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  • Celia Jenkins

My DIY Wedding

This year I got married. Yay! I know this blog has been long awaited by friends who want to know more about my special day, and all the crafty things I got up to while preparing for it. We had a fairly long engagement (2 years) and so I had plenty of time to make all the little bits and pieces. With the average wedding in Britain now costing around £27,000 (!!) we decided to try and aim for a much more modest affair, costing about a fifth of the national average. There are two main ways in which we achieved this – first, we had very few people at our wedding (mostly family members) and secondly, by hand-making a lot of things which couples usually splash out on. So in this blog, I'll be showcasing the things I handmade for the wedding, and giving you links to helpful places so you can hand-make them for your own special occasion.

Here are the items I made for the wedding:

  • My wedding dress

  • My bouquet

  • Wedding Favours

  • The wedding cake

  • Church decorations

  • Table decorations

  • Invitations / Order of Service / Thank You Cards

The Dress

The wedding dress is probably one of the most expensive parts of any wedding, or at least, the most expensive thing which has the least use as you'll almost certainly never wear it again. The decision for me to make the wedding dress was quite simple for me, because I have never wanted a white dress. Wedding dresses in other colours are often hard to come by, particularly if you have a certain design in mind.

So once I decided I'd be making the dress, I realised that I'm actually not all that experienced at sewing... doh! I'm much more of a knitter, but I thought that, in September, a knitted wedding dress wouldn't really be the best choice (although I did consider it, and Googled 'knitted wedding dress patterns'!) I'd done a few small sewing projects in the past, including one garment, but was by no means a pro with a sewing machine. As such, I speedily enrolled the help of my Mum in this project. She too is much more of a knitter than a sewer, but none the less we managed to pull it off.

First, to find the perfect pattern. Getting married in Sark (a dusty place with no cars) I knew a full-length skirt just wouldn't be a good idea, despite actually preferring long dresses. So bearing the terrain in mind, I was looking for a knee-length dress, with a modest sweetheart neckline and generous straps/capped sleeves. What I found was the cambie dress.

I love the cambie dress, and so does everyone else given the number of people who have made it and posted pictures of it online. It's probably one of Sewaholic's most popular patterns. The pattern comes in two choices of skirt – a-line or gathered – and it's amazing how much the look is altered by choosing a different skirt type. I went for the gathered skirt, and didn't include the pockets.

What I love about having used the cambie for a wedding dress is that, on the face of it, this pattern is so not a wedding dress pattern. The cutesy design, gathered skirt and pockets, make it seem so much more of a 'country girl' dress and would be well suited to plaid or gingham fabrics. However, change the fabric to something luxurious, and the dress is transformed – something for which people usually choose the a-line skirt as it looks much sleeker. So given the combination of this pattern with indulgent fabrics, the result was stunning.

For the main fabric, we worked in a champagne coloured silk which I bought at a silk market in Shanghai. We just so happened to be travelling through China a few months before the wedding, so I decided to wait until then and buy the fabric from an authentic market. Buying this much silk anywhere else would have cost a bomb, but direct from the wholesaler it only cost us about £30 for 3 meters. Aside from the silk, we had some good quality lining material, matching threads, and also ordered some cheap floral lace from Fabricland which matched the silk perfectly, and was only a few pounds per meter. All in all, material for the dress probably cost us less fan £50. Bargain!

I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make the dress, given that I'm no expert! I'll admit that my Mum put in far more work on it than I did, and that she also ran up a prototype in blue cotton first, just to try out the pattern. One of the hardest bits was cutting out the pattern, and then cutting out the material – always making sure that you're cutting out the fabric the right way around, with the grain of the fabric going the right way, etc. The gathering was quite difficult too, especially with the lace over the silk – trying to get it to all spread out equally around the dress without bunching took quite a bit of time! But the actual sewing together of it wasn't horrifically difficult, and while it is by no means a professional dress, I thought the end result was stunning. For the lace, we just cut out those parts of the dress again in the lace to lay over the top, leaving slightly bigger margins, and we lengthened the hem of the lace so that it hangs down lower than the silk. We also used some of the leftover silk to make a little bag which I used on the day. I'd heard that working with silk is really difficult, but I didn't find it problematic at all really. It was a bit slippery, but with pins in the right places that didn't cause any problems.

If you're considering making your own wedding dress and don't have much experience of sewing, my advice is to go for it!

Essential things you need are:

  1. A sewing-savvy friend to help you out (thanks Mum!)

  2. Plenty of time – the last thing you want to be doing is rushing it at the last minute. If you undertake this project, give yourself plenty of time to do it without stress, and to find a backup option if it all goes wrong!

