As a sewist, crafter, or makers of all the things, you may be able to relate to the feeling of wanting to DIY every idea that comes to mind. Your project list can continue to grow and soon you lose track of which project comes next. For brides and grooms planning their picturesque DIY wedding, the feeling of a never ending to-do list might seem all too familiar. But fear not, bridal buddies! Heather Cook, local event planner extraordinaire, is here to shower you with 8 tips for planning a DIY wedding (and help you stay sane through the process). For our readers in North Carolina, be sure to join Heather on August 13 during her hands-on Wedding Planning 101 Workshop. RSVP online to reserve your spot!
1. THE FOUR R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rihanna
Leftovers are great when we’re talking about Thanksgiving, pizza and Thai take-out. But when it comes to parties, what’s left at the end is often a lot of plastic and paper trash, flowers and piles of unwanted decor.
When plotting your design items, consider how long these items will be used and what might happen to them after the party. Before spending loads of cash on shiny new things, consider sourcing materials from thrift stores, Craigslist and creative re-use centers. This will help both your budget and your ol’ pal Planet Earth.
Planning a sustainable event can be a lot of work (work, work, work, work), but if you value your time and energy, you certainly shouldn’t be spending hours making (or hard-earned dollars buying) something that will be used for a couple hours and then end up shoved in a closet or tossed to the landfill the week after your wedding.
2. Think twice before using family & friends
You need to feel comfortable providing your vendors with direct instructions and be able to be clear and honest about what you want (and don’t want). This can get tricky when working with friends and family, who often have their own ideas and input. Don’t hire your Uncle Alan to take photos if you’re worried he might get drunk early and miss all the party pics and don’t ask your sister’s college roommate to do the flowers if you can’t bring yourself to tell her you don’t want her favorite hot pink daisies in your bouquet.
If you have a friend who is in the events industry and knows all that is included in being asked to play a role, always offer to pay them in cash or trade (i.e. We’ll babysit your kids for 3 nights if you’ll play violin for 3 songs in our ceremony!). If they turn you down and offer to do it for free, be sure to show appreciation for them by acknowledging them on the day-of (list them in the program, thank them in a toast/speech, etc) and then promote their work after to other people in your community. Keep the good karma flowing.
Finally, remember that if you do ask a favor of a friend who doesn’t normally work events/weddings, you’re going to have to do some of the heavy lifting on things like making a photo shot list, writing out a ceremony or making plans for delivery/pick up. Consider whether this extra time and responsibility is worth the money you might save.
I arranged this bridal bouquet for a client who gave me a budget and a color palette. No specific flowers were requested, just a simple list of who needed bouquets and bouts. It was a fun and simple project and we were able to keep costs low using what was seasonally available from local growers.
3. Delegate early, hire later
DIY-ing anything that can be done months before the wedding is great. When it closes in on the actual date however, you need to take yourself out of the equation. All gluing, arranging, cutting, stringing, etc needs to be done.
Baking, drink making and cooking should all be hired-out or at least delegated in reasonable tasks i.e. 10 friends bring a pie.
With each category of delegation, give someone else a “lead” role so that they can handle things in the final week i.e. “Hey Jeff, will you be my Pie Kween and handle everyone delivering their pies day of and making them look nice on the table?”
Spring for the flowers to be delivered and have the florist place them on tables for you. Pay the extra $50 to have the kegs and ice delivered so your friend doesn’t throw their back out and have to sit on the sidelines during the dance party.
4. Keep track of what goes where when
Try to keep all your wedding planning documents in one physical location, even if you have them digitally. Buy a binder, use dividers and get busy with the highlighters and sticky-note flags. In it, make a master list of all vendors, helpers, etc with their contact info for easy reference. Keep this resource accessible in your home or apartment so you and your partner can refer to it on the regular.
Make a folder in your email and create filters to route emails from vendors, RSVPs, etc to it so they don’t get lost in the depths of your neglected personal emails (you may also consider making a separate email address just for all things wedding). Make a long-range planning calendar with various milestones, goals and deadlines. Set reminders on your phone for you and your partner to keep up with appointments, payments and paperwork deadlines.
Designate a space in your home for supplies and decor items as they come together. Label errrrrything so that when it comes time for these folks to take things over, it’s clear what is what and what goes where when. Staying organized from the beginning will help tremendously with your sanity when everything is in motion.
Susie and Katie’s wedding incorporated meaningful elements from both of their lives. From the textiles to the flowers, songs and poems. All of the elements were selected with intention and most of the materials came from the their home or from the homes of their friends and family.
