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How to Host a DIY Wedding

Tags: Weddings, DIY Weddings, Vintage Gowns, Money Saving Weddings, Sheila Julson,

Sheila JulsonFor much of the past two months, my time has been occupied with ironing out the final details of my wedding. On June 28, I married Doug, the man I fell in love with nearly three years ago.

While we’ve each had long-term relationships, it’s the first marriage for both of us. Being in our 40s, we are well past the typical reception with rented limos and DJs spinning standard wedding tunes like “Y.M.C.A.,” but we still wanted a small yet classy party. With the wedding season upon us, here are a few things we did to put a unique spin on our nuptial while staying debt-free.

Off-the-beaten-path venues typically not used for big functions such as weddings can be economical, and guests will remember the unique space. We chose the historic Marian Center for Nonprofits in Milwaukee, a former Catholic high school that now serves as a non-denominational center for artists, writers and nonprofit organizations. The building, located on picturesque grounds across the road from Lake Michigan, has a social room with tables and chairs (saving us money from having to rent these items), as well as a small chapel. Public venues such as this, or park pavilions, community centers, and gardens can be great bargains compared to hotels or banquet centers.

A view of the reception hall, with our Mason jar centerpieces and hand-sewn table runners. 

Doug and I both enjoy cooking, but we lacked ambition to prepare food for 60-plus people. We decided on an afternoon hors d’oeuvres reception and hired Beans & Barley, a local restaurant and store specializing in healthy and vegetarian food, to cater the reception. A cocktail sandwich assortment, paired with local vegetables, Wisconsin artisan cheeses, and other appetizer trays provided small-bite variety for our guests at a very reasonable cost.

Online research showed that renting glassware could get pricey. In the months leading up to our wedding, I picked up funky mismatched glasses from rummage sales, antique shops and thrift stores. We set the glasses on display near the bar area with a sign encouraging guests to chose a glass for their afternoon drink and then to take it home as a souvenir; more useful than tulle baggies of butter mints, plus less to clean up after the reception.

I’m fortunate that my sister, Nancy, is an artist. She designed and printed beautiful invitations and programs on card stock and materials available at paper stores and online. Her boyfriend, Mike, helped design and assemble graphics and signage.

Once we had the teal and chartreuse color scheme down, I gradually purchased fabric to make table runners. I chose a couple of different prints with the main wedding colors. The runners made great accents for the wooden tables that came with the venue, and I’m currently in the process of repurposing the runners into curtains for the kitchen and for the living room.

I found an ivory lace vintage dress on The only problem was that the measurements for the bust were a little small. OK, a lot small. But it came with a matching bolero jacket that wasn’t my style. Hmm ... For under $100, I ordered the dress anyway. Instead of taking the whole garment apart at the seams in standard tailor fashion, I removed the zipper from the back and cut a V-shaped panel of fabric from the bolero jacket. I sewed in the panel where the zipper was and stitched loops up each side of the V-panel. I added cording to give the gown a corset look. Most guests thought the dress came that way, but I did end up bragging on my creativity to the people who commented on the design.

Katherine, my friend and editor for a local paper I write for, lent to me blue Mason jars once used by her grandmother. They made great vases for the table centerpieces. We used wild white daisies harvested from a nearby field (they were just sitting there, unused and unappreciated). Baby’s breath made dainty accents, and we bought lilies and carnations from a grocery store to use for the bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages. My mother Kathy, my aunt Pat, cousin Tayler, and our family friend Gena who also served as our officiant, all got to work assembling the floral arrangements.

Doug, being a musician, already had speakers and a public address system. We complied an MP3 music mix of jazz and other favorites to play in the background. Doug’s sister, Cindy, made our cake, and Dennis and Leslie, Doug’s brother and sister-in-law, snapped pics with their fancy camera.

We received many compliments on the personality of the wedding, with especially high marks on the venue and the food. They said it was a wedding they’ll remember.

And so will Doug and I.

The happy couple, along with Nancy, the maid of honor, and Christopher, the best man.
7/19/2014 10:31:34 PM

Nebraska Dave, thank you for the kind wedding wishes! Things are slowly getting back to normal (if there is such a thing!) after our Big Day. It sounds like your wedding was lovely, too, and thank you for sharing the story. I'm sorry to hear that your wife is no longer with you, but the memories of your years together will always be. - Sheila

7/11/2014 8:49:29 AM

Sheila, the simple things in life can be the best, don't you think? My second marriage was a DIY wedding. Gone were the days when toasters and coffee pots were needed. Most of the work was accomplished by my mother, who was a great seamstress, making the dresses, my fiancé and her friend who made the flowers, and all the grandmas that provided the potluck food for the reception. The cake was provided as a wedding present. The whole wedding had a cost of $500.00 which included the fireman's union hall rental. Yeah, well, that was way back in 1978 so things might just cost a little bit more today. We had 23 years of marriage before her life long health issues caught up with her. It still is a wonderful memory even though she's been gone for nearly 13 years. My hopes and prayers are that you and Doug would grow very old still enjoying and loving each other. Congratulations on your marriage. ***** Have a great life enjoying each other's company.