Monday, October 1, 2012

The Cake Wedding (and wedding cake)

Where to start? On the 15th of September I married the love of my life, and it was fantastic. I thought I’d tell you a bit about it.

We took the week beforehand off to do all the (I think) fun DIY stuff, get everything organised, spend time with our families and chill out a bit before the big day. DIY activities included making: place name chair signs; ribbon chandeliers; tissue pom poms; dessert labels; photo booth/wall; menus - I may elaborate on some of these in a later post.

It wasn’t too stressful as I had made about 5,000,000,000 lists beforehand so though I could have been more organised I didn’t really need to be. And we had lots of support from family members, which not only makes it easier, it makes it fun. It was lucky we were organised because on Wednesday night both Mr Cake and I came down with a rather vigorous 24 hour stomach bug, so we had about 2 hours of sleep and Thursday was a write off, with the exception of our rehearsal, which seemed too hard to shift so we suffered through it. The photographer has a sad photo of Mr Cake with his head in his hands as the celebrant tries to direct our run through. 

Friday was set-up day, and we had lots of help from different quarters. The marquee crew had put up the marquee on Thursday and our first job was setting everything up – hanging the ribbon chandeliers, setting up tables, laying cloths, setting places, building the photo wall (it was partially pre-assembled but the final fitting together and wallpaper hanging was done in situ), other little décor bits. Our awesome team was so good that by mid-afternoon we were mostly done. Sister Cake and I headed off to get our nails done in the early evening, and Mr Cake had a catch-up with some friends.

The morning of the wedding we had planned to go for a run, but due to our recent ills we decided that wasn’t wise. We did have to have a last minute run through of our dance, as Thursday should have been rehearsal day for that too. Then my hair and make-up person arrived and Hamish escaped to his parents’ place to avoid the getting-ready stages.

In between getting coiffed I was plating up doughnuts and macarons, for my piece de resistance, the dessert buffet. Perhaps unsurprisingly my optimistic estimate of the time I’d be ready was a little bit *cough45minutescough* inaccurate and Mr Cake was kept waiting. Eventually I was ready (putting on a lace-up wedding dress does take a while!) and was led to a secret squirrel location around the back of Merchiston (the family manor, as a recent insurance report favourably phrased it) for a reveal. It was nice to have that time away from everyone else (except a couple of long-lensed photographers!) and following that we went off and had our location photos at the Sign of the Bellbird.

The weather forecast threatened rain, but we really only saw a couple of showers, which conveniently occurred just after our photos, giving us some nice moody skies but avoiding the drowned rat look. ;-) After a bit of scrambling around on the hillside (actually the scrambling was mostly Frank) we headed back down, and got back to Merchiston as scheduled at 1.30pm. Guests had been told to arrive for a 2pm ceremony, so we headed out to await them. We’d sneakily arranged double decker buses, so as guests approached us from the drive we were standing waiting to greet them, and then told them to hop on the buses (bride’s side and groom’s side – though the sneaky groom managed to get my sisters on his bus!). That part was one of my favourite parts of the day – greeting everyone as they arrived was really fun.

Sister Cake performed bus monitor duties and checked off guests as they arrived, so we could make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind. Once the guests had arrived Mr Cake and I boarded our respective buses (climbing stairs in a snug-fitting bridal gown is slightly tricky!) and handed out pamphlets to our guests – “How to survive a wedding.” And then we were on our way.

The guests tried to guess our destination, but I don’t think anyone did – some thought perhaps Ferrymead, but the bus kept going. And going… Someone suggested Taylors Mistake, but we didn’t go quite that far. ;-) We stopped outside the Hollywood 3 cinema in Sumner, and my sisters rolled out the red carpet. Guests alighted and were ushered into the cinema, and then, when they were all seated, it started – the Universal Studios fanfare, and our cue to enter.

We walked in together, and our celebrant started the important bit. Baby Sister Cake did an excellent reading of A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton, and Mr Cake’s brother did an equally impressive rendition of a passage we had selected from The Princess Bride. Our vows were written by us, and after saying them to each other and exchanging rings we signed our lives away as Mr Cake’s sister-in-law performed her improved version of Marry Me.

On conclusion of the official part we were greeted and hugged by a procession of guests, who were then made to sit back in their seats for photos. Sorry guys! But the photos are great – Mr Cake and I were nestled in the middle of the crowd.

On release from photo duty people were allowed to escape to Joe’s Garage across the road for drinks, which was a great venue and a lovely way to talk to everyone.