  3. A patient and compromising attitude. You need to be patient to get the boring bits done first (like cutting it all out!) and no matter how experienced you are, sewing it together will take time. Also, you need to make compromises along the way and realise that it might not turn out exactly as you planned. If you are totally okay with that, go for it. But if you are a perfectionist, it might be more trouble than it's worth.

My Bouquet

I'd always wanted a bouquet of dried flowers at my wedding, the same as my own Mum had made for herself. Real flowers are beautiful but I wanted something I'd be able to keep and treasure forever – my Mum still has her bouquet, nearly 30 years later! Also, what with getting married on Sark I knew it would be difficult to get a fresh bouquet – if I'd wanted to make it myself, I'd probably have to do it in Guernsey and then the flowers would be a week old by the time of the wedding, so dried was the way to go. Much to the disappointment of my 9-year-old brother:

Ben: What do you want those DEAD flowers for?

Me: They aren't dead, they're dried.

Ben: Well I really think you should just put them in some water and then they'd be nice again.

Once again, I employed the help of my family on this project because I knew I wouldn't have enough time to do it myself. I only came back to the UK a few months before the wedding, so my family sourced and dried the flowers for me before I came home. I'm not very good at flower names, but I know we had a lot of statis in the bunch, and a few springs of lucky white heather and some fragrant lavender. The flowers were dried hanging upside down to get the heads pointing in the right direction, and we had quite a bundle to choose from so that I could weed out the ones that had gone too brittle, not dried properly or discoloured. I'd originally imagined a bouquet with fewer colours in it, but actually it was nice having a variety – the reds and oranges matched with the shoes I wore, and the delicate pinks complemented the colour of the dress.

I'd never made a bouquet before and just used my common sense really. I tried to arrange it with the heads facing outwards, and built up the bouquet shape until I was happy with it. I tied the stalks with string in two place and trimmed them so they were an equal length. With the leftover lace from the dress I cut a long ribbon which we then wrapped around the stalks (to make them prettier and to make it more comfortable to hold) and tied the ribbon in a knot with the ends trailing.

I was really pleased with the final result. The bouquet was surprisingly fragrant and though it's quite delicate I'm sure it will last a long time, if I'm careful with it! With some of the leftover flowers my mum made up some mini bouquets which we displayed on the table for our afternoon tea, and she knitted some little covers to slip over the jam jars we displayed them in, which looked awesome.

Wedding Favours

This was one of my favourite hand-made wedding things, and is certainly what took me the longest! People go nuts with their wedding favours these days – engraved champagne flutes, personalised jewellery, mini hand-picked bottles of bubbly... it's all a bit much! A traditional wedding favour would be a small box or bag filled with sweets, usually mints. As I knew we were having a small wedding party, I thought it would be fun to do something extra special for the wedding favours, a twist on the traditional, but without breaking the bank.

At the time, we were living in Japan next door to a kimono shop. The shop had a sale rail outside where they got rid of second hand kimono for 100 Yen each (about 70p in English money!) They were so cheap because Japanese people don't tend to like second hand things – they like things to be new and perfect, particularly clothes. There were some really nice fabrics there, and I'd been toying with the idea of getting some of these kimono for ages to cut up and re-purpose. So that's what I did – I gathered myself some second hand kimono (which, because I was his neighbour, the guy refused to charge me for), cut them up and made them into drawstring bags. With only 18 guests I could choose specific fabrics for certain people and make them really personal.

Each bag comprised of three fabrics – the main fabric, the lining, and the top strip which housed the drawstring. For the drawstring I used some cord which I picked up cheaply at the 100 Yen store. For our two younger guests I didn't just use kimono fabric – I went to a specialist fabric store which stocked fabrics in Japanese prints and other fun prints for children to get something they'd really like.

I did a bit of research and found a pattern I liked to make the bags from. I found a blog called The Creative Place which had a really great pattern with step-by-step photos to show me exactly how to make it. I cut out the pattern onto some tracing paper and then just pinned it to the fabric to cut it all out. One of the hardest parts of this project was taking the kimonos apart, laying them out to find good sections of fabric, and cutting it all out – particularly because the fabric used is often quite thick and heavy!

Pinning it together also took quite a while – the sewing was probably the quickest part, even without a sewing machine! My machine had been playing up for a while so I did it all by hand. In total, making the 18 drawstring bags took me a year – I finished the last one just weeks before the wedding. Including all the time for cutting out fabric and putting it together, each bag took me around 6 – 10 hours. It was quite a project! But totally worth it in the end.

