Last August, Ottawa's Jennifer Harrington walked down an aisle of brightly coloured chiffon draped between rows of folding chairs set up in a friend's backyard in Kingston.
She wore a hand-sewn dress finished with a sash of purple ribbon and, as 40 guests looked on, she and her fiancé exchanged silver rings they had made together at a couples' jewellery workshop.
For just under $1,200, Harrington was able to create the wedding of her dreams, opting for intimate and homemade over what many see as the excess of a traditional wedding, which costs on average $20,000. Enlisting friends to help with food and music, she joined a growing number of "indie brides" whose aesthetics are more in step with today's considered approach to consumption.
"We wanted our wedding to reflect our relationship and our values and for it to be fun and meaningful at the same time," Harrington says. "For lots of couples, a traditional wedding is what they are looking for, but there's a segment that finds the wedding industry out of reach financially, or out of tune."
Part of a larger DIY movement, the indie wedding has growing resources in dozens of websites and how-to books on crafting everything from decorations and table runners to hand-printed invitations and wedding favours. Online, prospective couples are flocking to message boards to share tips on primping a backyard for the big day, sourcing materials and swapping second-hand goods.
"I get daily e-mails from brides thanking me for the ideas and tutorials on my website, as well as photos of their own weddings and wedding-related crafty projects," says Amber Dusick, founder of do-it-yourself-weddings.com, where traffic has doubled in the past year to nearly 6,000 unique visitors a day. "You don't have to be crafty to pull off a DIY wedding, just willing to do a little work."
Karyn Valino, founder of Toronto-based sew-and-craft-by-the-hour studio The Workroom, says more and more customers are coming in to work on projects for their weddings. "The most popular thing is table runners," Valino says. Other hot projects include custom hankies and ties for the groomsmen, ring pillows and fabric banners.
Vancouver's Robert Tucker, who helped to organize that city's first Indie I Do wedding show this year, says it isn't just dyed-in-the-hemp crafters looking for fresh ideas. "From what we saw, it was a mix of people who were indie and also more mainstream couples looking for things they could incorporate into their wedding," he says. "It definitely is growing."
Among the most popular vendors at the event were a videographer who documents weddings in grainy old-school Super 8 film, dressmakers offering gowns in a rainbow of colours and photographers specializing in playful, urban backdrops.
Shiralee Hudson Hill, who married her husband, Matt, in her in-laws' country garden last summer, says that doing some of the heavy lifting for the wedding herself meant she could afford the special touches she wanted. "Matt and I were on a budget because we are planning on buying a house in 2009, so I knew that I could have much of what I wanted by doing it myself," she says.
That meant spending on high-quality materials for the projects she crafted, including place cards and table runners. She also grew zinnias and bought seasonal bouquets from farmers markets to decorate the guest tables.
But doing it yourself doesn't mean you literally have to do it by yourself. Sarah Selecky invited friends over for a spring crafting session a few months before her August wedding. "We had friends taping paper into cones and cutting it with pinking shears, friends cleaning old dusty chandelier crystals, friends clipping silk-screened cards to a clothesline over the kitchen. It was a party."
She says the shared activity that went into preparing for the wedding made it all the more special. "Many of our guests said it was one of their favourite weddings," she says.
Of course, none of this means the sun has set on the traditional wedding. "From our stats, people aren't spending less on their weddings over all," Weddingbells editor-in-chief Alison McGill says. "They are having the party that they want."
But she does see a shift to smaller, more individual events. "I think what it's all about these days is making it personal," she says. "Whether that's including a DIY project or choosing a certain vendor, it's about bringing in elements that are going to make your wedding yours."
Catherine Lash, founder of The Wedding Show, a boutique-style annual event in Toronto, agrees. "The wedding industry is not going to go away in a recession, but it does bring back reality," she says. "Which means shorter planning periods and more creativity out of necessity. I keep saying to people, 'This isn't such a bad thing - weddings will be more interesting, and you'll want to go to more if they're not all cookie-cutter weddings.'"
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"The No. 1 problem DIYers get themselves into is thinking they can tackle everything on their own," says Khris Cochran, author of The DIY Bride. "That leads to overwhelm - and who needs that along with the other pressures of weddings?
"Grab some family and friends to lend a hand with more labour-intensive projects," Cochran advises. "You'll be glad to have the extra hands and the company."
A favourite DIY item is the guest wedding favour. Hot options are homemade jams in mini-jars with personalized labels and ribbons (see below) or "cookie tables" where guests can fill their own paper bags with homemade goodies.
Winnipeg-based Botanical PaperWorks offers online instructions for making pillow boxes out of plantable handmade seed paper, which can be filled with candies.
Visit botanicalpaperworks.com for details.
Other websites to check out:
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