Back on the bus and back to Merchiston, and we had a few photos in our special photo wall with immediate family before the reception. I understand some of the guests made good use of the flying fox in the interim. ;-)

I did exert a wee bit of bridezilla at this point, as I’d failed to leave sufficient instructions for the dessert table and had to rearrange. The caterers were extremely helpful, though, and happily assisted, and it was worth it to see the table as I’d envisaged (and to see the excitement in people’s eyes when they realised how much dessert was present!).

The rest of the guests joined us, and there were some canapés, which helped ease the pre-dinner hunger. We were seated on a stage right behind the dessert table (so we could build up a good appetite) and looking straight into the photo wall, which was excellent as we were able to see everyone fooling around having their photos taken – very entertaining. We had made playlists and played them on a laptop – one playlist for dinner music and one for dancing, and we tried to include all the songs our guests requested on their RSVPs, even “Fruit Salad” by The Wiggles. ;-)

Some shady characters experimenting with props
My dad kicked off the speeches, followed by Mr Cake’s parents, his brother (whose speech was comprised entirely of Simpsons quotes) and our friend Sam. My cousin performed MC duties and provided much amusement, including presenting Mr Cake with a safe for my chocolate stash (pre-filled, too!) – very helpful as I often have him hide the chocolate from me so I can’t eat it all at once, and I kept accidentally discovering the stash. Now he only has to conceal a key. ;-)

Victoria Foodservice were the caterers, and presented two very nice courses with two options for each – we had them alternate served and encouraged our guests to perform Pareto-improving trades if required.

After dinner it was time for dessert – very importantly – and the head table was cleared to make way for cake. Each table had a cake from Just Desserts as a centrepiece, and these were brought up to the head table for people to help themselves. We cut the big cake (which was made by Sweet Kitchen and consisted of chocolate, red velvet and carrot cake layers) and the feeding frenzy began. A couple of proud people told me they’d tried every flavour, and I heard of a couple of others who were slightly over-ambitious and didn’t manage.

And then the dancing – I changed my dress, and Mr Cake and I kicked it off with a rehearsed dance, starting with a waltz and segueing into jive midway through, with a smooth CD-skipping transition involving us pretending it had all gone wrong and Mr Cake throwing off his jacket. When we’d finished dancing with each other we hauled parents onto the dance floor and started a snowball. It was a great way to start the dancing off (having lots of UCanDance friends present helped too!). And from then on it continued as an awesome party, with people alternately dancing, eating more dessert, talking to each other, and hamming it up for photos. We had a blast and our guests seemed to too.

Highlights: teasing people by taking them to the cinema; marrying Mr Cake in a ceremony that was unapologetically our own; having lots of opportunities to talk to our guests; all the dessert; having lots of fun dancing and watching others dance; doing it our way.

All photos taken by (and copyright to) the utterly incredible and brilliant Frank Visser.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Excellent Vendors: Jo Ling Bridal

Oddly, wedding dress vendors seem to yield some of the worst customer service stories. For many brides the dress is probably the most important part to get right, and in some ways is one of the most irrational elements of weddings (I'm not saying you shouldn't spend lots on a dress, I spent plenty on mine cos I like pretty dresses. Just that in the normal scheme of things the average wedding dress costs more than might be seen as strictly sensible!).

My first experience wasn't terrible, but also wasn't great - I took Mr Cake with me, due to a) a lack of superstition around him not being allowed to see it (though I am retaining some element of surprise for fun's sake) and b) due to only family knowing about our engagement at that point, and no family members being in Wellington, I didn't have a lot of choice.

Unfortunately, major bridal stores apparently do a roaring trade in superstition, tradition, and emotion-driven purchases.

They weren't too thrilled with Mr Cake being there - even after asking if it was all right him seeing the dress they were a bit cagey, and more or less ignored anything he said. Other than that, and looking at me like I was a mutant when I told them my bra size so they could provide appropriate undergarments - well, it was all okay. And it was fun trying on amazing frilly dresses and posing on a little pedestal. But I did pay $50 for the privilege! One thing I will say for that particular protocol: if you're like me and might normally feel bad about going into a shop to try something on so you can buy it elsewhere for less, paying the fee just turns the try-on into a service for which you've compensated the vendor.

