DIY Wedding: The Week Before (And Lessons Learned)

The "prep crew" enjoying my dad's AMAZING dinner!

As far as weddings go, I’m pretty sure ours was as do-it-yourself as you can get.   I’ve had a few weeks now to think about how it all turned out, so before I post the official photos, I thought I’d share with you how we pulled it off (and some lessons learned). Maybe our experience will help you decide to (or not to) take on your own wedding!

Chopping the kale for one of our soups. Even the simplest recipes are daunting when they have to serve 150 people!

We rented a home for the week and invited friends and family to stay and help prep for the 5 days leading up to the big day.   To save money, we assigned one meal to each person to cook for the group.   This was my favorite part of the week because everyone made such delicious food and it kept the kitchen stress-free.

Left: Fluffing the poms that we had pre-folded months before was a big project early in the week. Right: My mom makes 75 cups of her famous potato salad.

Early in the week, we did the grocery shopping, accepted the early rentals, and finished any projects that didn’t need to be last minute.  Later in the week, we arranged flowers, freaked out about the possibility of rain, baked the cakes, cooked and packaged the picnic sides, freaked out some more, and set up our only rain cover, a huge white pop-up tent.

We attached table number paddles to the pickle favors and pre-alphabetized them in boxes.

It was raining off and on the whole week and pretty steadily the night before our wedding.  Jeff and I cried A LOT that night and into the next morning.   At 6am on our wedding day, we were standing alone outside trying to figure out what to do and which plan to proceed with, still crying about the weather and our seemingly consistent bad luck.  Jeff looked up at the sky and said, “SERIOUSLY?!  Please.  Please.  Just not today.”  Suddenly, the sun peeked out and it didn’t rain a drop all day.

If you're making your own cake, you'll need a rental fridge to store it in...even small wedding cakes take up a lot of room!

DIY Wedding Lessons

Lesson 1: Prep absolutely EVERYTHING you can before the week leading up to your wedding.  We spread out our projects over about 7 months to save headaches and most importantly, money!  If you are only spending 50 bucks here and there to tackle gift bags or favors or your cake decorations, the final cost of your wedding won’t sting so much.

Jeff Hinchee beautifully lettering the chalkboards for the food and drink tables.

Lesson 2: Have a notebook with a plan.  A REAL plan.  I typed out every project I could think of for the week and then divided it between the days.  I had layout charts for the tables, the food and the decorations.  When the last minute details are coming together, you’ll be getting ready, so your notebook should be a solid replacement for yourself.

My dad baking the cakes. He had to use a roller extender to keep the oven door shut to maintain a consistent temperature!

Lesson 3: Things will go wrong, no matter what, so be ready to laugh about it or to just let it go.  We had rain all week, humidity that felt like a jungle, a sagging cake, no phone or wifi, and mosquito bites all over our bodies and faces…just to name a few!

Left: That's me, quickly teaching myself how to make bouquets! Right: We used rubberbands to hold the bouquets together and then covered them simply with ticking and grosgrain ribbon.

Lesson 4: If you are doing your own food, think through every minute detail months beforehand.  Where are you storing the ingredients?  We rented two refrigerators for ours.  How will you cook it all?  We brought large pots and huge food containers to store in it after it was made.  Who will set it up?  We assigned a tray per person in our bridal party and had two family members restock the food on the buffet as people packed their lunch.  How will you keep things cold or hot once they are out?  We rented fill and chill tables and filled them with ice to rest our sandwich trays on top.  We loved them!

Left: We chose garden roses as a cheaper alternative to peonies and used dusty miller as our greenery. Right: The groom works on the picnic basket centerpieces.

Lesson 5: If you have the time, flower arranging isn’t as tough as I expected!  We ordered bulk flowers that were delivered to the house 3 days before and we arranged them the morning before the wedding day.  Do a little YouTube browsing for tips on how to deal with your particular flowers.  We used wet floral foam so that all we really had to do was cut the stems and stick them in.  The bouquets held up well resting in large drinking glasses until the next day and the boutonnieres were stored on a tray in the fridge.

We really didn't want to have a tent at all for our wedding, but we rented one last minute just in case!

