpieces

If you have family memebers' stained wedding gowns tucked into a closet, repurpose them by turning the undamaged cloth into decorative centerpieces. Photo by Car0lus.

Ever wonder what to do with the several generations of stained or oddly styled wedding gowns and veils tucked away in your family’s closets? Turn them into meaningful centerpieces with a pair of fabric shears and some extra ribbon or lace.

Cut the fabric into circular shapes that can grace the center of your guest tables. Add ribbons or lace as desired. Gently bunch or gather the fabric, and top with vases of fresh flowers or old kerosene lamps. Include a nicely calligraphed note at each table, explaining the origin of the fabric.

~ Laura

Fresh-Cut Savings

Want to watch someone’s face truly light up with sticker shock?  Trying taking a friend to the florist when you get a price quote for your wedding.

If you're looking to cut costs at the florist, cutting more expensive varieties of flowers, such as calla lilies, out of your plans may be the way to go.

Let’s see — flowers for the front of the church and the church foyer; aisle decorations; bridal and bridesmaid bouquets;  corsages for moms,  step-moms, grandmothers and possibly aunts and sisters; boutonnieres for the groom and groomsmen, the dads and step-dads, grandfathers and and possibly uncles and brothers; reception entryway decorations; centerpieces for guest tables, head table or sweetheart table, and the cake and buffet tables.

All told: If you want to pull out all the stops, you’re probably looking at $2,000, bare minimum.  And it’ll only be that cheap if you don’t want some of the pricier blooms, like the ever-popular calla lilies and orchids.

But there are several steps you can take to keep your flower budget from growing like out of control kudzu.

Stick with the season
Instead of paying for flowers that have to be flown in from some exotic locale — and are more expensive, of course — go native.  Ask your florist what will be blooming locally around the time of your wedding.  Shorter traveling distances mean lower prices for you, and as an added benefit, you know you’ll be doing your part to keep your environment clean.

Fill up on fillers
When I had my first planning session at my florist, A Floral Boutique in Ormond Beach, FL, I found out that I wasn’t quite like most brides: Instead of wanting bouquets that burst with blooms, accented by greenery, I was honestly more interested in the greenery being accented with a few gorgeous flowers.  While there was a set base price for bridesmaid bouquets, my preference helped me from going about that by minimizing the number of flowers needed.

Scale down
A six-foot-tall flower spray at the front of the church would be beautiful, but would it really be worth the price?  By cutting down on the size of all your arrangements, from centerpieces to bouquets, you’ll save money on both parts and labor.  Having each bridesmaid carry a simple long-stemmed rose or single hydrangea bloom is one simple, chic way to accomplish this.

A simple bouquet with inexpensive flowers makes a lovely -- yet not-so-pricy -- statement. Bouquet from Flowers by Jenny in Trinity, FL.

Leave the designing to the pros
If you head into a florist with a lot of flexibility built into you flower plans, you can save a lot of money by letting the floral designers do their job — as simply and quickly as they can.  Hand-tied bouquets are cheaper than cascades.  Florists know all the ins and outs of their own business, of course, so leave as much of the designing work to them as you’re comfortable with, and you’ll end up with a lower bill.

Consider alternatives to floral decorations
Knowing that it would be prohibitively expensive to have a florist craft as many decorations as I wanted at my wedding, I turned to potted plants instead.  The look we achieved was absolutely magical — and for a fraction of the price of cut flowers.  Added bonus: My decorations didn’t die a couple of days after the wedding!

DIY when necessary
I’ve watched several brides handle their flowers without ever going to a florist, and the results have rarely been disappointing.  One friend recalled making a run to Sam’s Club to buy roses the day before her wedding.  The bridesmaids tied up their simple bouquets together that afternoon.  Some other friends ordered flowers in bulk from online shops and put together their own centerpieces.  And a few of my friends have even used high-quality silk flowers to create bouquets that will never fade (and until you touched those flowers, they didn’t look the least bit fake).

Whether you have your heart set on a romantic rose-filled wedding, long for a lily-inspired ceremony or just plain don’t have a clue what you want on your big day, spend some time searching florists’ websites, and websites like TheKnot for inspiration.  Then book an appointment with several florists in your area to get more ideas and establish a baseline for local florists’ prices.  Make sure you choose a florist who clearly listens to your desires, someone you feel comfortable working with.

And most of all, keep dreaming of that amazing moment when you get to walk down the aisle carrying your beautiful bouquet.

~ Laura

How-To: Customize a Wedding Veil

Veils, like wedding gowns, come in a wide range of prices. You can find a simple tulle veil online for as little as $10 — or you can visit a couture boutique and come across multi-thousand dollar veils crafted from Alençon lace, Swarovski crystals and genuine freshwater pearls.

