Friday, August 31, 2007

Cake Test

Our cake baker has finally returned one of my messages and now I am officially on my own for my wedding cake. Strangely, I feel relieved. I won't be stuck with a cake that I haven't seen before the wedding and I won't hurt my baker's feelings if I show up with a backup cake. She's a friend and having a tough time, so instead of being irritated I have nothing but sympathy for what she is going through.

Anyhow, full speed ahead!

You know what I learned this week? Icing things is hard. Actually, the spreading of the icing on the cake isn't difficult, but getting it to look professional is really, really hard. The little perfectionist demon on my left shoulder told me that a cake that looked home made would never work. The resident of my right shoulder gave up and moved out a few months after I got engaged, so it was silent.

With a default victory for the demon I decided to blow some more money on pre-made fondant. Despite my misgivings, it is surprisingly easy to work with and looks amazing with just a little effort. I only hope that it scales up well for the larger layers.

I glued our toppers on with just a little bit of icing.

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posted by Alison 8/31/2007 11:13:00 AM splink

Friday, August 24, 2007

My $100 Wedding Dress

Mr. Lollipop, I probably don't need to tell you that you should wait to read this one until after the wedding.

I bought my dress almost exactly a year ago today. I wasn't supposed to buy my dress when I did; I had only been engaged for a month. I was planning on a long, slow fight trying on dozens and dozens of dresses until I drowned in a pool lace and beads and tiny, fabric-covered buttons. We took a trip to the local David's Bridal store because it was convenient and would be a good place to establish a baseline before moving on to more expensive stores. We wanted to know how I looked in a strapless vs. a v-neck dress, or an A-line vs. ball gown, etc.

I find David's to be a hit or miss place. The staff can either be personable or grumpy and the dresses can be poorly made with cheap materials or pass for a much more expensive gown. It all depends on the store and the timing. Somehow we managed to get both right.

I went to the store in Robinson Township that day with just my mom and one of my bridesmaids. Through a stroke of luck we managed to hit the $100 dress sale. I tried on my first two gowns and both were not quite right. It turns out that both v-neck and strapless dresses make me look like a space alien.

The third dress was a little different. It was more conservatively and elegantly styled than most of the dresses in the store and was made with higher quality fabric. It was part of one of the store's premium lines, but it was marked down as a discontinued dress and carried a price tag of only $100. Magically, it fit and was free of stains or flaws. Bingo.

I tried on a few more dresses, but none measured up. I bought my dress off of the rack and took it home that day. My mom paid for it reasoning that she could sell our find on eBay if we ran across something better.

So, I went to other shops and tried on other gowns and looked at every wedding dress picture on the Knot, but I couldn't find anything I liked that wasn't grossly over-budget, like this, for example.

It was a relief to be under-budget in one area of the wedding; it meant that we could forward the surplus toward a nicer reception while remaining debt-free.

Once a month I take out the dress and put it on and I'm happy with what I see in the mirror. This month was the last time I would put it on before the wedding, so I took a few pictures.

Somehow I look completely different on camera than I do in a mirror, and unfortunately I noticed that the waistline beading doesn't exactly hit me in the right place.

Part of the distortion is that I'm not wearing my heels in this picture, but the waistline falls completely differently on the model in the catalog picture. Stupid catalog. Oh well, it's too late to do anything now, so I'll just turn to the side for most of our photos. See? Much better.

I do like the beading, though. One of the figures even looks like a Nagoya Castle dolphin.

posted by Alison 8/24/2007 12:23:00 AM : (3) comments : splink

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Table Layout

Weddingbees, I need your help. I put together a table layout yesterday to get an idea of what our reception will look like, but I'm torn about what kind of table cloth to use. We're currently signed up for a cream colored tablecloth, but it might make the table look washed out. Orange would be too eye-watering, and bright green would hide the ring of circles and wheat grass around the centerpiece, and I spent far too long cutting them out to lose them. Maybe I should go for a celadon green?