I did visit a couple of other stores and had varying degrees of ambivalence from the salespeople - but enough about the traditional grumps; the vendor from whom I eventually purchased my dress was Jo Ling Bridal. They have a store in Whakatane, but I suspect do most of their trade online. They sell designer dresses (mine is Essense of Australia, but they'll try to source any dress you ask for) for usually well under the price charged by the regular bridal boutiques. In my case, I saved about $500. That on its own would be enough to get my attention - but the service was amazing.

Emails were my only form of communication - though if you're in/near Whakatane (or Palm Cove in Queensland) you can visit a store, and they are also contactable by phone. But Alison, who runs the business, writes thorough emails and answers as many questions as you might have (trust me, I had plenty). I don't often encounter service as great as hers - she really went out of her way to be helpful, which gave me heaps of confidence in the service. She made lots of recommendations to help me get the right size, and helped me purchase extra matching lace to make alterations myself.

Getting the dress still takes a while - I think it was about five months total, and the only flaw in the service was that it did take 2 or 3 weeks longer than I was initially told, but general recommendations are to order your dress well in advance because delays can occur, so this wasn't a problem for me, and Alison kept me informed on the delays so there were no surprises.

The dress arrived in perfect condition and with a lovely letter from the Jo Ling crew - and it fits me perfectly. So a happy ending! Now I just have to avoid eating too much chocolate and ice-cream for the next month, lest that changes. ;-)

So definitely recommend Jo Ling Bridal - the best customer service I've seen for quite a while, an excellent dress, and a great price. What more could you ask for?

Jo Ling Bridal have stores in Whakatane and Palm Cove, and are contactable by email: info@jolingbridal.com

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Excellent Vendors: Artifact Titanium Rings

I thought it might be helpful to share my experience with the great vendors we've dealt with. Not all have been great, though so far everyone we're actually using for our wedding (as opposed to some of those we approached for quotes) have been pretty good. I have a bit of a thing for customer service - and in particular when it comes to wedding planning, where (in my opinion) a large part of the product or service is the peace of mind that you won't have to stress about it on the day.

Rings aren't really something that people think too much about great service for, but it still deserves calling out when it happens.

We bought our wedding rings from Artifact, who make titanium rings to order in Dunedin. They have a pretty large catalogue online and will do pretty much anything you want - so you can mix and match the features you like into your perfect ring. You can do it all by email, but we were in Dunedin in February for my nephew's first birthday so made an appointment to go and meet Ted, who is the ringmaker extraordinaire. He is very patient and explained everything we needed to know - for example (and this might sound obvious, but I've never worn much jewellery) that if you want a larger diamond set into your ring the ring needs to be thicker. We spent about an hour trying on the various rings and working out the elements we wanted in ours.

Once we'd decided Ted wrote up the order form, and on Monday morning we had the final order info and payment details by email. I transferred the money through and 10 days later our custom made rings arrived by courier - with several updates by email in between. How's that for speed?

This is not an ad - just genuine praise for a business doing good things! Artifact were great to deal with and produce a great product at a great price.

Have you dealt with any exemplary vendors?

Artifact rings are available online at, appointments at their Dunedin workshop are by arrangement only. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Paperwork - The Planning Kind

This would be an area of obsession for me – I love lists and spreadsheets, and wedding planning is certainly not exempt. I transfer all (okay, most) of my stress into the lists, and rely on them to know what else needs doing. I know that different people have different ways of working but here’s my advice for keeping track of your sanity for the planning part. (note: I tend on the overboard side of planning so though I think all these things are useful you might find a scaled back version more sensible!)

Firstly, work out how you’re going to manage your lists and so on – I use Google Drive, which I love because it is anywhere there is internet, which means if I need to check something during the day or when out and about I can bring it up on my work PC or my phone. Some people prefer physical files (I do also have a folder which I use for other stuff which has a few pockets reserved for wedding stuff – paper samples and receipts mainly) and you can repurpose something you already have or go ahead and get something pretty if stationery floats your boat.

We started with two documents – a guest list (which changed and morphed over about four months before we finalised it, but which gave us an initial idea of size) and a brainstorm document. The brainstorm had a list of the things we absolutely wanted, the things we didn’t want (or didn’t want to pay for in some cases), and any ideas we had which we thought would be fun. As we worked through what we wanted we added and removed from this list until it gave a sort of high level idea of the day.

Next up was the budget – I’ve talked about this before and I truly think you should have one. My personal philosophy is that if you want the most mileage out of your dollar you need to understand where it’s going – which is to say, a budget should enable you to get the wedding that best suits you because you can look at what’s costing most and trim from there if that’s not your priority.