There must be a happy middle-ground.  And there is: find a simple veil with a shape, length, and base fabric you like, then spice it up with any of these easy suggestions.

  • Use excess fabric or lace from your wedding gown to add a matching trim — or use fabric from your mother’s wedding gown.
  • Line the edges of your veil with colorful fabric from your bridesmaids’ dresses.
  • Embroider little hearts, polka-dots, or flowers with a shimmery, shiny thread.
  • Sew on pearls, or glass, silver, or gold beads that coordinate with your jewelry.
  • Glue or sew soft, feminine feathers around your veil’s comb to create an instant headpiece.
  • Stitch your fiance’s initials or your monogram or wedding date in an inconspicuous place on your veil.
  • Layer two veils of complimentary fabrics for a unique but cohesive look.
  • Pin a lightweight broach over your veil’s comb.
  • Glue a few rhinestones onto your veil to add upscale sparkle without looking glittery.
  • Embroider a vine pattern along the edge of your veil.
  • Sew real rosebuds onto a Cathedral veil for extra drama.
  • Pinch portions of your veil together and sew them in place to mimic a skirt with pick-ups.

Have fun creating your own unique look!

~ Laura

A Few Ways to Save

Sample sales include discontinued dress styles, and styles that are from previous seasons, such as this gown from the 2008 Matthew Christopher collection.

Sample sales include discontinued dress styles, and styles that are from previous seasons, such as this gown from the 2008 Matthew Christopher collection.

I’ve talked to brides whose wedding budgets have ranged from barely four figures on up into six figures — and no matter the total price tag, there’s something every bride is interested in: getting more for less.

So I’ve rounded up a few of the biggest money savers my own friends and I have come across while planning our weddings.

Buy sample sales.

Wedding gowns are one of the single biggest purchases you’ll make for your wedding — and unless you’re planning to buy a wardrobe made of pure spun gold sometime in your life, it’s also going to be the runaway winner for the title of Most Expensive Clothing Purchase Ever.  But if your dream dress can come off a rack instead of straight off a hand-sewn production line, you’ll save up to 50% on the dress’ retail price.  Once a style’s discontinued, your local bridal salon won’t need to keep the sample gown hanging around.  I got my dress this way, and I couldn’t be happier if it had been custom-cut just for me.

Beg, barter or steal negotiate.

Found a perfect reception site, but their dinner price-minimum is just too high?  Ask if they’ll cut the cost and offer slightly smaller portions for a late lunch reception.  (One of my friends did this and ended up serving her guests a delicious meal for under $20 per person.)

Have a unique skill or opportunity that would be useful to potential vendors?  Find out if your musician would trade his performance for a free weekend at your parents’ beach condo, or if your photographer will discount her services if you provide free advertising in the community newsletter you run.  It never hurts to find out if your vendors are willing to consider a non-cash payment.

Simple and inexpensive DIY centerpieces can make a big impact without costing big bucks.

Simple and inexpensive DIY centerpieces can make a big impact without costing big bucks.

DIY whenever possible…within reason!

Centerpieces, invitations, favors — heck, aisle runners, flowers, programs, custom linens, and even food are all fair game when it comes to do-it-yourself wedding preparations.  The amount of money you save per project will vary depending on the cost of materials and the would-have-been cost of labor, but if you plan wisely, you’ll find yourself saving $20 here, $400 there.  And it will add up quickly.  Just make sure you don’t plan more projects than you can (sanely!) handle during your already-hectic-and-stressful engagement.  That’s when extra helping hands come in…well, handy.  If your bridesmaids, family members, and friends are willing to donate some time and talent, you’ll be a lot better off than if you try to juggle all the projects yourself.

Think: Less is More.

A few long-stemmed roses or a dozen weighing down your bridesmaids’ arms?  A lavish string quintet or a solo classical guitar?  A splashy stretch Escalade or an understated sedan?

A single rose can be as breathtakingly beautiful as a big bouquet.

A single rose can be as breathtakingly beautiful as a big bouquet.

Sometimes the simpler (and thus less expensive) option looks classier and leaves a lasting impression.  I’m a big believer in understated elegance.  A ceiling draped with hundreds of imported orchids is impressive, but a creative display of several generations of family wedding pictures will be equally memorable — and guess what?  Far less costly.  Whenever you see a Big Idea that you love, think about how you can trim it down to fit your budget, or if there are any simpler alternatives that would create a similar effect.

Personalize with VIPs.