Lesson 6: A LOT has to happen the morning of your wedding.  If you’re going full-on DIY, you probably won’t be primping or getting your nails done or even sleeping past 6am.  Definitely think through the reality of putting on a show and being the star of it in the same day!

Left: A DIY bride on her wedding day. Please note: She looks pretty terrible and is working hard, not sitting on a lily pad. Right: Taking a quick nap while setting the pillows out on the picnic blankets!

Lesson 7: Is it really worth the money saved?  Yes.  We have heard from other couples that a reasonable catering package is anywhere from $100-125 a head.  This usually includes booze, tables, linens, staff, etc.  This is on top of your music, location, dress, suit, rings, officiant and your own personal touches.  Our food and rentals came out at about $60 a head.  It was certainly a lot more work, but I still wouldn’t have traded that time for the debt.

If you set up your tables the night before, be sure to leave time in the morning for drying them off.

Lesson 8: Clothing.  It really does save a lot of money to make your own dress if you can.  My dress looked like thousands of dollars, but only cost me $350 in fabric.  The bridesmaids and groomswomen paid me for their fabric (about $60 a person) and I patterned a simple cotton dress that was easy to make in a variety of sizes.   At 60 bucks, it won’t matter if they never wear it again!

For the few guest tables we had, we rented white tablecloths and made runners that coordinated with the picnic blankets.

Lesson 9: Makeup and hair.  If you can’t afford to hire someone to do these two things for you, definitely do some research and practice a couple of times beforehand if you’re not a professional.  I learned a lot from these YouTube ladies and wrote down my makeup steps so I could just be on auto-pilot on the day.  Trust me- you’ll want to be wearing much heavier makeup than usual and tailored specifically for photography.

If you lay plastic down under your picnic blankets, you'll have to nail them into the ground or your guests will slide down the hill!

Lesson 9: The aftermath.  HIRE A CLEANING CREW.  Trust me when I say that you won’t want to wake up the day after your wedding to the mess that was created the night before.  It took us, 4 people, a full day and a half to clean everything up!

This is proof that you'll really want that cleaning crew the next morning!

I hope this helps any of you DIY-ers planning your wedding, and feel free to post any specific questions in the comments.  We’ll be selling a lot of stuff from our picnic wedding soon and stay tuned for the big reveal of the day just as soon as we get all of the official photos ready!

26 Comments

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26 responses to “DIY Wedding: The Week Before (And Lessons Learned)

  1. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO inspiring. Amazing. Great tips that even a planner finds useful! ; )

  2. melissa

    Wow! you did a grat job! I’m DIY’ing all of the decorations for our wedding next May. My family talked me out of doing the food though…not worth the stress because it has to be done last minute. I’m still gunnin’ to do the flowers myself…its easier than it looks. Did you DIY your invites? How did you do it and would you recommnd another bride (with limited artitic ability) also DIY the invites?

  3. Julia

    Love your DIY wedding, you REALLY did do everything yourself! While I am not that adventurous/crafty, I am planning on doing my own flowers. Where did you order the cabbage roses? I am planning on a mix of cabbage and peony. Thanks!
    Julia

    • We ordered from here: http://www.fiftyflowers.com/
      and they were delivered two days before our wedding. We trimmed the ends and popped them into buckets with water and floral food over night and then arranged them the next day. They looked a little sad when they arrived, but by the wedding day, they were happy and open and gorgeous!

  4. Saw your wedding on Ruffled today. BEAUTIFUL! Do you still have the names of the garden roses you ordered from fiftyflowers? They bloomed so big and pretty for you but they don’t seem to look like that on the site. Thanks!

  5. Thank you sooooooooo much! Now I hope I can be brave enough to tackle the flowers on my own. Wishing you two much happiness!

