How Agile Saved My Big Fat Overly-Complicated Wedding!

Photo by the amazing Adam Sparkes, superb groomsman and photog extraordinaire! 

Photo by the amazing Adam Sparkes, superb groomsman and photog extraordinaire! 

WHEN WORK PROCESS AND HOME LIFE COLLIDE

I try to avoid talking about my "real life" on this blog. I like to stick to parties and Disney and craft projects instead. However, you should know that these are all things I do in my spare time. By day, I work as a User Experience Designer for Fortune 20 companies helping to make software that you've probably encountered at some point in your life. The work I do to bring those apps and software products to life is engaging and interesting to me, but probably not so much to people outside of the field. 

I've worked in this capacity for over 10 years and most of that time has been in Agile environments. Agile is a philosophy used to organize team work, primarily in Software Development groups. The concept of Agile can be traced back as early as the 1970’s, but formally crystalized with The Agile Manifesto for Software Development in 2001 and went on to transform team dynamics at large and small companies.

I’m a big believer in Agile because I’ve seen it work wonders, and because I am a ‘type A’ person who loves lists and making plans. Agile provides a system to get things done, and there’s so much I want to get done in a week!

I tend to take on “too much”, or so I’m told. Big birthday parties, trips jam-packed with activities, an endless list of ideas for craft projects that I want to do…. My wedding was no exception to this. In fact, it was the culmination of all my grandiose party planning, hyper scheduled vacation, and craft goals. Eventually (inevitably) I became overwhelmed and things started falling through the cracks. Given the cost of the wedding and the fact that we’d waited 10 years to do it, failing was not an option. And so I turned to the Agile process to help me accomplish everything I dreamed of accomplishing in the time I had left.

This was not our first foray into Agile at home. We'd begun incorporating Agile into our parenting process the previous summer, to help our girls begin learning how to budget their time and reach their goals, as well as negotiating and pitching in as part of a family with shared objectives. I’d been inspired by a TedTalk about Agile Programming your family. Those experiments really helped open up communication with our kids by making them 'stakeholders' in the work that had to be done at home, while also celebrating their incremental accomplishments.

The wedding, though, took this to a whole new level. 

In addition to all the wedding tasks that keep ‘normal’ brides busy, we were having a destination wedding (at Walt Disney World, no less), and I’d decided I needed to: design & sew the flower girl dresses, invent a new style of bouquet that I made myself, design and fabricate overly complex invitation booklets, plan everybody’s Disney trips for maximum overlap, learn to waltz, put together thoughtful welcome gift bags for each family attending, and thoughtful gifts for my bridal party that included custom Mickey ears, and a million other things that I don’t even remember anymore!

Me: "No flower girl dresses in the same fabric as the bridesmaids dresses? No problem!" 

Me: "No flower girl dresses in the same fabric as the bridesmaids dresses? No problem!" 

Me: "Sparkle belts cost WHAT? I can make those myself."

Me: "Sparkle belts cost WHAT? I can make those myself."

Somehow I decided I needed to find thematically appropriate ear hats for each guest, even if I had to make them myself!

Somehow I decided I needed to find thematically appropriate ear hats for each guest, even if I had to make them myself!

Sometimes you have to resort to child labor when you design entirely overly complicated invitations. That's why they have those little, nimble fingers.

As we got closer and closer to the event, I found myself snapping at my fiancé and our kids. My house was falling apart, cluttered with a zillion half-completed projects, and I was losing my mind. It wasn’t fun anymore. I’d taken on these projects because I wanted to do them --- I enjoy crafting, I enjoying being able to respond to a compliment with “thanks! I made that!!” but I wasn’t enjoying these projects anymore. So, we started our Agile Wedding Process and it saved the day (literally!).

In the hope that it might help others out there feeling overwhelmed by their own "too much", I've decided to share the basics here if you want to try these techniques yourself. 


WHAT IS AGILE? 

Agile is a philosophy of project management that empowers employees to make decisions and shift focus in order to react to market forces that move fast. It focuses on iterations and incremental completion. What I'm really talking about when I use the term here, though, is a frame work of Agile called "Scrum" which is a system for organizing work within the project. Check out this helpful summary on the scrum alliance website: 

  • A product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog.
  • During sprint planning, the team pulls a small chunk from the top of that wish list, a sprint backlog, and decides how to implement those pieces.
  • The team has a certain amount of time — a sprint (usually two to four weeks) — to complete its work, but it meets each day to assess its progress (daily Scrum).
  • Along the way, the ScrumMaster keeps the team focused on its goal.
  • At the end of the sprint, the work should be potentially shippable: ready to hand to a customer, put on a store shelf, or show to a stakeholder.
  • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective.
  • As the next sprint begins, the team chooses another chunk of the product backlog and begins working again.

Now, I realize that's written in hyper software speak. But this process works at home too and I'm going to break down how we used Agile in the context of completing all the tasks required for our wedding and how you might be able to use it, too. 