Those checklists in every single bridal magazine ever written can be somewhat useful, but probably aren’t the best way to keep track of what’s left to do. My to-do list is my master wedding document – every time I think of something that needs to be done, I add it. It has a column for due date so I can make sure I’m on track (and can sort the list and ignore the stuff which doesn’t need to be done for ages), and a column where I mark it completed so I can filter it out and not worry about it anymore. This is really the king of relieving wedding stress, because adding things to the list means I don’t have to keep them in my head any more – I’ve read suggestions to keep a notebook and pen next to your bed so if you wake up in the middle of the night you can write down your ideas, and I see the logic in that. I started the list with obvious things, and I did check through one of those magazine checklists to make sure I wasn’t missing anything (but to be honest, half the stuff on it wasn’t relevant). Whenever someone tells me to confirm a booking by a certain date I add that too – and the more general things which just need to be done sometime before the day itself I’ve assigned dates to, just to spread the work out a bit.

A run sheet which gives an overview of what will happen when (give it to your parents/bridal party/ushers/photographer/celebrant so they know what’s happening) can be pretty useful (if your celebration is very simple/all in one location it will matter less), and we have a bunch of other documents too, which make sense for us but might not for other people – do what make sense.

Above all, don’t stress about it – I think having all these lists is the best way to stay sane, but if you hate documentation then keep it at a minimum. Keep the joy in it, people! :-D

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Today, a topic which I am, I feel, reasonably well informed on: cake. As with almost every part of the standard wedding package, this is optional. You don’t have to have one. Of course, we will be – funnily enough cake ranks pretty highly on my list of likes – and if you also think this is a thing worth having, here are some options to fill the cake-void.

Traditional Tiered Cake
I use traditional loosely here, in the sense that, like many wedding cakes which have gone before, the cake has more than one layer and is either stacked on the cake below or precariously balanced on pillars. These come in all shapes and sizes and can be procured from bakeries, specialist cake decorators, caterers, and the occasional willing friend or family member (be aware that asking someone to make your cake is a pretty big time commitment, though – if I was going to do that I’d offer to provide the ingredients).

There’s also no need to decorate the traditional way – I have nothing against fondant/white icing, but if you’re not a fan don’t feel compelled – whatever icing you like should do just fine.

People often grumble about the cost of these cakes but let me assure you the cost of ingredients and amount of labour that goes into them more than justifies the cost in most cases. Having made a few for other people, I was actually pleasantly surprised by prices when I started researching ours.

These have become pretty common at weddings in the last few years, and there are heaps of really good reasons why. They don’t need to be cut, so portion control is done for you; they can be decorated quite simply but still look great; they can easily be made by novice bakers (i.e. you and your team of willing helpers); you can mix up the flavours (you can do this inside tiered cakes too but still a feature)… The list goes on. If you buy them they may or may not work out cheaper than a full-sized cake depending on what you want – it can go either way.

You can still do the cutting of the cake with a small “proper” cake if you like – if you display them on a tiered stand this looks great and gives you the best of both worlds.

Candy Buffet
While not necessarily a substitute for cake (you can’t really cut a jar of jellybeans) it will certainly satisfy any sweet cravings your guests have, and probably fill them with kid-in-a-candy-store glee. See Amy Atlas for amazing inspiration or Google image search it.

Cake Buffet
Instead of a tower of wedding cake how about a sprawling table covered in different flavours for the guests to take their pick from? Sounds pretty irresistible to me, and you can source them from a local bakery/cakery, or ask family members or close friends to make their best cake and bring in lieu of gifts. Awesome, right?

Cheese “Cake”
Another option I’ve heard of for the less dessert-oriented (what’s wrong with you people?) is to stack wheels of cheese and serve with crackers and fruit paste. While completely awesome, beware that this might well blow the budget out a bit.

Skip It
Just ignore the pre-requisite to have cake and serve dessert, or nothing at all. It’s your wedding, do what suits you!

What did you or will you have at your wedding, and what do you most like to see as a guest? 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Dress - How to Buy

There is nothing wrong with buying your wedding dress from a traditional bridal boutique - they do what they do well, and they will handle alterations and pressing for you, and give you peace of mind. But there are other options! I know wedding magazines sometimes won't have you believe it, but it's true.

Buying secondhand is one choice, and has huge cost savings. Check out TradeMe and see what you can find! The downsides are that you may not be able to find what you want, and you don't have the same buyer protection so I'd recommend (unless it's very cheap) that you make sure you can check out the dress in person and try it on.