    • Thanks SO much- YOU TOO!! And good luck with the flowers, but you won’t really need it, I promise. It’s MUCH easier than you think it’ll be…and if all else fails, you can always just go buy daisies at the grocery store right before the wedding!!! ;-)

  6. OMG! I wish I could have been half as organised as you! our wedding was also totally DIY yep I made my dress, it was at my new in-laws place we collected all the seats, plates, glasses etc ourselves and I know despite my having a million spreadsheets and publications describing how everything was supposed to be I still wished for another me to explain things and run around crazily doing last minute projects! we ran out of time for so many things but at the end of the day everything worked out well and of course we are married so that’s the most important thing! :)

    • Exactly! It’s really hard to remember when you’re running around and worrying, that you’ll be married at the end of the day and that everyone will have a blast no matter what it looks like! I wish I had someone following me around all day telling me THAT! ;-)

  7. Christina

    Saw your photos on Ruffled today…looks like an amazing wedding!! I am currently planning a diy wedding for next August…and am so impressed when I see the creativity that other brides have….thanks for the inspiration!

    Christina

  8. Ginger

    This was the most helpful blog I have read so far. I want to do my own flowers, but was worried about doing them too far in advance. It sounds like you didn’t have any trouble though, so I am feeling more confident.

    • Awesome! I’m so happy to help- and if you have any questions in the future- feel free to ask in the comments. The florists we consulted suggested doing all of the arranging about 24 hours in advance as long as there was a cool place to store them away from the elements, and before we even started the arranging, they really needed a full 24 hours to soak up water and perk up a bit. Honestly though, everyone that took home our arrangements said they looked great for DAYS after, so you might even be able to do it a day earlier as long as they’re in water and floral food! Good Luck and Congrats!!

  9. Pingback: New York Picnic Wedding | GroomTurn.com

  10. WOW! This makes me want to get married all over again – so beautiful!

  11. Oh my. I wish I could re-do my wedding. It would be wonderful to be half as creative as you! I shared some photos and tips from your post and from ruffled on my blog today! I hope you don’t mind! It’s just too cute not to share!

    http://www.theproperpinwheel.com

    Love everything about this!

  12. Samantha

    This is exactly what we are doing for my wedding!!! So excited to have discovered your blog from Ruffledblog.com

  13. C.René

    Congratulations on a stunning wedding! Your dress is incredible. It is detailed and structured and nothing like most home-sewn dresses you see. You are just a vision in your photos.

    While I didn’t decide to make my first sewing adventure my wedding dress, we are happily DIY-ing a lot of the wedding. Like so many others, my one concern is the flowers. I’m really encouraged that you found them so easy, and that it might be possible to do them a few days ahead. Can I ask how many roses, billy balls and greenery you used for all of your centerpieces? What did you use for your filler greenery? I have no idea what the fuzzy greenery is called, but it’s so soft and beautiful and I’m not sure where to get it. Was that also from fiftyflowers? This is pretty much exactly what I’m dreaming up, but can’t afford unless I DIY – I’m happy to know that it wasn’t impossible.

    • Thanks so much!
      The flowers were definitely scary, but turned out to be really easy in the end. We used about 6 cabbage roses (2 of each color), 9-10 billy balls, 3 sprays of white bouvardia and about 1/2 a bunch of Dusty Miller PER centerpiece. The Dusty Miller was also from fiftyflowers, and it took a lot of it to really fill in around the roses. Obviously, if you can afford more of the flowers, you’d need less of the greenery! We ordered about 10% more flowers than we needed in case some of them weren’t looking so hot or if the stems broke, etc. I hope this helps and Good Luck!

  14. Heidi

    I am planning something similar for my wedding on a beach here in northern california and was wondering how you many guests you had at each ‘blanket’ table?

    Thanks!

    • We had about 6 adults per blanket, but varied it a little based on what made sense for each grouping. One blanket had 6 adults and 3 kids and they had plenty of room to sprawl out!

  15. Raqui

    I am curious to know more about the renting of the house!
    I am considering this myself. Did you tell them that you were using it for a wedding and they were totally cool with that?

    • Hi! Yes, we did tell them what we wanted to use it for and in this case, they had hosted another wedding there previously, but for some of the houses we looked at, they weren’t as keen on the idea. I suggest being honest from the get go because you may need to rent toilets, large refrigerators, and have an extra large trash pick up after. Those things aren’t easy to hide! Some people will be game for it and have rules about the use of the house during the event (we closed off the house during the whole wedding), and some may have you carry event insurance just in case. Congratulations and I’m happy to answer any other questions if you have them!

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