 

STEP 1:  ESTABLISH A BACKLOG

We sat down one night with a fresh pack of sticky notes and wrote out everything that needed to be done for the wedding. In Agile these are called “User Stories”. A key part of writing stories is that you break down big to-do's into their component tasks. For example, making bouquets was not 1 sticky note, it was 10. There was one task for buying the materials. Another for finalizing the design. Arranging the bouquets. Wiring in the lights. Wrapping the handles. And, finally, packaging them up in their shipping boxes to send to our Disney resort.

I have a good friend who is an Agile Coach by day and a Life Coach by night. She always talks about establishing “SMART goals”, and I try to keep those in mind when I’m making my “stories”.

·       Specific – What are you setting out to do/make? 

·       Measurable – How will you know you are “done”?

·       Achievable – Is it realistic? Do you have the skills?* Is the time period reasonable?

·       Responsible – who will do it?

·       Time – how long will it take?

*Note, if you want to accomplish something but don't have the skills for it do not despair, you just need to make a story for learning those skills as a step before taking on the task!

Back in my college days I took a class in productivity skills for artists and one of the tricks I learned was that before you sit down to work on something, you should take 5 minutes and write out everything that’s on your mind. Literally everything from call mom to start eating better to write great american novel goes down on the paper. Holding these in your head steals mental processing energy away from the task you want to complete and writing them down lets your mind relax and focus on what you’re sitting down to do. I still do this exercise many times per day – especially before meetings where I need to be mentally present. If I find myself feeling distracted I flip to a clean page in my notebook and jot down what’s distracting me. Once it’s safetly down on paper my mind has permission to “let it go” for the time being. You'll find that just the process of writing out what needs to be done will help you feel so much more focused!

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Step 2: SET UP A PROJECT BOARD

The next step is to put all of these stories onto a “scrum board”. Some people use their refrigerators, a whiteboard in their living room, bathroom mirror, etc. Basically any open wall will do. For our wedding, because we had SO MANY sticky notes, we used our corner window in our breakfast nook.

You’ll have to develop a system that works for you. The goal of the Scrum board is to make the work & progress visible to everyone on the team. The most common approach I’ve seen is a board with three columns and a row for each teammate (in this case, family members). The first column has all the sticky notes that are in the backlog. The second column are just the stickies you’ve identified to work on in this period. The third column is completed stickies.

Personally, I find a great deal of satisfaction is tearing the stickies down when a task is complete, so my board only has 2 columns: backlog and in process. Don't be afraid to experiment! Find what works best for you.

 

Step 3: PRIORITIZE THE BACKLOG

Grab two-weeks worth of tasks from the ‘backlog’ you made in step 1 and put them in a new area of your board. If you're having trouble estimating what two-weeks' worth of tasks is, it sometimes helps to look at each sticky and give it it's own time estimate (i.e., one hour to address the invitations) and then grab the sticky notes that equal the amount of time you have available to devote to your project.

In Agile, we organize our work into what’s called a “sprint”. A 2-week sprint is most common. You gather up the sticky note stories that you think your team will be able to accomplish within 10 days and identify who is responsible for completing each one. The goal is to get everything (or as much as possible) done by the 2-week deadline. Note that no story should be bigger than two weeks, if it is then it needs to be broken down into smaller stories. I'm a believer that you should “load” your sprint with extra stories (called “stretch goals”) that you can accomplish if you finish your other tasks early. Competition with yourself and other teammates helps you push to accomplish more: in Agile the number of stories you are able to complete is called your “velocity”. I'm always trying to increase my velocity: ie finish more in this sprint than I did in the last sprint. (yes, you can cheat by giving yourself easier stories, but that defeats the purpose and you're only cheating yourself!). 

The stories you’ve decided to tackle in this “sprint” are moved from the backlog to the “current” section of the board. Remember that this is a discussion with your teammates (family). They are indicating what they are willing and able to do by the deadline. I want to be clear: you are not “ASSIGNING” work to them. You can certainly negotiate with them, but they HAVE to “opt-in” that they are going to complete the work or I guarantee that those sticky notes will not get cleared. Trust me. Without genuine buy-in from your family, the system doesn’t work so don't bother. They have to WANT to finish the tasks too. Your job is to find out what tasks they can and will do in the time period and move those to the active section of your board.

It's all about pushing yourself psychologically to accomplish more by having laser focus and a desire to move the sticky notes across the board. Hack your dog brain, as they say.

3.1 WEDDING PLANNING AND SUB-DEADLINES

Wedding planning was unique in that we were managing a lot of deadlines that didn’t fit neatly into 2-week “sprints”. There were appointments and dance classes and due dates and shipping dates and all kinds of dates to keep track of OR ELSE. To accommodate this, we modified our board to have a calendar. Each day was represented by a half-sheet of typing paper with the date on top. Onto that we put any important deadlines that we needed to track. Then we started divvying up the sticky notes making sure that all the tasks associated to a deadline were arranged BEFORE the deadline. This really helped us organize what needed to be done when, so that we focused on the tasks that were due first vs. those we were more excited to get started on but weren't due until closer to the wedding. If a task didn’t get completed by the end of the day it moved over to the next day and so on.

