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Friends, I struggled with today’s Emily Plans a Wedding post! I knew since the beginning that I wanted to post about DIY projects, but the closer the wedding has gotten, the less I’ve wanted to reveal. Not because I want to keep y’all in the dark, so much; more because I know many of my family members and friends — those who will be attending the wedding! — are Southern Weddings readers, too, and I want as much as possible to be a delightful surprise for them on the big day.

Because why do we have “details” at our weddings? Because they look pretty? Well, yes, but for me, it’s more than that — by looking pretty, details act as cues to let guests know, Hey! This is a special occasion! This commitment and this day is so important to us that we’ve taken the time, energy, thought, and, yes, money, to make it a night to remember! We are so happy you’re here, and we care enough about you to want to make it a special and memorable occasion! YAHOO! Details should also say something about the couple whose wedding is being celebrated — who they are, what’s important to them, what they find beautiful. Maybe that sounds a little farfetched or lofty, but we are the home of the Sweet Tea Society — we think about these things!

Cheese cart by Calder Clark Designs (photo by A Bryan Photo via Southern Weddings) and band backdrop via Ritzy Bee’s instagram feed

John and I have tried to keep all of this in mind throughout the planning process, and today, I wanted to offer a few tips to y’all. A few stories from the last several months are sprinkled in, as well!

1. Decide what projects are most important to you, and focus on them. My definition of “project” — and “DIY,” for that matter — is pretty broad. Not the crafty type? Then by all means, purchase from Etsy or leave it to your vendors! Even if you could care less about what your cake topper looks like, I know there’s something that matters to you, and I bet there’s a project tucked somewhere in there. Is showing your guests amazing hospitality your highest priority? Then collect a stash of you and your fiance’s favorite treats and make the best. welcome. bags. ever. Focused on the ceremony? Craft it with your officiant, or focus on writing personal vows. Love beautiful bouquets? Spend time searching for the prettiest ribbon.

Now for you crafty types who want to take it all on, my best advice is to edit. Sure, I can appreciate all sorts of real weddings and all sorts of clever ideas, but when it really comes down to it, there are very few details that are really a perfect fit for who John and I are and the type of celebration we’re planning. Be ruthless about what is a good fit and what is not, and which projects ultimately get added to your to do list.

Chalkboard menu by Simplesong Design (photo by Kate Headley) and poppers photo by Katie Stoops via Southern Weddings

2. Start as early as possible. We’re in the last few weeks before our wedding day, and those first heady months of engagement seem a long ways away. This tip is a reminder to me, as well, though there’s not much I can do about it now! I tried so hard to check projects off early — and did succeed in getting a few complete — but there’s only so much you can do without knowing all the details of your wedding day, or your guest count. That being said, try to do as much as possible as early as possible.

3. Set a schedule — and a cut-off date. Once you’ve figured out your tentative list of projects, group them in a tentative order — i.e. designing your ceremony programs will have to be near the end, but perhaps making table numbers could be closer to the beginning. Then, build each project into your schedule. Assign each a month. Unless you are SUPER disciplined, know that some projects will just not happen in the month they’re assigned to – I’m still working on projects I thought would be finished in July! And that’s where the second part comes in — set a cut-off date. I don’t care if it’s a month before your wedding or 24 hours before your wedding, but give yourself a little breathing room — and a little grace — to say, I’ve done all I can do, and now I’m going to enjoy it.

Wine bottle photo by Amy Arrington and flowers photo by Lisa Lefkowitz

4. Think ahead and be as efficient as possible. This goes for time AND money. When I’m planning a trip to JoAnn or Michael’s, I look at my project list and try to see if there are any upcoming project needs I can purchase for at the same time (helpful to avoid stopping at a craft store four times a week… not that that’s ever happened to me). Likewise, if I know I’ll be placing an order with an online retailer like Paper Presentation or UPrinting, I try to look ahead to see if there’s anything else I might need from them down the road. You can usually save on shipping that way (or qualify for free shipping!), and sometimes there are even discounts for placing an order over a certain amount.

5. If money is an issue, be realistic about the true cost of DIY. I know handmade items can sometimes look expensive (especially when you start thinking, I could do that!), but when you’re knee-deep in glitter, going on DIY hour three, and starting over on your fourteenth reception sign, that Etsy offering might start to look mighty reasonable. Yes, you can usually buy supplies for cheap, but you usually have to buy in bulk to get a good price. If you’re not the type of person to use the remaining five pounds of feathers after you’ve extracted the two you need for a hair flower, is that really money saved?