Another option is buying online - often you can purchase the designer dresses the boutiques sell from websites - the prices will often be several hundred dollars lower. My dress is coming from Jo Ling Bridal, who are a sort of hybrid - though they do have a shop I think they do the majority of their business online. I saved around $500 off the boutique price.

Have it made in China. Sites like Light in the Box and DHGate have very inexpensive options and can have the impact without the price tag (LitB is generally a bit pricier but has better quality controls). DHGate is a marketplace site, so aggregates lots of traders and mileage may vary so check their feedback, and note that most of the time the photos are taken from designer sites and the DHGate traders copy, rather than photos being of the product. The quality will probably be a bit lower than a "proper" boutique dress, but in most cases not noticeably. Note that this probably works better for satin and taffeta dresses than lace, due to fabric quality.

How about buying a non-wedding dress off the rack? If you're not into the whole fluffy meringue look this might work for you. I have to say, New Zealand makes this a bit trickier because we're not that good at dressing up in general so there's less available, but if you find something that you like it's bound to be a lot cheaper (plus you can probably pull off wearing it again, which isn't really an option for the traditional dresses).

And then, for the completely custom look you could have it made for you - there are definitely reasonable local services which do this, just ask around for recommendations - or, if you're really brave, make it yourself. Just allow yourself loads of time if you take the latter option!

Have I missed anything? What's your pick from these options? Is anyone brave enough to have made their own?

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Dress - How to Shop

Okay, the title is a little precocious. I don't actually need to tell you how to shop. But I thought a few tips might help anyone befuddled by the options, process and cost. 

Figure out what you want
The first step is to work out what you want in a very broad sense. Do you want a traditional, sparkly/lacy/pouffy cloud of awesome? Do you just want something a bit dressier than you'd normally get away with but not the standard bride look? Somewhere in between? Something else entirely? I believe many women default to the first option automatically without considering other options. There's nothing wrong with that but I'm a fan of conscious spending and it is likely to be the most expensive way to go, so might as well work out that it's actually what you want before you go splashing coin around.

For brainstorming, try searching "wedding dress" on Pinterest or a Google image search.

You also want to think about the dress in context of the wedding - if you are having quite a casual wedding the dress might want to be less extravagent, and vice-versa. Hundreds of layers of tulle probably aren't that comfortable on the beach in Raro!

Start Early
For one thing, for many women this is one of the most fun elements of planning a wedding, so make the most of it. And for another, having a cooling-off period before you need to make a decision is pretty smart.

Also, if you buy a dress from a boutique there's generally a 6-month lead time - so if you want time to look around, time to consider, and not to be rushed having fittings starting well in advance is smart.

Have a look around
I recommend starting with the internet, for general styles and looks. Then hit some real stores so you can try things on (regardless of category, trying the style for your shape is a good idea). I recommend taking one or two trusted people to comment - it's very easy to get caught up in the sales pitch when you're on your own. Traditionally this would be something a bridesmaid would do - in lieu of bridesmaids I took Mr Cake to my first shop (warning: some more traditional wedding vendors disapprove of this approach, so you may need to ignore their foolishness), but anyone whose opinion you trust should do the trick.

Optional extra for experts: after the excursion to an actual store I reckon you should hit the internet again, now that you're more clued up about what suits you. You'll probably find you're now naturally drawn to the shapes which looked good on you, which makes looking easier.

Think about your options (with your head!)
One of the bridal stores I visited actually told me they expected tears when I found "The One." There are two problems with that:
1. I don't believe there is one perfect dress for me - sure, some will suit me more than others, some will be more affordable and some will be better quality, and some will suit the wedding we're planning. Hopefully the one I choose will optimise these things for my wants - but I don't think any single dress is perfect or in any way life-changing (except to the extent that it will be the dress our grandchildren consider to be quaint and outdated when they look at photos of our wedding - which doesn't really count).
2. Seriously, why would I cry?

Once you've tried on some dresses you like, think about each one you like, how much it cost, what it has that you like and what it's missing that you wanted. And work out, for yourself (this will be easier for some people than others, and different for everyone) if the purchase makes sense.

There are different ways to buy your dress, once you've determined what it is you want, but this is getting a bit long so I'll write a follow up post about those options in a few days.