I’m happy to say that we didn’t miss any of the important deadlines with this approach.  (For those familiar with Software Development, this is more of the “KanBan” style).

 

Step 4 COMMUNICATION CADENCE

Agile is, at it’s core, more of a communication methodology than anything else. There are two key communication touch points you will want to start incorporating into your daily/weekly schedule:

  • Daily Standup
  • Sprint Planning (Sprint Demo / Sprint Retrospective / Backlog Grooming)

4.1  Daily Standup:

Once per day the team (family) gathers together in front of the Project board to discuss their progress. They move sticky notes around to indicate what they are actively working on and what has been completed. If they have a sticky note that is assigned to them that they are not able to complete for whatever reason (this is called a “blocker”) they discuss with the group what is blocking them and the group’s job is to help eliminate the blocker. Perhaps Sue’s task is dependent on Joe finishing up something else. The daily standup is the opportunity for Sue to communicate with Joe and let him know how his incomplete task is affecting her. This should help motivate Joe to complete his task. 

I find it helps to do this in the morning so that what needs to get done is fresh in everyone's mind as they start the day. This is also why we chose to keep our board in the breakfast nook: a very central, visible place that we almost always spend time in first thing in the morning. 

Standup should only take a few minutes. If folks aren't sure what to say, you can use this template: "What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today? Do you have any blockers?"

4.2 Sprint Planning:

At the end of your sprint / beginning of your next sprint the team comes together to discuss what they’re going to tackle. (Once per week or every two-weeks, or whatever time increment you’re using for your family sprints).

For teams that don’t throw away sticky notes as they’re done, you’ll start sprint planning by reviewing and removing the completed stories from the last sprint. With kids this is a great way to acknowledge and celebrate their accomplishments, which helps keep them motivated.

You might also do a quick “sprint retrospective” which is a chance to talk about what in the process went well, what didn’t go so well, and what could be improved in terms of the process. This is definitely important in the beginning when you're working out how the process will go for your family (an example, if the board isn’t working you could discuss an alternate way of setting it up or location in the house for it to be).

Then, it’s time to start planning for the next sprint. Just like in Step 3, you are going to go through all the stories in your backlog and decide which ones you're going to tackle before the next deadline, and move those to the active part of your board.

Then, take a look at ALL the stickies in your backlog: are they all still relevant? Are there things you thought you were going to do that now you don't think you need to or you could drop? Are there new things that have come up that you want to make space for? This process is called “backlog grooming” and it’s what allows agile teams to adjust so that they’re always working on the most relevant tasks. You'll need to order the stickies by priority. Look extra carefully at the sticky notes that you've ranked as lowest priority: are you really going to do them? If not, let those tasks go. My Agile Coach friend often says that this is the hardest, but also the most important, part: letting go of the things that you don't really need to do.

 

Step 5: REPEAT

Agile helps reduce conflict/stress and increase productivity because it makes work visible and organizes communication, focusing the team on immediate goals and that all lead to long-term, steady progress. These same principles work at home too. A family is a team and your family can benefit by learning new ways to work together, communicate effectively, and achieve shared goals.


IN CONCLUSION

I hear friends and coworkers complaining all the time about a spouse who isn’t pulling their weight at home and leaves everything on mom to do even though mom works. This leads to simmering resentment. While of course there are husbands who are lazy, I believe most people want a healthy marriage and a functioning home and are willing to pitch in to get it, they just don’t know what to do. Women are notoriously bad at the whole “I’ll just do it myself!” thing, when what they really want is their whole family pitching in to help them.

By making the work visible I found that my family was not only helping me more, but helping each other more. Before we started our family project board no one knew what my priorities even were, and so they were bewildered when I would snap at them for not doing the things that they didn’t realize I was expecting them to do. We tend to ASSUME the other people in our family just know what needs to be done, what tasks are stressing us out and keeping us up at night. Well, you know what they say about making assumption...  

There is greater accountability with an Agile process, and less frustration AT each other (as opposed to WITH each other). When we decide together what our goals are, everyone is more willing to pitch in.

We’ve used the Agile process at home for both ongoing organization of everyday tasks and big event goals like a wedding, party, home improvement projects, and moving. I’ve heard of folks using it to set more emotional family goals like “yelling less” or “being kinder to each other”. Though Agile is designed to help groups work together, I also use many of the same tools  myself when I’m starting a big project on my own as a way to organize myself, even though it's just me. Like I said above: just the act of writing down and breaking out tasks helps to focus your mind and effort.

Whatever you’re trying to tackle, I’d encourage you to give Agile a try. It doesn’t cost anything aside from a package of sticky notes, and could make all the difference in reaching your goals!  