When you have friends or family whose skill sets intersect with your wedding needs, you’ll find you’re offered steep discounts — or depending on your relationship with these people, free services altogether.  Having loved ones help out with your big day preparations will create cherished memories for both of you.  And letting loved ones keep you on track on your wedding day might be a bit more calming than having strangers buzzing around you.  My friends have solicited friends and family members to be their: hair stylist; make-up artist; photographer; videographer; florist; decorator; baker; coordinator; musician; officiant.

If you don’t have your heart absolutely set on it, save on it — and you may find you enjoy your wedding a whole lot more if you spend a whole lot less!

~ Laura

Your Guide to Guest Books

GuestBookAs a kid, I never understood what the fuss was about the all-important guest book.  Who wanted line after line of their friends’ messy signatures inside an overpriced, satin-covered book?

To tell you the truth, I still don’t really understand traditional guest books.  Half the weddings I’ve attended, I’ve forgotten to sign — and that includes weddings I’ve been in!  Frequently, if you check a guest book after the wedding is over, only the first few pages are filled.  If you divide the cost of the guest book by the amount of the book that was actually used, each page comes out to about ten bucks.

That isn’t to say that some people don’t treasure their guest books — and one friend of mine even turned her wedding guest book into her home guest book, and every time someone stepped through her door, she had the person record her visit.  But with so many guest book options available these days, why not try something more personal?

GuestBookFrameA framed picture with an autographed matte is a fun way to keep your guests’ well wishes front and center in your home.  The matted picture has become standard, sometimes displayed at the reception beside a traditional guest book.  Whether you choose to have both or go with just the frame, it makes a sentimental keepsake that can look classy in black and white, or coordinate with your wedding colors, go rainbow-bright with a pack of neon markers, or blend with the colors you’ve chosen for your home’s decor.  Similarly, you can set whatever mood you want with your photo — by choosing a subdued engagement picture or a snapshot of you and your beloved making a tandem skydiving jump.

WishingTreeAnother trend that’s gaining momentum is a “prayer tree” or “wishing well.”  Not only does it make a big decorative statement, but giving your guests private slips of paper will encourage them to leave more personal messages for you — things they might not write down if they know your other two hundred guests can read it!  If you don’t have the space or don’t like the look of the tree design, consider setting a beautiful note card and envelope at each place setting for guests to write their well wishes.

Check any wedding website, and you’ll find couples who have had their guests sign the pages of a coffee table book.  This works especially well when a couple has a destination wedding (who wouldn’t want a keepsake with spectacular shots of  of the Caribbean coast or  Parisian Boulevards?!), or for couples who live in an area known for its stunning views (Napa Valley, the coast of Maine, the Rockies), or for couples moving to a new and exciting home (New York City, Hawaii, Southern California).

EngagementGuestBookThen there’s my favorite: the personal photo book.  You can scrapbook your entire life, documenting your first steps, your fiance’s first lost tooth, your gymnastics competitions, his science fair win.  Or you can go slightly more conventional and showcase your engagement pictures.  With print-on-demand websites like Lulu, Picaboo and Snapfish — among many, many others — you can design and layout your own photojournal, leaving plenty of blank space, or even blank pages, for your guests to sign.

How ever you choose to collect your guests’ names, just remember: no matter if you have a trusted cousin working the guest book table or ask the DJ to remind the guests to sign it, you aren’t going to get every last guest’s name inked.  Don’t look for a definitive record of who attended — just plan a book or display that you’ll treasure for years to come.

~ Laura

Curb Your Cashflow

When actress Elizabeth Hurley wed businessman Arun Nayar in 2007, the pair spent $2.5 million on ceremonies and parties in both England and India.

When actress Elizabeth Hurley wed businessman Arun Nayar in 2007, the pair spent $2.5 million on ceremonies and parties in both England and India.

Whenever I look at my reception plans, I want to whip out a pair of pruning sheers and snip off the extra expenses.  Those expenses are trying to overgrow my neat and tidy budget like kudzu swallowing up a garden, and people: if it happens, it won’t be pretty.

At least there are some couples out there who to whom money is no object.  Just this week, I browsed through a delightful slide show on The title says it all: “The 15 Most Ridiculous Celebrity Weddings.”

Holding your wedding at an English, Scottish, Irish, Italian or Indian castle or palace is, you know, normal if you’re a celebrity.  If Elton John and Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump are going to watch your vow swap.  If your budget tops out at a measley couple million dollars.

For the rest of us, money is an object the size of Texas.

But as I’ve been doing research for the book, and working my way ever closer to my own wedding, I’ve picked up a few tips from the pros about where to save money.  (And, I like to think, sleuthed my way to a few solutions myself.)

So, without further ado: ten tips on how to avoid a budget buster at your reception.

1. The earlier in the day you plan your wedding, the more money you’re likely to save on reception costs.  Some sites have lower minimums for a daytime (or weekday) wedding, guests will expect less and food — and less formal food — and will consume less alcohol.