The real layout will be a little more complete. Each green circle will have a pot of wheat grass in a white container and there will be bird of paradise in the center of the bowl of oranges in the centerpiece. Also, all of this will be on an actual table rather than the floor.

The place mats will serve as table numbers and will overlap by approximately the same degree at the reception.

We're going for a kaleidoscope effect and I'm unsure about how to get the colors to pop without giving everyone a headache.

posted by Alison 8/22/2007 11:15:00 AM : (1) comments : splink

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Our Favors Require a Degree in Botany

The best advice I can give to other DIY brides is to test! everything! I am surprised everyday by the varied ways that things can go wrong. Case in point, our favors:

Each guest will get a little pot of wheat grass to take home with them after the reception. Wheat grass is a convenient choice for favors: it grows quickly, the seed is cheap and easy to obtain and it grows in thick, beautiful green blades. Well, it grows in thick blades most of the time.

Above are three failed wheat grass samples. The leftmost has blades that are too skinny and unkempt and their sheaths are too long. I obtained that particular variety of wheat grass from a local sprout farm, Mung Dynasty, which to their credit is fantastic for everything else.

On the left is a variety of spelt wheat grass from whole foods. Clearly, these seeds aremeant more for eating because fever than 25% actually germinated. Lastly, in the middle we have grass sprouted from seed that I've had in stock for four years. It's the best candidate, but a great deal of the seed isn't sprouting. Three strikes.

So, in my current perfectionist fugue I ordered two more varieties of grass seed from The first was barley grass and the second was a reliable variety of wheat grass. I'm crossing my fingers.

posted by Alison 8/21/2007 10:34:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

The Other Miss Lollipop

A few days ago, on a whim I googled my WeddingBee name and discovered that the top result is not for a person, but for an airplane. The original Miss Lollipop was a B-17 bomber that flew missions over Europe during World War II. While the lovely Miss L found an inauspicious end at the bottom of the English Channel after only three months of service, the coincidence stirred the aviation genes deep within me.

And those genes came directly from my father, an aircraft mechanic. When I was younger, he took us to dozens of aircraft museums and we would spend hours looking at aircraft spanning the whole existence of human flight. And my dad knew something about each one, some fact or story. I really treasure that time spent with him and with the things he knows best. My brother must have felt the same; he grew up to be a pilot. I grew up to be someone who really loves planes. Every year when I lived in DC I would go to the Air and Space Museum for my birthday and would name as many planes as I could when driving past as a tour guide.

So, my inner aviation nerd collaborated with my inner design nerd to produce two stenciled B-17 travel cases, one for me and one for Mr. Lollipop.

A quick how-to:

The original cases from paper source:

Print your image on the back of a a sheet of contact paper:

Cut it out with a craft knife:

Stick your new contact paper stencil where you like and rub the edges with a spoon to seal.

Lastly, just spray paint, wait a few seconds and peel.

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posted by Alison 8/21/2007 10:26:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

The Backup Cake

Crud. So, my cake baker moved to Maryland and now she isn't answering my emails. It might just be a momentary blip, but just in case, we have a plan to make the cake ourselves. Luckily, it will be a rice crispy cake and therefore easy to make structurally. I have some experience decorating with icing, so I hope that I can put something together that won't look like it was made by a drunken marmoset. We are trying to keep it simple with plain white icing and decorations that can be made separately.

I couldn't find marzipan anywhere that wasn't already as hard as a rock, and I don't trust myself with fondant, and so the decorations were made from Fimo clay. The figures were inspired by the penguin habitat in the back of our reception venue. There are 32 penguins total. There are 24 on the first layer, 6 on the second and two slightly larger ones on top.

One of the penguin groupings:

Our top of the cake figures; I plan on gluing a little veil on the shorter one:

posted by Alison 8/21/2007 09:17:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lino Block Print Thank You Cards

Our post-wedding thank you cards are much different than our pre-wedding cards and most of our other stationery. This is mostly because 1) screen printing in multiple colors is labor intensive and 2) I am tired.