As for us, our wedding was a success! I completed all the projects I set out to do with the help of my family (and some friends!) And, I even found the time to learn to waltz!

Learn to dance? Check.

Learn to dance? Check.

Fancy dresses? Handled.

Fancy dresses? Handled.

Super detailed invitation with planning booklet? Done.

Super detailed invitation with planning booklet? Done.

Ridiculously fancy bouquet? Definitely!

Ridiculously fancy bouquet? Definitely!

Like the ears? Thanks! I made them!! :-)

Like the ears? Thanks! I made them!! :-)


Wedding Invitations (wedding day photos)

Our Disney wedding photographer captures a few images of our (overly elaborate) invites on our wedding day! I'm so happy with how they turned out! (For details on how they were made, check out my construction post!) I will be doing a design shoot of them in the future because there are just so many more details that I want to make sure to capture before I tuck the invite away into my keepsake box. Stay tuned! :-)

 

 

On Making Art (and parenthood)

My husband and I met in 2004 while at art school in Detroit. We’d both grown up in New York but we met in Michigan. I was minding my own business posting fliers for an art show and stopped by the student tutoring center where Brendan was working as a tutor. He asked if I needed help with a paper which I found irritating because I had a degree in writing, which I told him. The conversation should have ended there but he shot back that he had a minor in history, and I pointed out that that had nothing to do with writing and so our lifetime of bantering began. It makes perfect sense. This is how New York people flirt, but to our Michigan friends it was bewildering. “Why did you give your number to someone who you feel insulted you?” my friend asked as we walked away. I explained, “Insults are how New Yorkers say hello”. Nowadays when Brendan tells the story he says I needed help, I just didn’t know it yet. And maybe maybe if you catch me on a good day he’ll get me admit that that was possibly true. Not with writing, obviously, but with so many other things. Visual art was new to me at the time, and my head was full of ideas for things I wanted to make, but my technical ability lagged far behind my ideas.

(Look at how helpless I look? I can't make anything!... ok, this needs context. This was the staff photo for the art managazine I was EIC for way back in 2005. We were making books out of metal wire. It was maybe not one of my best ideas.

(Look at how helpless I look? I can't make anything!... ok, this needs context. This was the staff photo for the art managazine I was EIC for way back in 2005. We were making books out of metal wire. It was maybe not one of my best ideas.

Enter Brendan, who was a product design student with a strong background in crafts (woodworking, glass blowing, drawing, building, etc.) We went on a date, but didn’t hit it off. I don’t remember why. I think it was because he was more serious than what I was looking for at the time. But we did start making things together. Brendan helped me bring my ideas to life and, at that point in my journey, that was the most amazing thing a boy could offer. It became apparent to everyone but me that we were destined to be more than friends. As a matter of fact, when my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, he said something like “Now you can go date Brendan” and I remember being really blindsided by that! But of course, making things together is a great litmus test for being in a relationship, in its peculiar way.

The greatest thing we have collaborated on, by far, are our kids. We have two super fun little girls who’re blossoming into clever young women and I write about them a lot on this blog. Everyone says parenting changes you, and it’s true. But artists and makers face, I think, even more drastic changes than others. For starters, your time to make work becomes suddenly nonexistent as you are occupied with the task of caring for other human beings instead. In those early parenting years, especially, I felt like the character in Don Marquis’ poem, Mehitabel and her Kittens: 

the life of a female artist / is continually / hampered what in hell / have I done to deserve / all these kittens/ I look back on my life / and it seems to me to be / just one damned kitten / after another / I am a dancer / and my only prayer / is to be allowed / to give my best to my art / but just as I feel / that I am succeeding / in my life work / along comes another batch / of these damned kittens / full poem

Viola spent her first year exploring the art at Cranbrook Academy. Totally normal playground for a 1 year old.

Viola spent her first year exploring the art at Cranbrook Academy. Totally normal playground for a 1 year old.

That’s not to say that it’s only women whose work is affected by parenthood. Brendan often gets freelance contracts to design toys for mass market, which means that we receive large boxes of product from Hong Kong for him to use as the basis for his redesigns. Sandbox toys or cowboy kits, not such a big deal in our house. But one time he received an entire crate of dolls and sparkly ponies. You try telling your three year old that she can’t play with the sparkly ponies because they’re daddy’s work. Cue all the tears. He eventually had to put a lock on the studio door because the girls kept sneaking in to steal the prototypes!                                                                                                             

these terrible / conflicts are always / presenting themselves to the artist / the eternal struggle / between art and life / is something fierce

I was at a party a few weeks ago and ran into a classmate of mine from the graduate school where I earned my MFA, who now has three small children. One of the first things she said to me after the initial catch-up small talk was “I don’t make art anymore”. It was so unexpected and it just kind of hung there in the air between us. I wanted to set her at ease so I said “Yeah, me too” and that was both true and not true. I don’t make the kind of art I made before, the kind that hung in formal white gallery spaces. And I don’t make the kind of art that I thought I would be making, either. But I do still make. Every day, every weekend, Brendan and I are still making things together. But now, instead of pouring concrete for sculptures, we are building pirate rafts for birthday parties. Instead of learning how to work with caustic, I am watching tutorials on how to frost tiered cakes. I’m pushing my sewing, painting, and crafting skills every day, learning new techniques to bring my girls’ crazy ideas to life.