What has your experience been? Have you found it easy or difficult searching for something you like?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to Letterpress your own wedding invitations

When it came to invitations for our wedding, there was never any doubt they would be homemade - my mum is a champion of papercrafts, and has all the gear and knowhow to get a good production line going. We did some research and set our sights high - on letterpress.

I can't remember how I discovered the L Letterpress tool - it's a pretty simple attachment for a standard scrapbooking embossing machine, and enables you to create your own debossed and inked papergoods. I did a bit of reading and discovered it doesn't exactly have rave reviews, but then discovered a place called Boxcar Press, where a pro letterpresser (is that a word?) had reviewed and tweaked it to achieve a decent result. Following his advice, and also with Mum's scrapbooking experience, we managed to produce (if I do say so myself) pretty impressive invitations. We learnt a fair bit as we went, so I thought it might be helpful if we documented our process here.

It's not too tricky - set yourself up properly and give yourself plenty of time, and you should get some pretty awesome invitations. The L Letterpress isn't the only way you can DIY letterpress - if you're more hardcore you can build your own press. But this seemed easy enough for me to handle, and cost less than $200 for the equipment and paper. 

Step 1 - Get all the stuff you need
To make DIY letterpress invitations with the L Letterpress, you'll need the following:

  • the L Letterpress machine, and an embossing machine (Epic Six or Cuttlebug or probably any other common brand). You can buy the letterpress bit and the embossing machine as a combo, but if you know someone who scrapbooks you might be able to borrow an embossing machine. If you're fine with black ink the tube in the kit will be plenty, but if you want a different colour go ahead and buy that too. 
  • a brayer (a roller for ink) - we used this one, purchased from the French Art Store in Auckland (Amazon wouldn't ship it to NZ, which is a shame as it would have been much cheaper). A small brayer comes with the kit but it isn't very good and having the proper one helps immensely
  • a printing plate - we ordered ours from Boxcar Press, by sending through a pdf (created by Mr Cake) - best to keep fine detail to a minimum on this. For use in the L Letterpress your plate will needs to be less than 15cm wide.
  • strong, wide tape, e.g. duct tape or similar
  • some scrap card and double sided tape
  • paper to print onto - you want cotton based paper, probably something reasonably thick. We went to Fine Art Papers in Christchurch and chose what we wanted - they have sample squares for you to take away if you (as I did) are pedantic enough that you want it to match other stuff. Get all the paper cut to the right size before you start, and make sure you have plenty of extra paper - I'd suggest 20-25% more than you need.
  • wet wipes or a damp rag (wet wipes are amazingly useful, highly recommended)
  • newspaper, to spread underneath your work area (not essential, but advisable)
  • turps, for cleaning up

Step 2 - Set up the work area and printing press
It takes a while, especially if you have lots to print (we did around 80 and it took probably 5 hours of solid printing) so it's worth setting everything up for easy working. I had the roller machine to my left, ink to my right, and worked right in front of me. Lay everything out so it's in easy reach.
The Boxcar Press custom plates need to be trimmed to size with scissors - you want to keep it as square as possible, and hold onto the offcuts. They also come with adhesive backing, so once it's the right size you stick it onto the top plate of the L Letterpress - use the gridlines to line it up.

Use the wide tape to secure the top and bottom of the bottom plate - according to Mr Boxcar they distort a bit after a few runs through the press (I could see they were trying to bend but the tape did its job for us).

Set up some paper tabs to hold each piece of paper in place - again, use the gridlines to work out where it should go (you may want to adjust when you start printing) and just stick small strips of paper or card on with double sided tape. These little tabs may need replacing every so often as they'll get bent out of shape.

Make buffer strips to help with even inking by cutting four strips from the plate offcuts. Stick two together and position along one side of the plate, and do the same with the other two on the other side. You'll be peeling these off between each print, but they'll stop you smudging ink around the edge (this is optional and (sorry) I don't have photos, but it did help keep things cleaner when printing).

Put the plastic inking pad which comes with the kit out, with ink and brayer at the ready.

Step 3 - Print!

Place a sheet of your paper in the press. 

Squeeze a pea-sized blob of ink onto the inking pad (biggest lesson - start with a small amount and add more if you need to. Much harder to get too much ink out of an over-inked plate). Use the brayer to work it out - it's very sticky so this takes some time. 

When you have a smooth covering on the brayer roll it over the plate, using the buffer strips to assist. Again, best to start with what you think is not enough ink than have to scrub the plate off and start again! Remove the buffer strips and clean around the edges if there are any smudges. 