So, I went with a single color linoleum block print of our logo:

Linoleum block prints are cheap and easy to make. They are basically an easier to carve version of a woodblock print.

You'll need a linoleum block (mine is 3" x 4"), a carving tool, ink, a brayer and something to print on. All of my supplies came from from a local art store and cost less than $20. Here is how to make your own:

Print a picture of the one-color image you want to carve and glue it lightly with a glue stick to the linoleum block.

Cut an outline of the image using your carving tool.

Peel off the printed image.

Carve out the rest of the negative space.

Now you have your very own single color lino block.

Inking and stamping has a few more steps than a plain rubber stamp. First, you'll use ink from a tube instead of an ink pad. Find a flat, easily cleanable surface for rolling out your ink. I use a piece of glass I had cut and polished for this purpose, but an old dinner plate would probably work just as well. Just put one or two dollops of ink on your surface and roll over it with the brayer until its roller is fully coated. Be careful about how much ink is on the brayer, too much and you'll lose detail, too little and parts of your print won't get inked at all. Just keep rolling until the brayer makes sort of a sizzling noise as it rolls over the ink.

Next, apply your inked brayer to your lino block coating all of the parts you intend to print. Place the block over your paper and stamp. For extra clear prints, use a spoon to rub the back of paper on the stamp before removing it.

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posted by Alison 8/19/2007 02:49:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, August 17, 2007

Getting Everyone Home Safe

So, our hotel block didn't work out too well. My fiance's family booked a hotel 12 miles out of town so that they could save a few dollars and my family procrastinated until the block expired. In the end, only five rooms out of the 20 were reserved before the deadline. We had planned to hire a shuttle service to drive everyone back to their hotels so that no one would have an excuse to drive while intoxicated. However, with our family scattered to the wind such a shuttle suddenly became impractical.

What should I do? Would it be enough to frame some phone numbers for taxi companies, place them on the bar and leave it to the guests to make their own arrangements?


posted by Alison 8/17/2007 01:16:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sayin' it with a Flag

I'm not really in to having things thrown at me or leaving a mess on the church steps, so I had to think of something to replace the traditional rice or bird seed. Bubbles wouldn't be a good substitute; I've never been able to open those little bottles without spilling their contents all over myself.

So, to give everyone something to hold I decided to hand out flags:

I just screen printed on some rectangles I cut from muslin and serged the edges to keep them from fraying. Of course, one could substitute rectangles cut with pinking shears if a serger is not available. Each flag was glued to a bamboo skewer (100 for $3 in the barbecue section at the grocery store).

The transparency used to screen print them:

I only made 60, which will not be enough to cover our 200 person wedding and I might not have time to make more. I made 100 quick ribbon wands to supplement the flags, but I feel like a ribbon on a stick might be too silly for most adults. Still, they would make for colorful photographs. What do you think?

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posted by Alison 8/16/2007 01:15:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pittsburgh Venue Round Up - Part 1

We started our search for a venue over a year ago, and it was by far the one wedding decision that required the most leg-work and careful research. We didn't visit some well known locations like the Priory, Hyeholde or Armstrong Farms, but we did look at a variety of venues running a whole range of prices. Most of the observations below are a year old, so take them with the usual amount of salt.

The Union Project -- This venue is the best bargain on the list. It is a community center located in a former Baptist Church on the corner of Stanton and Negley in the Highland Park neighborhood. The rental fees were incredibly reasonable (I think about $100 per hour), and it is one of the few places that gives the option to bring in outside catering, though they do contract with the Quiet Storm. The QS has good food and is one of the cheaper catering companies in the city. However, I have the feeling that it might provide only vegetarian food.

Anyhow, the rental fee includes chairs and the sanctuary is large enough to hold at least 200 people seated at tables if you want to hold the ceremony and reception all in one place.