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Brendan is really bitter that Santa gets all the credit for this thing!

Brendan is really bitter that Santa gets all the credit for this thing!

I felt really guilty about what I was making for a long time. I dreaded running into artists i had known and having them ask what I was up to. I never said ‘I don’t make art anymore’ so forthrightly, but I did change the topic hella fast! I actively avoided places where it would come up. I looked back on nearly ten years of life and thought I’d made nothing. But then I realized that actually I’d been making a ton!

We make things for, and with, our girls constantly. Now that they’re old enough to participate it’s practically impossible to keep them away. And it’s given them an entirely skewed perspective on reality. Doesn’t everyone’s dad build them convertible sandboxes and floor-to-ceiling American Girl dollhouses and complex mini pet shops (though Santa still gets the credit for that one for now). Doesn’t everyone’s mom sew them elaborate teddy bear costumes and pink princess teepees, and sparkling gowns when the characters they want to dress up as aren’t popular enough to be productized? (I'm looking at you, Tremaine sisters!)

Still, that nagging feeling, man. It stalks you. It was a big reason why I started this blog, actually. I wanted to chronicle the things we were doing with the girls so that someday (once they know Santa isn’t real) they could come here and see a history of all the things we’ve made for them. But I also was looking for a kind of validation that even though I wasn’t making ‘art’, what I was making had value and was a worthwhile use of my time. It’s funny how those things become so ingrained in us through the Fine Arts education process, isn’t it? If I’m not moving the discourse of design forward, do I even make a sound? tbd.

Parenthood teaches us so much, and also leaves us with so many questions. I look around at other artists I attended school with and the many ways they’ve incorporated their kids and their parenthood into their work. Some use their children as subject mater, models, or supporting actors in their work, while others see their kids as their muses, and still others incorporate them into their art making process directly

I don’t do any of those things. And I also do all of them. And I grapple with the baggage around domestic crafts. But I'm also learning to unlearn that definition of ‘worthwhile craft’ that I picked up along the way, and learning to see the pirate ship and tiered cakes and masquerade masks and Halloween costumes and vacation outfits as my art, as much as anything that came before in my career of making. They decorate our home, our memories, our hearts, and this blog. And that’s something.

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(You know you may have been to WDW too often when they request a Jungle Cruise themed birthday party.... and you have all the props you need to give them one on hand! But how 'bout that 'backside of water'fall cake, huh?)

(You know you may have been to WDW too often when they request a Jungle Cruise themed birthday party.... and you have all the props you need to give them one on hand! But how 'bout that 'backside of water'fall cake, huh?)

But the very best part? After twelve years, I’m still making things with my favorite person every day. And through that making, we connect with our girls and pass on the design and craft ability that are so intrinsic to how we both identify. They are experiencing who we are, and how we love them. I love you, says the sewing machine. I love you, says the jig saw. I love you, says the paint brushes and hot glue gun and grommets and sparkles and wood stain. Making things together is a great way to say I love you

Fair warning, though: I feel sorry for the unlucky designers who end up with Viola as their Art Director twenty years from now. She is a brutal task master! Double checking my sewing against screenshots from her favorite cartoon to make sure that I recreated Sofia’s costume accurately in bear-scale! (In case you were wondering, Sofia has pearls around the neckline of her dress AND a necklace, not just a necklace, slacker. And those white designs on the skirt? The project isn’t done until you add those, regardless of whether you know how to or not. Hello tutorials about iron transfer!) I love you, teddy bear dresses. I love you, hand-sewn pearl edging.

Soon we will be celebrating all these years of making with a wedding at Walt Disney World, and I can't wait to share all the things we're creating for our big day with you! Please bear with me as we are super busy making for the next few months, I likely won't be posting much until it's over. But then: all the sparkles, I promise! :-)

Update: I haven't gotten all the projects posted, but here is a sort of sneak peak into all the projects we did and how we managed to get them all done! I really thought I'd have been all caught up by now (4 months post-wedding) but, alas, it's been nonstop with kittens since we got back!

Cranbrook, 2009

Cranbrook, 2009

Cranbrook, 2016

Cranbrook, 2016

Making Wedding Invitations for our Disney Wedding

(8 months out)

We sent out our Save The Date cards are early as possible after signing our wedding contract and locking in our dates, to give our guests as much time as possible to plan their trips. We asked them to Pre-RSVP if they could, to help wittle down the numbers of full invitations we would send out (because we knew the invitations were going to be expensive!)

You can read about the Save the Date card design and construction here. 

Once they were in the mail, we pretty much immediately turned our attention to the full invitation and planning booklets. 