Close the press so that the ink touches the paper, and run the press through the roller 2-3 times. Remove the press and inspect your invitation (I took these photos at home, and Mum had her embossing machine, so you'll have to imagine that part). 

Repeat for each invitation (you won't need to re-ink the inking pad each time, you'll be able to tell when you run out). 

The ink takes a while to dry so you'll want somewhere to lay them out - preferably a large area of floor where children and pets do not roam. Failing that, you could set up a clothes line and carefully peg each one up, or prop them on all your bookshelves.

Getting a deeper deboss/impression

We used a couple of pieces of thin card and an extra piece of our
invitation paper as scrim/padding to improve the deboss
We found that the first couple of times the indentation on the paper was barely detectable. There are two ways to help this; if your embossing machine has add-in plates to reduce the height of the gap, try using one of these. If not, or if you still think it needs more (we used both), add some scrim - additional sheets of thin card or thick paper (we used cardboard from a cereal box and some paper offcuts) behind the piece of paper you're printing. You may find it harder to turn the handle on the roller but so long as it goes through it's all good. 

This shows a non-inked invitation we put through the machine -
you can see we got a pretty decent impression
As I've emphasised, less is more! The first few prints I did were disasterous - the address and date/time of our wedding wasn't even readable. After some minor panic and a quick google I realised I'd majorly overinked, which led to 20 minutes cleaning out the cavities of the plate with wet wipes so I could start over. If your product looks splotchy and the edges on the letters/shapes aren't crisp, try cleaning the plate and starting again.

I also found the thick, tacky ink got clumpy after a while, so every 20 prints or so I gave the plate a quick wipe with a wet wipe and ran it through the press on a clean scrap of paper a few times, and also cleaned off the inking pad and brayer.

Cleaning up

By far the messiest part, if you value clean fingernails I recommend wearing cleaning gloves. I proudly wore my ink-stained nails for a few days after we made ours! Turps makes quick work of the sticky ink.

I'm sure it helped us that we had Mum to help fine-tune things, but so long as you're patient I think this is completely achievable for anyone. Feel free to ask away if you have any questions or think I've missed anything!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wedding Cake Options

It will probably come as no surprise to you that I'm pretty keen on wedding cakes. Perhaps it will come as a surprise that I am not going near making my own (a feat which is achievable but sounds positively horrific to me).

I thought I'd go over the options for wedding cakes as a starter cake post - you know I have more to say on the subject but first things first. ;-)

Buy a wedding cake
The first is the option the wedding industry wants us to think is the only way - and yes, it can be pretty pricey. Whether you opt for a cake by a specialist decorator or your caterer I tend to think of this as the most stress-free option, as by paying for the cake the decorator should be the one worrying about the cake (I've certainly taken on enough stress for me and the bride whenever I've done wedding cakes!).

Buying your cake should mean you can look at a gallery of the decorator's work and choose, or even provide a photo of one you like, and they should hopefully be able to replicate it (you still want to see photos of work the decorator has done themselves, though, lest you end up with one of these).

Cost can be offputting, but most of the time I think it's well worth what you pay - if you want the perfectly iced wedding cake that does mean many hours on the part of the decorator, as well as a mountain of ingredients, so based on inputs the prices I've seen in my research have actually been pretty reasonable.

Buy a non-wedding cake
If you still want low stress but do want to keep the price down, this is a valid option. I don't mean not telling the vendor it's for a wedding (which, by the way, probably won't sound very convincing if you want three tiers with white icing and a little bride and groom on top ;-) ), but rather taking a cake with a more laid back kind of decor - if you leave off the white icing and just have rustic buttercream, for example, or have a large cake that's not a multi-tier feat of engineering. 

Ask a friend or family member
This is an interesting one. It's really wonderful to be able to incorporate things made with love into your day, and if you have a friend who is a decorator they may be happy to make your cake as your wedding gift - but note the "may." Remember that wedding cakes involve a huge time commitment (I've spent up to 12 hours on them, with baking, icing and decorating) and the person you have in mind may not be able to commit to that around your wedding. If you are going to do this I'd recommend providing money for ingredients (because for a large cake the cost of making can reach three figures) - and being understanding if the person isn't able to.

Also, if you're going for a less intensive kind of cake let them know at the outset - it might change whether or not they can do it. I've seen great weddings where instead of having a single cake they had a table of them, each one made by a friend or family member - believe me, a table full of cakes still looks pretty impressive, and just making a regular-sized cake is a much more achievable task for your nearest and dearest. Cupcakes on a tower are another option - though they can still take a while to decorate there's a lot less pressure, since if the odd cupcake doesn't work out it doesn't matter.