5. Ditch the theme
This event is to celebrate you, your partner and your love. That. Is. The. Theme. Instead of letting your brain run rampant with wedding themes like “Farm Chic” and “Perfect Peacock” (this is real y’all), spend some time thinking about decor and design that makes you and your partner feel happy, warm and fuzzy and honors who you are individually and as a couple. Themes have a tendency to run you down the wedding blog and Pinterest rabbit-hole and before you know it you’re trying to figure out how to hot glue 100 gold spray-painted seashells* to napkin holders because they’ll be perrrrfect for your “Shimmer in the Sand” theme.
Selecting a color palette can help make things cohesive and even narrow things down for items that have a bajillion choices (read: napkins). Making a mood board or tiny in-home altar of design items that make you feel-all-the-feels can provide a similar focus plus the added bonus of giving you visual/daily excitement.
6. Doing anything over 100x requires libation
Save the Dates, invitations, place cards, place settings and guest gifts all amount to a 1:1 ratio of your invitees and end up being a high-volume task if you want to do it yourself. Remember this before you fall in love with any DIY decor item. Once you’ve settled on the items that you do want to make, invite friends over for drinks, order some pizza and have fun*.
If at any point the process starts to feel more laborious, consider pairing things per couple or simply pivot and make a new plan. Don’t push yourself or your helpful friends to the point of hating paper cranes just because you decided you need 200 feet of them on garland strands.
*This night is also good to review any delegated tasks your friends might be signed up for (and if they’re not already, maybe have the sign-up ready!) Talking it all out in- person helps if they have questions about how to best play their support role and stave off the onslaught of week-of questions that often arise.
The paper flower backdrop pictured here was something that the bride found online and asked to have it created for her wedding. At first glance, it doesn’t look like a whole lot of effort. But I can confirm that it took 4 capable adults and one mostly attentive teenager over 5 hours to cut out and construct the flowers and leaves. Add to that the mighty task of hanging it from the very high ceilings of a reclaimed textile mill (thank goodness for my high school softball career) and you’ve got the makings of a great comedy montage. And wouldn’t you know it, this wedding gets picked up and featured in The Knot.) It sure does look pretty…
7. “Weddings” are an Industry *ahem, I repeat, WEDDINGS ARE AN INDUSTRY*
As such, it’s wrapped up with a whole lot of strategies to sell you on the idea of what you want and need for your celebration. This industry knows just what Instagram filter to put on that succulent centerpiece so that it’s planted in your brain until the week before your wedding and before you know it you’re at the store and deciding that you NEEEEEEED $200 worth of plants and rocks for centerpieces…because you’re “saving money” by not having the florist* do it. When really, you could save $200 and not do it at all? (I know, controversial).
People in this industry are REALLY good at making everything look picture perfect. But consider this: That amazing chandelier hanging from the moss covered willow… It caught a gust of wind and fell during the ceremony…on a bridesmaid. That amazing paper name tag display that you saw blowing perfectly in the wind… It was drenched by rain and the ink bled everywhere before guests had a chance to read them.
Don’t hold yourself to unattainable standards just for the sake of a pretty picture. Be intentional about what you’re making and focus on things that are useful and will bring you and your guests joy.
*A few footnotes on the Wedding Industry
Remember that freelancers and small business owners are fronting the costs for their insurances, equipment, travel and employees and that may result in their fee being higher than a larger/corporate vendor. Look for vendors that embrace diversity in their workforce and pay their employees a living wage. Tip vendors that go out of their way to make things easy for you and your guests as well.
8. Give it up.
Weddings are commonly referred to as “your big day.” But chances are, there are bigger days ahead (and maybe better?). There are moves and job changes, new friends, new family members, deaths, births, celebrations and consolations. Keep things in perspective. If you’re doing something because you keep worrying that your Aunt Susan is gonna make some off-color remark about the thread count of the napkins, well, then, you’ve lost the plot. Keep your focus on the commitment you are about to make and the celebration will come naturally.
When it comes time in the planning process to let go, do it, start to envision it early on. You can even put it in that fancy planning timeline you made or set it as a reminder in your phone.
“Siri: add GIVE UP THE WEDDING PLANNING AND ENJOY THE RIDE to my calendar for next Wednesday at 4pm”
Consider having your officiant lead you and your partner in a short meditation at the start of wedding week and again on the day-of. Being present and focused will help you enjoy everyone who has come to celebrate the two of you and allow you to drop your shoulders and feel the love.
Now that you know all the tips to successfully plan your DIY wedding, find all the design inspiration you need for your
big fun day!
Heather Cook is a Jill-of-all-trades. She is a writer, a community builder, a creative concept consultant and a dedicated student in the school of bad-assery. Heather has coordinated events in the Triangle for over 6 years with her business Shind!gs and curated a summer camp for adults with her company Wild Yonder. Heather is also currently working on launching a lifestyle blog titled, “35 & Over” that will explore demographics and the impacts of target marketing through a year of abstaining from shopping at corporate retailers. Keep an eye on her website for more.