 


GOALS & CONCEPT

Our guest list for our wedding was around 100--- that’s 100 addresses, many of which were families of 2 or 4. We were told that Disney weddings has an RSVP rate around 80%. We were skeptical that that many folks from our list would be able to make it, and thought that our RSVP rate would be much lower. Taking a trip to Disney is a big ask, especially for those who don’t go regularly.

With this in mind, I wanted to go above-and-beyond with our wedding invitations. For most of the folks on our list, we figured that this would be their only participation in our wedding and we wanted them to feel included even if they couldn’t come. We also wanted to share with our distant friends and family details of what we’d been up to in the past ten years since we’d originally gotten engaged!

On Pinterest I came across great examples of Destination wedding invitations (which can be more like mini-vacation planning packages) as well as some really lovely photo-album inspired invitations. I decided to fuse these two concepts together to create our invitations.

You can see my Pinterest research board here! 

 


DESIGNING THE DESIGN

In my past life, I attended design school and spent years making hand-crafted books. However, since 2009 I’ve been working in the technology sector designing software interfaces. I haven’t made a book in years. So this was a fun excuse for me to pull out my saddle-stitcher and bone folder (yes, I have those kinds of supplies and so much more!)

Once I had the initial design mocked up, I started the process of sourcing the paper and printing--- this was the first major hurdle that I experienced. Many of the printers that I had worked with years prior were no longer around! They had quietly retired or gone out of business, and the print shops that I was able to find did not have the types of paper that I really wanted to use. (I realize that this sounds a bit snobby, but bear with me: paper is one of my favorite things, so of course I wanted to use a lovely paper for my wedding invitations!)

Eventually, I reached a point of complete frustration and, crunched for time because we wanted to give our guests as much time to plan their trips as possible, I compromised and went with a standard paper stock with the intention of hand-altering it with stamps or other embellishments. This is something that I still regret, but it was necessary.

Near my office is a Paper Source and I stopped by there every few days to look at their crafting supplies. One day, one of the employee’s was giving an embossing demonstration. I wasn’t familiar with hand-embossing and immediately realized that the technique would help distract from the lousy paper I was printing on. I bought a variety of rubber stamps online (much less expensive!) and once they’d arrived I stamped directly onto my design mockups until I got the spacing just right. I even found a floral stamp that (unintentionally) looked like a Hidden Mickey when stamped upside down! #winning!

Note the spaces in the background pattern to accommodate the stamps. This took a lot of trial and error.

Another feature of the design that was problematic was the actual construction. I knew that we wanted to do a folder with vacation planning materials inside. We talked about printing a huge double-sided trifold, and then gluing in a pocket, but the trifold would have to be over 30” which would have been extremely expensive to produce. One afternoon while describing the challenge to my coworker (also a designer) the solution hit me. Instead of gluing a pocket into a 30” trifold, I could glue together two 20” bifolds, cutting down the excess flap of the second bifold to create the pocket! (This makes more sense once you see the photos below). Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I thought this was a pretty genius solution!

I did several design mockups to make sure that I had all the margins correct for the complex assembly and stamping that I was planning before sending the files off to be printed. I received them back from the printer in batches, which worked out well because it forced me into more of an assembly-line production method--- I had originally been planning to assemble each book completely, and that would have been disastrous in hindsight.

 

 


EMBOSSING THE FOLDERS

If you aren’t familiar with stamp embossing, basically you use a slow-drying ink (I used Versamark), dust it with a special embossing powder, and then hit it with a heat gun to melt the powder. I experimented with a lot of stamps and inks on the actual coated paper we were using to find a combination that looked great. Some powders were too fine, while others too course, for the stamps I wanted to use. And some of the stamps I wanted to use had designs that just weren’t good for embossing. Eventually, I found a combination that worked well.

In practice, for the large-scale production of our invites, the embossing process took some time to develop a rhythm. Because the slow-drying embossing ink is clear, it’s really hard to line it up and know that you’ve gotten the whole image stamped before you dust it with the embossing powder… and of course, once you’ve dusted it with the embossing powder, it’s too late to go back and re-apply the ink. To help with this, I started marking the stamps’ wood block handles to line up with visible elements on the printed page.

I even found a teal heat gun! Though I had to endure endless teasing from my partner about its unfortunate shape...

I even found a teal heat gun! Though I had to endure endless teasing from my partner about its unfortunate shape...

The folders were the first pieces we received from the printer, and were the two bifolds from which we were going to create the structure of the invitation and the pocket. These were embossed with a total of 4 stamps, then scored and folded. It was good that we received just the folders first (even though I’d originally wanted them all bookletized!) because it allowed me to throw away about 10% of each where the stamps hadn’t turned out well, and combined only those that had good stamps. If they’d already been combined, then I would have ended up in the situation where the first three stamps went well and the fourth one ruined the whole thing, which would have been really frustrating!