Rice toss packets from Martha Stewart Weddings and welcome bag photo by Jen Huang

6. Likewise, be realistic about your expectations — and taste level. Y’all have probably heard me say I have champagne taste on a beer budget, and I’m sure the same goes for many of you. We see beautiful photos every day, and it can be extremely frustrating to finish a project, and have it fall short of our expectations. If you’re going for a homemade look, this can work out wonderfully! If you’re going for a high-end look, though, be realistic about what you will be able to achieve with minimal skill. For example, I did the calligraphy on our invitation envelopes, but I went with a pro — Moya Minns — for our names on the invitation itself. I knew I would never be able to achieve the look I was after by myself, and that was a place where perfection really mattered to me. The envelopes? Eh, I was happy with what I was able to cobble together.

7. Know when to let go. Once upon a time I thought it would be a brilliant idea to make a crepe paper hair flower for each of the female guests at our wedding. Did this fit with the vibe we were going for? No, not really. Was I able to make a few beautiful hair flowers? Yes, absolutely. I even had a crafting night with a friend, and over two hours, we made about 15 flowers. At the end of our crafting session, though, I wasn’t even that excited. I realized that even though I could persevere and fol 45 more flowers, I didn’t really want to — and sometimes, that’s enough of a reason to stop. Luckily, I was able to repurpose the materials elsewhere!

Cocktail sign photo by Jose Villa and floral letter photo by Matt Blum

8. Accept help when possible. This is a tough one for me, y’all! I am a perfectionist when it comes to projects, and I am totally guilty of the “I’ll-just-do-it-myself-because-it-will-take-longer-to-explain-to-and-supervise-someone-else” mentality. But you know, people really do want to help, and in many cases, many hands really do make light work. If you break down your projects step by step, you’ll probably find that there are parts even non-crafty types can help with. Over the last few months, my Mom and John’s sister have cut ribbon (they were both very accurate!), and John himself has stuffed, licked, and stamped envelopes. I’m saving a few projects specifically to do with my family the week before our wedding that I know will go quick assembly-line style.

I hope these tips don’t come off as discouraging, because I am a HUGE advocate of DIY projects! Obviously — my list of projects for this wedding includes but is not limited to boutonnieres, our wedding website, our menu board, welcome bags, invitation calligraphy, our vows, our slideshow, reception desserts, our marriage certificate, our guest book, favors, ceremony programs, and about eight billion pieces of signage. I think DIY projects can make a wedding so personal and heartfelt and unique, and I absolutely encourage you to take a few on. Hopefully, with a little patience and planning, it will be a positive experience for everyone!

Now tell me: Would you consider yourself a DIY bride? What projects are you taking on for your wedding?

In case you missed a post…
The main characters | Where we’re getting married | I go dress shopping | We choose a photographer | I ponder bridesmaid style | Mini food! | The music | We’re renting a tent! | We discuss bouquets + boutonnieres | We send out our save the dates | I gather hair and makeup inspiration | We talk cake and sweets | I introduce you to our videographer | We create a registry | We buy a tuxedo | We style a reception | I choose accessories | We take engagement photos! | We plan our ceremony | We discuss ceremony music and readings | We firm up wedding day details | We send out invitations

Amy Arrington, Jose Villa, and Katie Stoops are fabulous members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
7 Comments
  1. avatar Sharon @ Red Poppy | Pink Peony reply

    Great advice! I’d call myself a semi-DIY bride. I DIY’d my cake topper, map/direction cards, programs, printed out coloring books for kids, put together all the escort cards and favors, had a photo guest book made, printed all the menus, etc. It’s fun and special to add a personal homemade touch, but you have to know when it’s too much!

  2. avatar Christina S. reply

    Love LOVE these words of advice. I am in the exact same boat, just over a month before my wedding, and I keep telling myself “There’s so much out there, you can do more!” I think there should be a point, maybe 2 months before the wedding, where you have to tell yourself “I know what I like, time to stop browsing and make it happen.” My vision hasn’t changed in the past few months anyways, so unless its something totally necessary (like the seating chart or programs you still need to design) then you should start putting your energy into bringing those projects to fruition. Following that thought, its time for me to get to work!

    • avatar Emily reply

      Best of luck with your final preparations, Christina!! I’m sure your projects will turn out beautifully!

  3. avatar Stephanie reply

    Just what I needed to read, Emily! I am currently waist-deep in DIY projects right now, and I keep having to be realistic about what I can do on my budget and time. I did give my sweet fiance ONE huge job, so that helps me out and gets him involved. So many people ask me what they can do to help, and like you I am a perfectionist so it is hard to accept their offer! I have small tasks that they can help with, but how do you suggest I make this “one hour project” into something to where they feel like they are making a huge difference?

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Stephanie! In my experience, people don’t necessarily need or want to feel like they’re making a huge difference, just that they did SOMETHING to help you out. Just choose the project carefully (so you can both be happy, not frustrated, with the process and outcome!), try to make the work fun if you’re doing it together (have music, snacks), and thank them profusely at the end :)

  4. avatar What You Need To Know About Wedding Planning | WeddingDates Blog | reply

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