While I think this venue is a gem for the price, it has undergone renovations and changed management in the last year. Still, check it out if you are looking to save some cash or even cater your own bash yourself.

The National Aviary -- We really liked this venue, but it was a little too small for us. Neither the garden tent, nor the atrium can hold more than 150 people. The rental fee includes access to all of the exhibits, which means that some guests might get pooped on by the birds in one of the forest habitats. Still, it is a unique, not-boring venue for brides and grooms looking to spend a moderate amount.

It requires the use of its own in house catering, but this option was cheaper than almost any museum space we could find and the staffing fees were modest.

The Carnegie Science Center -- This is a true nerd venue. If you book the science theater as your ceremony venue you will get two free science demonstrations. This means you can say 'I do' to artificial lightning or molten metal. Receptions are held in the first floor lobby and guests can play with the exhibits during cocktail hour.

We really liked this venue, but we found the lobby to be a bit bland and hard to personalize. The museum contracts with only one catering service which you will be required to use if you want to serve food. I've talked to another bride who had her wedding at the Science Center; she had a food station set up and raved about the quality. However, the food and alcohol costs, plus the extra linen and staffing fees, pushed this venue to be the most expensive that we considered. Despite this, it is worth a look, especially because you'll get a free copy of the Pennsylvania edition of the Knot magazine from the wedding coordinator when you arrive.

The Center for the Arts -- It's the big yellow mansion on the corner of Shady and Fifth Avenue. It is home to an art museum and is located conveniently next to some of the prettiest parts of Mellon Park. Guests can wander around the art exhibits or party in the patio tent. The tent only holds about 150 people, less with a dance floor, but seating can spill out into the museum proper.

This location had the most rules and the most extra fees. No red wine is allowed and noise can't go above 81db. You'll pay an extra security deposit, a fee to shut off the parking meters for guests, and a fee if you want to use any caterer not on the museum's approved list. Even then, any outside caterer must have liability insurance and be approved by the event coordinator. She can be a little hard to get a hold of, but your best chance to get an email reply is to be very specific when you ask questions. Yes/no questions get the best response rate.

Center for the Arts - Carriage House -- This is a smaller, much less expensive venue than the main Center for the Arts building and it has a different coordinator. However, it does have the same access to Mellon Park as its big sister. I don't recommended it for weddings with more than 100 guests, and the banquet room has a tile drop ceiling that makes the space seem a little claustrophobic. It does have a nice patio for dancing and there don't seem to be the same fees or extra rules that the main building has.

It doesn't appear to have its own website, but it is located behind the Center for the Arts. It is staffed by some nice volunteers who are more than happy to give tours and answer questions.

To be continued...

posted by Alison 8/13/2007 01:09:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Our Invitation Inspiration - Part II

Part I

Mr. Lollipop once tried to add up all the time I spent on our invitations. I had to stop him because I couldn't contemplate the amount of time I put into them without losing my mind a little. I started sketching in November, did the design in April, screen printed in May, letter pressed in June, and finally mailed them in July. Of course, I had lots of help on the last three, but the point is that I spent lots of time in the print studio that could have been used to learn a martial art or a new language.

Still, I don't think I could bear to let anyone else design our invitations.

I put invitation page together to carry on the tree theme we used on the cover: My original digital mock-up:

Luckily, our parents were really understanding when we couldn't get the letter press calibrated to add everyone's first names.

Also, I drew dozens of trees (one can be seen on the cover), but ended up buying the rights to use a much nicer one from That website is a great place to legally obtain the rights to all kinds of vector images for those who like to design, but have trouble drawing. Our map and directions page:

I drew the map using an old copy of Macromedia FreeHand. We used the pattern at the bottom of the page to register the layers of ink.

The full package, including a rehearsal dinner invitation and a website card:

An assembled invitation:

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posted by Alison 8/13/2007 12:26:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Other People's Invitations

Need invitation inspiration? Here are a few amazing invites from around the internet:

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posted by Alison 8/13/2007 12:12:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Yay! Boo! Yay!