I returned the covers to the printer to be scored and folded, and for the left side to have the photo album pages inserted. When they were returned, I cut down the right side to create the pocket shape, and glued it into the left side, using sparkly silver tape to close the outside edge and create the silver element visible when the invitations were closed.

After assembling dozens of these, that sparkly tape started to feel like sandpaper and really tore up my fingers!


LIBRARY CARDS, FRONT INVITE, ENVELOPES

In addition to the envelopes, we embossing the library cards, library card pockets, invitation for the front of the packet, and the teal mailing envelopes. All of these little embellishments were hefty crafting projects in themselves, and I worked to get them completed while we waited for the main elements of the invitation to come back from the printer.


PICTURE ALBUM

Once assembled into the embossed folder covers, we added the replica photos into the photo album pages using inexpensive photo corners. I purchased a variety of photo corners, in silver, sparkly, and black. The ones that worked best were the super cheap black ones which came on a roll because I was able to apply them quickly to the photos. In order to speed things up we decided to use only two corners for most of the smaller pictures. This was also an aesthetic choice because having four corners on the smaller pictures was very heavy visually.

We applied the corners to the photo, and then stuck the photo into the booklet in the appropriate place. Remember the sticker-by-number books they had in the 80's? Yeah, it was sort of like that. The album pages had been printed with the captions already in place which helped guide the photos. I also created four “sample books” that my helpers followed in order to know which picture went where.

My daughters were both eager to help and so I laid out all the photos and they bundled one of each image in the order that they appeared in the booklets and rubber-banded them together to make little packets. This really helped in the assembly of the albums because we didn’t have to rifle through the pile looking for the next picture.

We found pictures that told the story of our lives together up to now (the wedding): from early childhood pictures, to snapshots from when we first started dating in college, trips we took together, the day we bought our first home, had our children, and more recent family trips. My partner kept it very "non-Disney", though on the last page of the album (once we were into the "trip planning" portion of the invitation) we cobbled together a picture of me with Minnie Mouse on the Empress Lily in the 1980's and a picture of Brendan at the Beach Club in the 1990's with current pictures of us with our kids at Walt Disney World!  


RSVP STATIONARY

Our RSVP’s were definitely non-traditional. For guests who were attending we needed to gather more information than just the traditional “beef or chicken” selection. I created little trifolds that had a check list of activities for guests to return in a supplied envelope.

For guests who could not attend, we decided to do a Disney postcard where each one is unique. I ordered the Art of Disney postcard set (which you can actually send through the mail, though that’s not the intent) and asked guests to write us a little note for our wedding album. We even tried to match up the post card design to the guest we were sending it to. We’ll have these at our wedding to mark everyone part of our special day, even if they weren’t able to join us in person!

To save on stamps, we included one stamp in the package held on with a heart-shaped paperclip. I had read a wedding tip that you should number your RSVP cards so that if guests forget to add their name or if their signature is illegible you can match it up. We did that and it was definitely a life saver!

An unintended consequence of this was that when I checked the mail I knew immediately whether I was receiving a Yes (teal envelope) or a No (happy postcard!). The adorable Disney postcards also made the No’s not feel so personal. For an anxious person like me who already doesn’t love opening envelopes, it was nice to know right away what the answer was. Though, of course, we received some postcards inside envelopes and some Yeses on postcards because either my friends were trolling me, or they can’t follow directions, or both! #thestruggleisreal!

But srsly, how cute is my mirror full of "no we can't attend your wedding" notes?


PLANNING BOOKLETS

I don't want to forget the planning booklets, but because they were only digitally printed and not embellished at all it's easy for them to get left out! The planning booklets were chock full of useful information about the trip, including a guide to the activities we were planning to do with our guests, details about the resorts, and contact information for booking a Disney Vacation. 

We even designed a map of WDW that showed where all the wedding activities were located, and priced out sample trip packages ranging from $300 for a family of 2, up to $3,000 for a family of 4 for a full week. We went into details about how to get dining reservations and make fast passes and the difference between booking with Disney Weddings vs. booking a traditional wedding package. 

They were super thorough... unfortunately, they went unread by many guests. How frustrating is that!? Maybe thorough isn't always the most helpful? (Nah!)

If you're looking for some ideas, I've linked our booklets below as PDFs.


FINAL PRODUCT

The last step was to put it all together. The library card envelopes I’d bought from the librarystore.com were self-adhesive. Those went in to the front of the left envelope. There were two planning booklets: one laid out the activities we were planning, and the other was about Disney vacations and accommodations. These stacked in the back pocket with the RSVP items so that the postcard was visible with the heart-shaped paperclip.

On the “front” outside of the packet I used sticky zots to affix the “traditional” looking wedding invitation, and the whole thing was tied up with a silver cord and put into the teal envelopes which I hand-addressed and sealed with leftover sparkly tape.

Most of the invitations arrived fairly quickly, but some took several weeks to arrive and I don’t really understand why there was a delay for some but not all.