Make it yourself
I'm going to go ahead and say I don't recommend this - but it can be done. If you have your heart set on making your own make sure you ease up on other DIY just before the wedding, do as much as you can in advance (you can even pre-bake and freeze the cakes if you prefer), and definitely have a practice run. 

There are plenty of tutorials online but the simpler you keep it the better - I quite like this sugar rosebud topper, which can be made weeks in advance and stored in a cool, dry place, before being plonked atop a very simple cake.

Skip the cake altogether
The last option, though perhaps unorthodox is to not have cake. Your guests probably won't notice, and if you have dessert served (or a non-dinner reception) it doesn't even make that much sense to have cake as well. I've heard of people having cheese cakes (three wheels of cheese stacked together) and a cheese course instead of dessert (although delicious don't expect this to save money!), but honestly, if you're not into the idea of a big, costly, jaw-dropping cake there's absolutely no reason you have to have one.

We're going with paying a pro decorator (my obsession with sweets meant I knew exactly who I wanted to make it!), and I think it's worth every cent. What's your preferred option? Do you think you'd miss the cake if you went to a wedding where there was none?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wedding Favours

Favours are a completely non-essential but fun element of weddings. Yes, unessential - I'm willing to bet most of your guests won't even notice that you don't have any. Honestly, think about the favours you've received from weddings - what did you do with them? Do you even remember what they were? Would the wedding have been less enjoyable without? Probably not.
That said, if they are something you want to do you might as well do them well!

Awesome candy buffet from Bridal Banter
 A very popular (and understandably so!) option at the moment is the candy buffet - a table is set up with jars of lollies, scoops, and bags or cups. Guests can choose their favourites and take them home to enjoy (or scoff on the spot if they prefer!). Jars can be repurposed jars or vases you own, purchased from Holstens, The Warehouse, or anywhere you see something appropriate, or hired from most party hire places. Lollies can be bought from your supermarket (look out for specials!) or from specialist stockists like The Lolly Shop, where you can buy colour-specific sweets to suit your theme. The cost of the candy can add up so this is not the cheapest option, but will be fun for your guests.
The more precise approach is to provide each guest with a package of sweets or a chocolate to take home. This has the potential to minimise cost (think of a fun-size chocolate bar or a few lollies per person, packaged with a wrapper you print from your computer) and add some interest to your table settings. The favours my Mum made for my sister's wedding earlier this year consisted of a wee chocolate bar in a handmade paper basket/bag with the guest's name on it - so they doubled as place names as well as brightening up the table. You can get creative with the packaging - a champagne flute, small jar, or fabric sachet will all work if you prefer to veer away from plastic or paper bags.
A little more expensive but less stressy - purchase the sweet stuff already packaged as favours. Some of my favourite boutique sweet providers (e.g. Bohemien Chocolate, J'aime les Macarons) offer this service - and there are heaps of options, places who specialise in printing personalised labels. Personalised fortune cookies look very cool, too.

Another option, which works well with vintage themed weddings, is jars of preserves as favours - a couple of days of slaving over a pot, perhaps, to churn out the goodies, but very special and your guests will think fondly on your wedding every time they spoon stewed fruit onto their cereal or spread jam on a bit of toast! Or provide a hot chocolate beverage like the one pictured above - a tutorial, complete with printable for the label, is here.

Favours don't have to be edible (though I confess to having a slight bias...) - I tend to think the edible ones are better because I'm not a person who likes keeping stuff like that, but others prefer longer-term mementos. If the latter is what you're going for my advice would be to think of something that sums you and your spouse-to-be up and try to turn that into a favour. For example, if you're a gamer geek you could give each guest a die or two - check out the awesome personalised one above (from Offbeat Bride). Or personalised USB keys, which will be useful to many of your guests.
Another approach is to provide your guests with a seedling or potted herb - this also means you can create a lush garden on your tables. Group the plants together in the centre if it makes more sense, and get the MC to let people know they are to take a plant when they go.
Folks who have photobooths at their weddings often treat the strips of photos which come out as favours - photos make great mementos and the lucky couple usually get a copy too.
We haven't decided if we'll have favours yet - if we do I can pretty much guarantee they'll be edible, though. ;-)
What's your take - do you like having a little something to take home, and did you/will you have favours at your own wedding?