Inspired by Miss Eggplant's post, I thought I would also post a list of our recent ups and downs.

Yay! All of my bridesmaids have purchased and tailored their gowns.

Boo! Our cake baker just moved to Maryland, though she swears that she'll still get our cake done. I'm worried because we won't be there for the trial run of the design.

Yay! We had enough guests decline so that we will be under budget and fit in our venue comfortably (although no surprises with so many guests overseas).

Boo! We will really miss seeing most of the guests who won't be there.

Yay! Our koi nobori finally arrived! They will be used to decorate the aquarium and the church and they mark our last big wedding purchase.

Boo! Very few people booked a hotel room in our block so we won't be getting our free suite.

Boo/Yay! I fired my photographer and hired much better ones with stellar customer service. Unfortunately, this new photographer will cost a little more, but I feel like we are on the same wavelength and they are worth every extra penny. Thanks for your advice, wedding bees!

Other than the above mentioned photographer, the wedding planning process has been pretty drama-free. It helps that both of our families have been super supportive; this has made it much easier to handle the occasional misadventure and I am truly grateful.

posted by Alison 8/09/2007 10:32:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Thank you very much!

Our first pre-wedding gifts have started arriving and our house is slowly filling with boxes and packing peanuts. I love checking the porch everyday to see what has arrived. I'd initially wanted to avoid registering or register only for a charity, but I was talked out of it by my mother and my fiance. Now, I look at the online registry every day to see what has been purchased for us. Deep down I am a greedy little monkey. (However, we do have a donation registry at Heal Africa just to balance out our karma a little.)

Anyhow, getting presents means writing thank you cards. I'm terrible about getting them done just because I feel obligated to write much more than a "Thank you for X!" Mr. Lollipop puts the same amount of thought into his thank you cards, but he is a lot more disciplined about getting them done. So, we usually do them together to prevent me from procrastinating. For our shower thank-yous we sat in the library for three hours and each wrote half. My mother's family tends to fall into traditional gender roles, and they were shocked and amused to receive ones from Mr. Lollipop. Really, without him they would never get written, and besides, he picked out most of the registry himself!

Just as with our other correspondence, we created a customized design. This is our wedding shower and pre-wedding thank you card:

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posted by Alison 8/09/2007 08:02:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hijacking an Art Exhibit for Engagement Photos

As you can probably tell by now, we tend to do things our own way. And that way tends to be the cheapskate way. So, instead of hiring someone to pose us on the Monongahela Overlook we decided to take advantage of one of our favorite places in Pittsburgh, the Mattress Factory Art Museum and do it ourselves.

The art museum was built out of (as you might have guessed) an defunct mattress factory. It's a highly interactive museum for one geared towards adults; most of the exhibits are 'experienced' rather than viewed. One of the permanent installations is a set of two rooms with polka dot floors and mirrors on all the walls and the ceiling.

We spent a Saturday morning last December laying on the floor of one of the exhibits trying to get something we could send out with our Christmas cards. Since we weren't planning on sending our photos to the newspaper for an announcement we decided that we could afford to be a little unconventional. I made the dress in the photo myself, adapting a shirt pattern into a full length shirt dress.

We sent a few different versions to friends and family:

This one is my favorite, but I screwed up the exposure timing and not even Photoshop could save it from the resulting weird coloring:

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posted by Alison 8/06/2007 01:41:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dripping with Jewels without Breaking the Bank

I confess that I love sparkly things, and I especially love pretty, sparkly things from nature.

In high school I was a chemistry and geology nerd. I loved how the molecular components of each crystal dictated the structure for the whole thing. The hexagonal shape of apatite, the little squares of salt crystals, it all makes sense and it's something that can be held in your hand!

Plus, it's amazing to look at gems and minerals. They come from the ground! They might have been cut and polished by humans, but the sparkle, the color and the tone mostly come from nature. I still love pacing around the mineral exhibits in the Pittsburgh Carnegie Museums. It's almost like shopping. "Yes! I shall have you, Tourmalinated quartz!"

