Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Invitations in the approach of an Amish barn raising.

I realized that I never blogged about our DIY wedding invitation making experience last August, so I thought I would share in case somebody out there is considering DIY invitations.

When we started planning our wedding, one of the first things we started with was pricing how much having invitations printed would be. After realizing that they easily cost several dollars a piece, and even the very most basic (and often ugly) ones were about a dollar each, we decided maybe we should make our own. I enjoy making invitations and stationary, and we figured we could create something nicer than those cheap/ugly ones for slightly more than the least expensive cost we saw. So we priced out the supplies we would need. I think our estimate came down to $1.23 or so an invite. (This did not include the cost of a paper cutter, tape, and the punches we bought.)

Then we took a slight detour and decided to check out the kits you can buy at craft stores. We had seen some online that matched the look we were going for, and we thought this could be a low-maintenance solution. With half-off craft store coupons, it would have been cheaper too. So we bought the kit that matched our desired "look" from a craft store in the U.S., but after opening it, I was disappointed by the quality of the paper. Really disappointed. I love quality paper products and this kit was far from that. Parts of it looked like it needed ironing to be flat and some white paper had black random print smudges on the edges. After some evaluation of our situation and deciding that the invitations were very important to me, we decided to work hard and pay a little more to have invitations we would be proud of. And since we wanted to do bilingual invitations, we thought we could get what we wanted more easily if we had more control of the layout.

After deciding (for the second time) to embark on the full, "from scratch" DIY invite experience, S, my parents, and I came up with a design for the invitation. It was back in July and we were visiting my parents in the south. While we were there, and since my mom is an expert in craft-store shopping, we figured out what supplies we needed and bought it all with coupons at various craft stores. We bought a paper cutter too, since we were doing massive amounts of cutting and my dad said we needed something "professional" that could handle it. I don't know if our cutter is professional, but we did get one on the top of the spectrum available at normal craft stores. Thank goodness for all those 50% off coupons we used! We got most of the supplies we needed and took it back to Chicago.* We waited to get the black envelopes and the cards until we got back to Chicago, since I already knew where I wanted to purchase them.

Once back in Chicago, I started researching wedding invitation wording and creating drafts of the invitation, in French and in English. I started out trying to do this in Word, but then ended up teaching myself how to use Publisher because I realized I would not be able to do what I wanted in Word. Finally after many edits and the help of S's mom with the French grammar and etiquette of invitation wording, we got it down to the text wording we wanted.

Then there were some minor aesthetic disagreements about fonts. (I liked the two fonts look, but others thought that looked a little weird and wanted only one uniform font.) The initial two fonts I had thought of using were dramatically different, but I finally decided to compromise by finding two fonts that looked like close cousins of each other. A more elegant one just for our names (Freebooter) and a more standard pretty one for the other text (Monotype Corsiva, which comes normally with Microsoft Office). Because Freebooter looks like a dressed up Monotype Corsiva, I think everyone was pleased. I had the interest I wanted with two different fonts, but everything looked like it "belonged" together and did not have the jarring effect of my initial font combo proposal. I ended up really loving our font choices. Way more than my original idea...

Then I sent out an email to friends in the Chicago area asking (er, begging?) for help assembling our invites. (S was in Canada at this point.) To me, having friends help was necessary (I never-ever-ever could have finished in our short time frame otherwise), but also having those friends gather with me was unexpectedly calming. These friends kept me sane and kept the experience enjoyable. It felt like a communal effort, like what I imagine an Amish barn-raising to be, only not mandatory and with less physical labor and no expected gender roles. (Yes, two of my guy friends did help and put in HOURS of work, along with some female friends.) It did wonders to have those friends around me, successfully pushing back my feeling of being overwhelmed just by cutting, taping, sticking, and chatting.

The above pictures showed the part put together by my parents who, a week or so before, had spent a couple days cutting and assembling this external decorative strip that would eventually be wrapped around the invite. They cut the red strips and white strips; the red being slightly wider and longer than the white, so it would create a red border around the white piece. Then they attached the red and white strips together using double sided archival quality craft tape. After that, they punched out the two fleur-de-lys holes. Finally, they attached double sided tape to the ends of the strips so that they were ready to affix to the cards later in the process. As an added bonus, they divided the strips into groups of twenty-five so we could keep track of how many we had, and they wrapped up the little punched out fleur-de-lys holes in red and white for potential use in another project. Because of the massive amounts of punching they did, they went through two or three of the punches. Evidently those are made for more occasional punching and not repetitive and frequent use like this project.