2. Serving a beer and wine bar instead of a full open bar will usually save you a few dollars per drink — and keep all but the most determined guests from getting tipsy.

3. Find out if your reception venue allows you to serve your own alcohol.  The site might charge a corking fee, but the price difference between your bottle of wine + corking fee and their bottle of wine might still come out in your favor.

4. Discuss your reception venue’s drink-clearing policy in detail.  Some locations instruct staffers to remove any unattended drink includingglasses that are completely full, which means that when your guest realizes her drink has gone missing, she’ll return to the bar — and you’ll get charged another $8 for her second appletini.

5. Paying a little extra for butlered hors d’oeuvres may well pay for itself: with guests only able to eat one piece of food at a time, you won’t have to deal with guests who decide the cocktail hour should be their first full meal of the night.

6. Ask about a kids’ entree for the little ones.  If your venue doesn’t serve kids’ meals often, ask if they can work with you to create something that’s financially proportional to the amount the kiddos will eat — and that’s palatable to the chicken-fingers/macaroni/hot dog-loving age range.

7. If your reception venue has a wood, tile, stone, or cement floor, skip the rented dance floor and artfully arrange the edges of your dance floor with plants, ribbons, or flowers dangling from the ceiling.

8. Before you begin buying vases or decorations for your centerpieces, check with your venue to find out if they offer centerpiece basics for free.  If not, check with your florist, rental company, or local fabric specialty store to get price quotes for renting, rather than buying, the items you need.

9. Have your decor pull double duty: send it home with guests as favors.  Set out cheery wildflowers in aluminum watering cans or mason jars for a spring wedding; decorate with elegant conch shells and sand dollars for a summer bash; add a splash of autumn color with gold, copper and bronze votive holders in the fall; hang a miniature wreath over the back of each chair for a Christmastime celebration.

10. When it comes to your cake, most of the cost is directly tied in to the time and talent necessary to create it.  A simply decorated, butter cream-frosted cake will be cheaper than an elaborate fondant one; a few-tiered cake will be cheaper than a multi-tiered one.  Cheaper still: order a tiered cake that’s too small to feed your guests, and order an identical sheet cake to make up the quantity difference.  If you want a fancy cake without a fancy price tag, consider having your baker decorate a styrofoam cake, and just serving sheet cake.

Just remember: it’s your party, and probably the biggest party of your life.  You want to make sure it’s everything you dream of, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still cut corners, cash-wise.  Your wedding day is the beginning of your new life — and you probably want to start that new life with as little debt as possible!

~ Laura

DIY (Distinctive, Individualized, Youthful) Bridesmaid Goodies

What a long, full few days it’s been….

As I’ve churned through idea after idea after interview after web search for my wedding-centric writing projects, my own wedding plans have sat on hold.


What I have accomplished this past week is: settling on my bridesmaid gifts and starting what is sure to be a long and laborious incubating and birthing process. You see, when I decide to get crafty, I gestate my plans like an elephant: it lasts a long time, and my plans get large, very large.

But as I blissfully ignore the fact that I still have unused sewing patterns and paper mach craft kids from elementary school, I’d like to share a few DIY bridesmaid gift ideas:

Bead-a-Thon: Instead of choosing gifts for your bridesmaids, let the girls make them all together. Hit a local craft store to pick up glass beads, seed pearls and sterling silver charms, then throw a beading party for your ‘maids.

Homemade Healing:Whip up a few batches of your own spa-style TLC — sugar scrub, hand cream, body oil. Look for recipes online at Bath and Body Recipes or Recipezaar. Use natural essential oils like lavender, strawberry, or rosemary for a clean, healthy and refreshing aroma. Give each ‘maid her signature scent.

Paper Divas: Design custom stationary for each of your bridesmaids, using their favorite colors, motifs, or initials — or if you’re a true artiste, one of your own original works of art. If you don’t have a top-of-the-line printer, find a printer in your town who can run off copies for you. (Hint: ask the stationer where you bought your envelopes if they would be able to reproduce your masterpieces for a discount.)

It’s in the Bag:Green is the new black — and when it’s a an eco-friendly green bag, it really can go with anything. Buy reuseable tote bags and have them monogrammed or screen printed for each of your ‘maids. As an added bonus, you could stuff the bags with gift certificates to their favorite stores and they’d be set for a girls’ afternoon out!

Spice of your Life:For all your leaf-loving buds (and no, I’m not talking about the friends who prefer their leaves smoked to steeped) make up your own tea-rriffic blends. You can order custom teas from websites like Artisan’s Cup.

Good luck. Good luck deciding what to give your gals, and good luck making it.

And good luck to me, while I’m at it.

~ Laura