Some of my stash of pearl strands, double drilled garnets, amber strands, and loose opal, white topaz and garnet stones:

Also, it's surprising to learn how affordable most precious and semi-precious stones are when you shop around. Gemstone beads can be used to make great offbeat gifts for bridesmaids, or they can be incorporated into bridal accessories. I've been buying this stuff for years, so I've learned a lot through trial and error. Here are my favorites:

To find affordable precious stones, opting for less than gem quality materials can save tons of money, but give you beautifully colored stones with some personality.

  • Ruby droplets: these are cloudy unlike their gem counterparts, but they would make stunning pendants.
  • Gradated Sapphire beads: I haven't purchased these yet, but I want them sooo badly.
  • Emerald Chips: These inexpensive chips are a great way to get the fantastic green glow of emeralds. The description says that the chips are oiled, but they don't stain or feel oily to the touch.
Semi-precious stones are incredibly affordable even at gem quality levels, plus they can be used as substitutes for their more expensive counterparts. Also, going semi-precious doesn't mean looking cheap. Even Tacori uses white topaz in their hair pieces in place of diamonds.
  • Faceted peridot beads: Peridots are a good replacement for emeralds, though the green is more yellow. I think this stone is particularly appealing when mixed with pearls.
  • Blue Topaz Faceted Drops: Most commercially available blue topaz is created by irradiating less desirable colors, though natural blue topazes exist. They are an affordable substitute for sapphires, especially gems of the London blue variety.
  • Double drilled garnets: This gem was a popular symbol of love in Europe during the middle ages and renaissance period. There are many varieties (even green ones), but they are amazingly affordable even at AA level quality and better.
Pearls, especially the freshwater cultured variety are totally affordable. I have stands of white lotus variety, and even chunky, giant c-grade pearls (the striped ones in the upper right corner of the picture above) that are used in regular rotation in my wardrobe.

Even humble quartz comes in a variety of colors (smoky or green, for example) and shapes like leaves or flowers.

Other favorites:
amber, moss agate, light blue Apatite, dark blue apatite, lapis lazuli, labradorite, spinel, tanzanite, tourmaline

From left to right: emerald chips, moss quartz, turquoise, lapis lazuli

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posted by Alison 8/04/2007 01:28:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Yet More Wedding Threads from Ask Metafilter

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posted by Alison 8/02/2007 01:41:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Hair Pins are my Backup Plan

I have hair that does as it pleases, which is usually to lie as straight and flat as possible. My mother fought valiantly against this during the 1980's and gave me several disastrous home perms, but my hair always resisted and managed to have itself straightened out less than four days later each time.

I know I am messing with fate by wanting to have my hair curled for my wedding day. I have no doubt that my hair will thwart all sprays and curling irons and be back to itself by the time we eat dinner. So, in light of this I have decided to be flexible and change my hair as the night goes on. Happily, that gives me another opportunity to make pretty things for my hair

I made citrine flower hairpins (please excuse the hair in this photo):

They only took about 20 minutes to make. Each pin is made of six citrine drops, an orange glass bead, a 2.75 inch bobby in and 26 gauge wire. Construction is simple and can easily be improvised. First, I placed the six citrine beads on my length of wire and pulled tight to get the flower shape. Next, I wound the wire above and below the six beads in a weaving pattern to keep them in place. Then, I placed the center bead on the wire and placed it in the middle. This is followed by more winding and weaving around the citrine drops to keep the glass bead in place. Finally, I attached the beads to the bobby pin simply by alternating wrapping the wire around each citrine petal and wrapping it around the pin. Just play around with the wire to find what works for you.

The pins when they aren't in my hair:

I've worn the pins several times and they have held up well to my abuse. I am a regular bun wearer just because it is the one hairstyle guaranteed to keep my hair in place for 12 hours or more.

posted by Alison 8/02/2007 12:22:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

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