Inside the bags, there were two gifts. First, we'd given everyone a luggage tag / travel card case, to reflect the travelling nature of our relationship, and also because the guests had travelled to Sark for the wedding. Secondly, we went traditional and put a little bag of sweeties in there, but with a difference. As we'd met in China, lived in Japan, and had our roots both in the UK and in Sweden, and we just so happened to be visiting all of those places in the months before our wedding, we decided to get a variety of wedding candy from all of these places. The sweetie bags contained a variety of sweets from China, Japan, Sweden and Guernsey, and I'm certain that not all of the guests liked all of the sweets, but we thought it would be fun and something a bit different.

The Wedding Cake

I've always been into baking and knew I would make my own wedding cake, but I didn't decide what kind of cake I'd make until about a year before the wedding. The idea came to me to make a honey cake – I was probably inspired to try this flavour because I knew I wanted to decorate the cake with bees, and so honey seemed like a natural flavour choice. I found two recipes, one for 'honey cake' by the chef James Martin, and one on the BBC Good Food website for 'Devonshire honey cake'.

Using these two recipes as guidelines I worked out a recipe which would have the right measurements to make a small, two-tier wedding cake.

The recipe sure uses a lot of honey! First of all, there is a lot of honey in the cake itself. Then when it came to decorating and icing the cake, I cut the two tiers in half and drizzled pure honey into each half. The honey soaked down into the cake and then I filled each cake with lemon butter-cream.

I'd originally thought that I'd put the lemon flavouring into the ready-roll icing to decorate the cake, but when I tried this (I trialled the recipe FOUR times over the summer – we were so sick of cake by September!) the icing was a bit too sticky so I decided to just put the lemon into the butter-cream.

One of my trial cakes in the summer

In Guernsey there is a shop called Cake Decor where I went to get a lot of my specialist ingredients. They had so many colours of ready-roll icing, I had no idea you could get it in so many colours! For the main cake icing, I used a sparkly white/ivory colour and rolled streaks of yellow into it for a splash of colour. For the decorations (bees and flowers) I used two tones of yellow icing, black and white, and fixed them to the cake using a dab of butter-cream. I also couldn't resist buying some of the ready-made little flower decorations from the Cake Decor shop. They also had the other bits and bobs I needed, like the plastic support sticks which I speared through the bottom cake to sit the smaller one on top of, to help support the weight of it. I also used some yellow ribbon to go around the base of each tier.

So after trying the cake four times over the summer, when I made the real cake it was a bit different because I was using a different oven, which also so happened to be a gas oven – something I've never used before! So it was a little hair-raising when I actually came to making the cake, but I think it turned out ok. In my opinion, it wasn't the best cake I'd made all summer, but everyone else said they thought it was the best one so I guess it all went fine! Either that or they were just being nice because, you know, you have to be nice to a bride on her wedding day. The base of the lower tier got a little burnt, but we had SO MANY other cakes and things on the table that, at the afternoon tea, we actually only ate the first tier of the cake so I didn't need to inflict the burnt bottom on any of my guests.

Church Decorations

We didn't want fresh flowers for the church decorations – as I mentioned before, they'd be difficult to get over to Sark, and then what would we do with them afterwards?

So instead I decided on some simple decorations I could make myself and then use again in the future. They took quite a while to make but were pretty simple.


I got some polystyrene balls in various sizes and painted them brown – it took about four coats to get them covered. To dry them, I stuck pins into them and suspended them from a clothes horse so they could dry without touching anything.

I used a paper punch in two sizes to cut out little flowers in brown cardboard / paper.

Pairing up a smaller one on top of a bigger one, I pinned the two flowers onto the ball using a pin with a bead head in shiny matching colours. Finally, I pinned some ribbon to the balls so I could tie them to things.

They're sort of like Christmas baubles, but brown and floral! I chose the colour as it sort of went with the dress, though of course in a much darker shade. We

hung them from the end of the pews in the church, and then used them again later to decorate the room where we had our evening meal.

Table Decorations

I had a number of ideas for simple table decorations which I whittled down to two – tissue paper flowers and origami flowers. The tissue paper flowers I made using some pre-cut sets I bought from Daiso in Japan – the tissue paper was cut into squares which you layered up, folded into fans and then splayed out into petals. There are loads of tutorials on Youtube for making these.

