Offline, D.I.Y. Weddings Aren’t So Picture Perfect


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Tom Bloom

For those couples who like to exhibit their inner Michelangelo or Martha Stewart, weddings have become festivals of do-it-yourself creativity. But in the days leading up to the event, a couple’s desire for those artisanal touches can come at a cost in lost hours and increased anxiety.

Why does a fork rent for 57 cents a night? Do folding chairs work for hoisting the bride and groom during the hora? (No.) How do you scrub pigeon droppings from a brick aisle?

I worried about all this and more as I prepared for my daughter’s wedding. But figuring out the answers was nothing compared with what my daughter, Rachel Wood, an international health analyst at the Health and Human Services Department by day, was doing evenings and weekends at her Washington apartment.

In the months before the ceremony, she was designing a wedding website, invitations, programs, menus, table banners and (less arduously) signature drinks. A few days before her wedding, she spent hours building a seating chart imposed on a world map, an idea she lifted from, where else, Pinterest, the do-it-yourself mother ship. Besides putting her personal stamp on her wedding, all of her crafting saved us an estimated $10,000.

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While some make their own food and vows, most confine their D.I.Y. skills to labor-intensive peripherals. On Pinterest, the more popular of these items are glitter tea lights, wax-paper lanterns, tissue-paper pompoms, Jenga guest books and felt peonies. And how many hours might those projects require for completion? If you have to ask, you probably don’t have enough time.

Buzzfeed (not necessarily helpfully) offers 36 ways to save the date, including paper cutouts, 3-D coded messages, movie posters, paper airplanes and temporary tattoos. Whatever you do, someone else is doing more. And doing it better.

“Pinterest sent me over the edge,” said Dara Matthews, who is studying to be a social worker. She married Jeremy Sklarsky, a computer coder, a year ago in the Hudson Valley. “It made me crazy. While it helped inspire some creative ideas, it also heightened my inferiority complex.”

Couples can acquire skills by taking wedding tutorials on woodworking, calligraphy, mixology and succulent terrariums. It helps if a bride and groom can wield a hot-glue gun, and value their leisure time at close to zero.

Ms. Matthews and Mr. Sklarsky gave up bike rides and beach visits to tint Mason jars (fun), tie-dye table runners (not fun) and make old 45 r.p.m. records into table numbers.

“D.I.Y. took more time and effort than we planned, and friends and family ended up helping out more than they anticipated,” Ms. Matthews said. “The ‘yourself’ in D.I.Y. means you and everyone you know who can help get it done. But everything turned out great.”

A 2014 survey of 15,000 couples conducted by the wedding-media company the Knot found that 87 percent had one or more D.I.Y. items, said Jamie Miles, managing editor of theknot.com.

As the cost of weddings rise, the number of couples turning to D.I.Y. is growing, said Darcy Miller Nussbaum, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings. There is an added benefit, she said: A couple can “make their wedding their own.”

Some go beyond Pinterest, building something uniquely theirs. Tom Kukla, an actuary, channeled his artistic skills in the months before his wedding to Lauren Cross, who works in children’s publishing. He carved two red-eyed wooden loons, the state bird, for the cake for the ceremony on Bay Lake, Minn.

Sculpture may not be in the do-it-yourself wheelhouse of every bride or groom. Michelle Edgemont, a Brooklyn-based wedding designer, recommends couples not try learning a new skill. Better, she said, to stick to something they already know.

Lindsay Scola, the director of external affairs for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office of media and entertainment and a former advance woman for President Obama, knows how to organize. For the 2013 wedding of her sister, Mallory Selzo, a biomedical engineer at Siemens Medical, Ms. Scola divided friends and family into teams and handed out jobs.

Dr. Selzo designed her own ketubah (the traditional Jewish marriage contract), table flags, seat assignments and signage. Teams built a lace and PVC-pipe wedding canopy and cut pink tissue paper to make biodegradable confetti. D.I.Y. saved them money and had the unanticipated benefit of bonding family and friends, Ms. Scola said, “even if my mother would now like Pinterest removed from the Internet.”

The D.I.Y. movement is part of the larger personalization of all things. Ann Swidler, a University of California, Berkeley sociology professor and one of the authors of the book “Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life,” suggests that older forms of status, like knowledge of opera or Renaissance paintings, have lost their cachet, while new ones, “based on asserting one’s uniqueness and creativity,” are emerging.

Some people, like Kameron Kitajima-Kimbrel, a community manager at Google, and Sam Kitajima-Kimbrel, a software developer with Twilio, spent a year preparing to make their event memorable. The two created a classic video-game wedding with Perler-bead video game characters and Super Mario Wiki’s Piranha Plant, and party favors out of succulents and Mason jars.

A relative made a Mario Bros. three-tiered cake to represent the overworld, underworld and underwater. In a two-day marathon, the couple and their family made 400 macarons of chocolate or green tea.

“I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone,” Sam Kitajima-Kimbrel said. But he said they accomplished their objective: “We wanted to make sure that our personality and voice really came through in our work.”

My daughter and I wanted that, too. Friends and family who are professional photographers and videographers recorded Rachel’s wedding, which was held overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Art Agnos, a former mayor of San Francisco who is a friend, performed the ceremony. Guests danced to Diego’s Umbrella, a gypsy rock band whose wild drummer, Jake Wood, is my son and Rachel’s brother.

For the six months leading up to the wedding, my daughter said, “I was either occupied crafting things or preoccupied thinking I should be.”

After being together for 10 years, Lia Bleichfeld and Piper Kristensen married in August at the groom’s family home in Woodstock, Vt. The groom and his father and friends carted an old maple stump from the forest back to their home, where they hollowed it out with a chain saw, transforming the base into an outdoor beer and cider tap.

Guests were invited to arrive days before the wedding. “We had friends there for a whole week, cooking and prepping,” Ms. Bleichfeld said. Those that had salad duty “did not imagine they would be rolling up their sleeves and putting their arms elbow deep into two feet of quinoa,” she said, recalling them mixing in tomatoes, olives, feta, cucumber, parsley and red onion for the salad. “I think our guests felt they earned the celebration in the end.”

My daughter and her husband, Andrew Rakestraw, a negotiator for international climate change at the State Department, had been together for almost eight years. Because, like those of many other couples, their lives were long intertwined, she said the wedding “became less a coming together and more a celebration of who we are.”

“Your rational mind goes out the window,” she said. “Everyone says love isn’t rational. Maybe planning a wedding isn’t, either.”

Read more: How to Wear Those Barely There Wedding Dresses

For Millennial Wedding Guests, Behaving Badly Falls Out of Favor

The Party’s Over … Over My Budget, That Is



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