We received many compliments on our finished invitations. Even though I’m never going to be happy with the paper we used, I’m thrilled with how they turned out. Most importantly, it was wonderful getting to work with my hands and put together physical books again after so long. Even though it was a lot of work, I loved every minute of it!

Check out the photos of our invitations from our wedding day! (I am still planning to do a more product-centric photo shoot of the invites, but haven't yet found the time. It's up there on my to do list, I promise!)

Making Save the Date Cards for our Disney Wedding

(10 months out)

As soon as we’d locked in our venues and dates for our Disney Wedding, we got to work on our Save the Date cards because we wanted to give our guests absolutely as much time as possible to plan their trips in the hopes of being able to take advantage of the 180-day dining reservation window to secure group meals.

We also put together our wedding website with all the details we knew, such as which resorts we’d room-blocked, the contact information for our Disney Vacation Planner, and the activities we were thinking of to do with guests while we were down there. We asked guests to pre-RSVP on the website, to get them thinking about this information and also as a way of wittling down our guest list before our wedding invitations went out (because we knew they were going to be big and expensive).

 


CONCEPT

Originally, I’d had this concept about using a library card as a Save the Date which I got from Pinterest. But I also came across a tutorial for making hand-made scratch-off save the date cards which I also fell in love with! For a while I tried to find a way to make the two ideas work together, but it was hopeless. My partner suggested that I save the library card for the full invitations, and design around the scratch-off technique for the Save the Date card.


DESIGN

We put together our Save the Date cards so early in the wedding process that we didn’t really have a solid ‘look’ figured out yet. As a result, they’re much more ‘rustic’ than our full invitation and other printed material.

We had taken a few pictures while we were down at Disney for our Site Visit and those were the primary design elements that we used for the Save the Date Cards. That, and the color teal, of course!


Scratch-off-paint

I found an online tutorial for making your own scratch off paint by mixing silver (or any color) paint with dish detergent. Before applying the paint to your cards, however, you have to cover the text beneath with packaging tape. Because our design was to have the date in a heart-shaped design, I found heart-shaped hole punches to cut the packaging tape. 

Unfortunately, the packaging tape gummed up the punches. I went back to the craft store and found contact paper that was backed that worked with the hole punches, though this created an additional step of having to peel the paper off of the contact paper.

After the tape is applied, then you simply paint over the hearts with the handmade paint. I found that it took two or three coats of paint to fully cover the hearts. If I were to do this over again, I wouldn’t have the dates set on a white background but on something darker and easier to cover (like silver!)  Oh well, you live and learn!

In preparing this post I was looking through Pinterest and found that another designer did something similar, but according to their tutorial they used white crayon in lieu of packaging tape to keep the silver paint off the text. I don't know if that would work, but it sounds plausible and would be so much less aggravating than cutting packaging tape into little hearts was!! 

It's so easy, a four-year-old can do it! And I'm not above child labor!

Step 1: Print cards

Step 2: Punch hearts out of packaging tape or contact paper

Step 3: Apply hearts to cards

Step 4: Paint and let dry

Step 5: Repeat step 4 as needed

Step 6: Mail


FINISHING

As a finishing touch we wrapped each card in paper string with a small charm attached that said “2016”. They’re the same type of charm that you get for graduation tassels, and I found them very cheap on etsy! Also some other designs of the same size.

I love the final look of these Save the Date cards, even though the more “rustic” elements didn’t ultimately carry through to our wedding design. Guests loved the lotto style scratch-off paint, too! 

Sorry the images are so dark and grainy but I worked on the Save the Date cards mostly in the evenings after work. 

CHECK BACK: I'll be adding high quality images of the finished Save the Date cards as soon as I have a chance to photograph them!


WEDDING WEBSITE

For our wedding website, I was able to grab the domain cakeandfireworks.com... which I'm tempted to keep even after the wedding, but I have no idea what I would use it for! I chose to host the site through squarespace because it's the service I use for this blog and I'm comfortable/familiar with it.

The initial design only had pages for Our Story, Accommodations, Activities, and Pre-RSVP. The design borrowed heavily from the Save the Date card design as you can see. 

The Pre-RSVP included a nifty form widget that Squarespace offers. When people fill it out, the results automatically populate a spreadsheet over at google docs. That might not sound super impressive, but it made me feel extremely organized!

Later on, after the invitations were finished, I uploaded PDF's of the planning booklets we'd included with our invitations. I also replaced the Pre-RSVP with a full RSVP form that had a check list of all the optional activities we wanted guests to consider. I added a "How to Book" page with all the contact information for Disney Weddings, Dining Reservations, park ticket prices, etc.  and a Registry page (even though we don't really have a traditional registry and aren't asking for gifts). 

In addition to our wedding website, I created a Facebook Group so that guests could virtually meeting and communicate directly between each other to help facilitate things like room sharing and carpooling. I'm hoping to make this social element more robust so that guests who couldn't attend our wedding are able to participate and follow the goings-on if they want to.