I also wanted to make some kusudama origami flowers, but basically I ran out of time. I made one or two as an example, and then set my family to the task while I went to the wedding rehearsal. They turned out really well, and while I think I could have come up with some flashier decorations if I'd put a bit more effort into it, by this time in the day (the evening meal) I was pretty tired and wasn't really too bothered if the decorations looked a bit shabby! We'd had gorgeous decorations at the afternoon tea party (lots of little bits and pieces my Mum had made and knitted) so for the evening, the decorations were just for a bit of fun really.

Invitations / Order of Service / Thank You Cards

Thank you cards I made

We saved a fair bit of money on our wedding by making all the papery things ourselves. For the wedding invitations, I used the website Greetings Island to find a template I liked which I could customize myself and print out. I stuck these to the back of a piece of card, on which I'd painted a design on the other side and used some fancy stickers to finish them off. The biggest cost was posting them from Japan, and even that was pretty reasonable! For the order of service (to let the guests know the run-down during the service) I again found an online template which I edited myself, and bought some shiny card to print them onto, and a friend kindly let me use their printer to do it. The shiny quality of the card was probably a mistake – it would have been much easier to print onto regular card – but it was just for a bit of fun and I think they turned out quite nicely. Finally, the thank you cards I hand painted too, so all in all the papery things cost us next to nothing.

Other Ways we Saved Money

One thing that brides tend to spend a fair whack on is their hair and make-up. I don't like wearing a lot of heavy make-up, and my hair is pretty difficult to style because it just undoes itself before the day is out, so why waste money on it? Instead, I went to Boots for a make-up consultation (which is free) where they recommended make-up that was colour matched to my skin. I bought fancy foundation and matching extras from the No.7 range, and a few other bits and pieces like new eye shadows. As I don't usually spend much on make-up, even this felt a bit extravagant to me! On the day I got my sister to do my make-up for me – she's much better at those girly things, and we'd had fun trying it out the day before.

I also got my sister to do my hair for me (lucky her). I'd sent her a few pictures of the sort of thing I was looking for, and we both tried out some styles from Youtube tutorials. For decorations, I bought some bee hairpins on crafting website Etsy, and a few metal flower pins from an accessory shop in Bath. My sister had also picked up some bits and pieces so we just sorted through all our little bits and picked what we liked. In the end, on all my make-up and hair accessories, as well as a few extra treats like special hair conditioner and face masks, I spent less than £100, with most things having months (or years) of use in them rather than just one day.

What We Splashed Out On

Naturally there were a few things where we decided to bite the bullet and pay for a professional service. We ummed and ahhed about having a professional photographer and in the end we decided to go for it. If friends and family were the only ones taking photos then I don't think they'd have enjoyed the day so much, and it was actually one of our favourite parts of the day when the two of us had a bit of time alone with the photographer. Our local photographer was fantastic – she was really relaxed on the day (which is great when you are having the most nerve-wracking day of your life!) and all our guests said she was really friendly. I know some other newly-weds who have paid extortionate rates for their photographers, but ours was very reasonable indeed and though I count this as one of our 'splashing out' expenses, it was totally worth it.

We also splashed out on having a horse and carriage to take us to the church, and then for photographs afterwards. This was my special request – I'd always dreamt of having a horse drawn carriage to take me to our wedding. It was, in my opinion, pretty bloomin' expensive! But it was something I really wanted so we decided to go for it, and sitting in the carriage after the wedding, being driven around with everyone wishing us well, was one of the most relaxing, fun parts of the day.

The biggest expense was the evening meal. This was something that we couldn't really do without, and I think we certainly got value for money. We chose the restaurant specifically for the seafood menu, and we designed our party menu from scratch incorporating a seafood platter with lobsters as well as various vol-au-vent. Sometimes, you've just got to splash out.

I think that having a DIY wedding is lots of fun. It can be pretty stressful, and will demonstrate the reason why people fork out for wedding planners, but doing it yourself is the best way to get exactly what you want and for the day to be personal to the couple. I think that if you've invested time and energy (rather than just money) into your special day then it makes it much more memorable. If you have the time and a crafty inclination, a DIY wedding is a great project. However, doing it on the cheap can become a bit of an obsession, and sometimes you need to weigh things up and say 'lets just treat ourselves to this'. At the end of the day, your wedding day is a once in a lifetime event, and while it's important not to go mad splashing cash, there are always a few little things that are worth the cost. It's all about getting the balance right.

Thanks again to all my friends and family who attended the wedding, who helped with the preparation, and who have been so supportive and complimentary about my crafting efforts! It was a wonderful day and I wouldn't have changed a thing. I hope you've enjoyed reading all about it!

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