I got the black envelopes and cards that would be the main "base" of the invite at Paper Source in the Chicago area. My friend L went with me on a lunch break one day, and we had a quick task of figuring out how many packages I needed and how many extra we would need to buy to get the bulk discount. Since our numbers were so close to the number needed for the discount, we bought a few extra to get the discount. (As a side note: weeks before my mom and I had briefly thought of making the cards ourselves by cutting them down from larger paper, but after one or two failed attempts to get a folded card with 90 degree corners and a clean fold and some frustrated, stressed tears by me, we all decided my sanity was worth the $20 or so difference in cost to buy the cards pre-made. And a huge plus was that the cards and envelopes matched exactly and looked great together.) These cards from Paper Source were great and I was very pleased with the quality and the customer service! I love that store.

At the first night where friends were coming to help for our invitation "barn-raising", I was having the font crisis mentioned above and had not yet printed the invites. So, just before they arrived, I finalized my font choice and started printing on my ink jet printer. As I printed and let the pages fully dry, my friends arrived and we established a kind of assembly line approach. I printed the white text pages for the inside, one friend cut the pages with the paper cutter to the proper size**, one friend attached the white invitation text parts (one French, one English) to the inside of the card, and the next friend attached the wrap-around strip. Broken down into parts like this, the process went pretty quickly, but if I had had to do this alone, it would have taken forever!

After they were all assembled, I had another friend who asked if she could take the invites and the envelopes home with her overnight and stuff them for me (while I was packing for my move and trying to get the addresses in the spreadsheet so we could print labels for the invites.)*** Meanwhile two other friends volunteered to help create a label design into which we could import the addresses and print. I had bought large labels already, with the thought that I wanted to use black envelopes and print the recipients' address, our return address, and some sort of wedding image/motif on the label we would attach. But I had no idea how to do that, and these friends stepped in to figure it out.****

On the way out of town, right before our vintage jewelry shopping adventure, we stopped at the post office to mail the invites. I was working myself up to the experience (because my then-neighborhood post office is notoriously mean and many people rant on Yelp about it) but it turned out to be a fine experience, other than a long time in line, and the clerks did not make me angry or cry out of frustration. (Which was often my experience there.) They were quite nice, actually, and went to the effort of finding enough pretty stamps for the envelopes, which ended up being the wedding ring ones. I didn't care what stamps went on there as long as they weren't ugly, so this was fine. We stamped them all then dropped our U.S. invites and some international ones in the mail, and saved all the Canadian ones to mail from Canada several days later.

All said and done, it was a LOT of work for me and a LOT of friends and family who donated hours and hours of time to help. It did end up being less expensive than ordering invites (well, invites that were anything more the very cheapest ones available), but what was most special to me was to be able to create an invite that was very "us", with the French and English, and with the colors and design we had chosen. It makes me smile to know that our invitation was truly was one of a kind, made just for us with people that love us. We got some good feedback on it, and I am kinda proud of the fact that our invitations looked a little unconventional as far as a normal wedding invite goes (at least where I come from), but still remained classy. I loved using our fun labels (S was great at applying the labels and stamps, and very precise at sticking them on straight, which was surprisingly difficult for me!) And I know it is standard to use calligraphy and black envelopes are probably a wedding "no-no" to some, but we didn't care and it felt just right for us!

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*A fun benefit of making the invites is that there was some leftover supplies and I have been using them for business cards and have enough cards and envelopes to make some cool stationary later. And the paper cutter has totally come in handy many times. Who knew how useful they were?

**For some reason, the act of cutting the paper down into the proper size while keeping it centered (there were two on each page that had to be cut out) almost sent me over the edge. Thankfully, I was rescued by my (male) friends, M and D who manned the paper cutter and did a FABULOUS job cutting them down exactly right. 

***We skipped calligraphy, handwriting, RSVP cards, and inner envelopes and I am still so thankful we made each of those choices! It saved trees, expense, effort, and reduced stress.

****How did we end up with such amazing and giving friends? I feel so thankful. All these wedding-helping friends saved me from countless tears and from losing the little sanity I was holding on to at that point, less than two weeks before an international move and about seven weeks before the wedding. As did the many friends who about a week or two later helped me pack and move. And then the friends who helped with even more wedding stuff before and at the wedding. I can not say enough how much all that amazing help those few weeks carried me through one of the most stressful times I have experienced.


  1. They looked great...! Our approach was very similar... I didn't happen to think that über-expensive letterpress or the like was that worth it in terms of results... Plus it's so much more fun and personal to do it yourself, I think!

  2. WOW! These are beautiful! I LOVE the black and red together.

    I should send you pictures of mine (from the wedding-that-never-happened), we used a paper stamp too... and there was SO much cutting and glueing that I swear I'm not going through that again and just sending out postcards this time around! hehehe

    But it was an afternoon I remember fondly (one of the few planning experiences I enjoyed) with my mom, MIL, grandmother, aunt, and friends and bridesmaids. Amish barn-raising indeed!

  3. Marie-Ève: Yes, it was fun to do it ourselves. :) Do you have pics of yours on your website?
    Kim: Would love to see them...

  4. Little known fact, I minored in paper cutting in college.

  5. Mike, you are indeed very gifted at paper cutting. And helping me stay calm. :)