Saturday, April 13, 2013

Meeting Houses: Choosing A Historic Venue

Take even a quick trip through Vermont and you're bound to encounter a meeting house. Built mostly in the 1700-1800's, these iconic white (or sometimes brick) structures were once the center of village life, serving as the community's gathering place for worship, cultural events, and the quintessential town meeting. Fortunately, Vermont has worked to preserve these scenic buildings which provide a rustic, whimsical wedding venue for history lovers.

First visit to the Meeting House, 2009.
Beginning our own location search in early 2011, Dan and I knew we wanted our England-meets-New England wedding to feature more than a nod to the past. Eventually we fell in love with the Rockingham Meeting House, a National Historic Landmark we'd visited together in 2009. Built 1787-1801, this striking Puritan structure sits atop a hillside with a fenced churchyard and gorgeous hydrangea bushes. For just 200 dollars, the meeting house and its grounds provided the perfect backdrop for our vintage-inspired wedding and gave our guests a stunning view in a setting from a bygone era. What a fun day!
Interested? Here are some things to consider while planning:

  • Who's in charge around here? (We simply looked for contact information online when we spotted a meeting house we liked. We met several kind folks this way and got the answers we needed.)
  • Is the site open to the public? (Many meeting houses - including Rockingham - have some public hours. Located off the road in such a quiet spot, this didn't turn out to be an issue in our case.)
  • What's nearby for my guests: area attractions, places to stay, eat, shop? (For instance, our site was close to Leslie's Tavern, The Harvest Barn Inn, and the Vermont Country Store - where guests could stop for penny candy or a picnic lunch.)
  • How much time will I have to set-up/tear-down? (Our venue allowed us about four hours on the day of the ceremony, so we ended up doing a quick dress rehearsal and decorating while it was open to the public the afternoon before.)
  •  Are there restrictions on the decor I  can use? (Because they are historic sites, some do not allow candles, wires, etc.)
  • Is there a piano or organ on-site? (Rockingham has an antique pump organ which a family friend agreed to play for us.)
  • If still functioning as a church, is there an officiant who could marry us? (One meeting house we contacted said weddings at the site could only be performed by their officiant.)
  • Is there a reception space either inside or outside the building? (Some meeting houses have another floor that could be used, or space outside for a tent. We held our English
    tea reception at Crosby House, a friend's Victorian B&B.)
  • What about facilities? (Not all of these locations have indoor plumbing: some have toilets in a detached shed or even a neighboring building. Otherwise, you may need to rent port-a-potties.)
  • Is there electricity and/or heat? (Rockingham has neither, thus only open June through September when it's warm enough inside and there's plenty of natural light.)
  • Is it wheelchair-accessible? (Our venue was at the top of a hill, but cars could be parked beside the meeting house, which is equipped with a ramp.)   
Vermont is full of beautiful historic sites and you're sure to find a location that fits your style and budget.  Happy venue hunting!
Strafford, VT

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bridesmaids, Inspired

Traditionally, most brides have expected their wedding party to match from hairstyle to shoes. This can be difficult, however, if your entourage is scattered geographically or includes those (like your ski-bum sister) with budget constraints. Alternately, maybe matching isn't your style and you're feeling good about your friends' modes of self-expression.  

Happily, there's an easy way to organize your group and perhaps prevent that bridesmaid mutiny you've been dreading. 

You probably already know what colors you love and the kind of atmosphere or theme you want for your big day. There are dozens of magazines, online retailers, and websites for finding inspiration. Planning my own wedding, I spent a lot of time on blogs such as  Well Wed, Ruffled Blog, Style Me Pretty, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Once you know what you're looking for, it's time to give your bridesmaids the tools they need to create an outfit.

For my England-meets-New England wedding, I knew I wanted antiqued colors, rustic textures, and vintage details like gloves or headpieces. Creating an inspiration board was an enormously helpful way to solidify my vision and share it with my wonderful women. Here's mine from 2011, using Style Me Pretty's Inspiration Board Tool:

Bridesmaids Inspiration 

 I included the Etsy seller's original photo of my wedding gown (bottom left corner), so my bridesmaids knew what I'd be wearing.

After distributing my inspiration board, I sent links to suggested dresses and accessories as I spied them in my internet travels. As you can imagine, communication is vital: you want to be available to answer questions and provide support - without channeling your inner bridezilla (like your friends thought you might).

It's natural to worry, especially if you're Type A like me. From our conversations, I was afraid my bridesmaids would show up in '80's regalia, a white dress, or a slip. Keep the lines open, stay calm, and remind yourself why you love these people. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself if you encounter a rebel in the group, but be willing to let go, too.

If you know what you want and communicate it effectively, your bridesmaids will look and feel great when the day arrives. Plus, they'll thank you for letting them be comfortable (in style and budget), and who knows: you might stay friends after all. :)

What are your thoughts: how do you feel about bridesmaids choosing their own dresses? Any success or horror stories you care to share?

(Photographs by Roger Katz and Allison Gould)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

5 Ideas for the DIY Bride

Good morning, beautiful friends! Here are a few ideas for you crafty folks (or for the rest of us who like the thought but don't want to stay up until 2 AM with scissors and glue every night). 

Vintage Sheet Music. This stuff is so versatile - I used it to cover flameless candles, create hanging cones to hold flowers at the ceremony, and make letter banners for the reception. I purchased antique sheet music online and then found out my friend had several books-worth, so it's a good idea to ask around (or look in your music stash) before buying.   
Antique Textiles - Faux or No. Rather than renting tablecloths for our afternoon tea-themed reception, my grandma's friend Cathy agreed to let us use Victorian-era linens (hand embroidered napkins, tablecloths, etc.) from her private collection. If you're not afraid of a little ironing, why not ask friends and relatives if they have any vintage textiles kicking around? Our china, too, was borrowed from our friend Lynn at Crosby House. She was a fantastic host! If you can't get your hands on the antique fabric you want, you can always create your own. I purchased a few yards of blue and white toile and dyed it with coffee and black tea. I used it to make bows for the table bouquets and hanging arrangements at the ceremony.
Birdcages. If you follow indie wedding fashion, you'll have noticed birdcages (and birdcage veils) are all the rage these days. I purchased one at an antique shop, was given one at my bridal shower, and borrowed a third, filling them with flowers at the reception.

Make Your Own Headpiece. If you're feeling particularly brave (and patient), a homemade fascinator can be a fun way to create the exact look you want. For my headpiece, I wanted a faded look in silvery hues to match the artemisia sprigs in the flower arrangements, with an added hint of wedgewood blue. I found a tutorial in a DIY bridal magazine and purchased a base, dotted netting, velvet milliner's flowers, feathers, and other bits and bobs online. With a little sewing, lots of glue (and plenty of advice from friends), you can create a unique headpiece that could become an heirloom.

DIY Favors: Candy Station. I have a serious sweet tooth, and so does Dan, so candy seemed like a no-brainer when it came to party favors. We found candy shop-style glass jars and filled them with our families' favorites, including gummy worms, M&Ms, and licorice. Our guests loved putting together their own bag of treats!
 What are you favorite DIY wedding ideas? I'd love to hear!

Bridesmaids' bouquets from a dear friend's garden.

(Photos courtesy of Roger Katz, Allison Gould, and Heather Bittner Brothers.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reflections of an Online Dress Shopper

Confession time: I bought my wedding dress from an Etsy seller. Antique Bianchi, 1950s. $240. I spent more than twice that on tailoring, and the fragility of the gown led me to buy a reception dress, too.  When it finally arrived, the cost of last minute alterations nearly equaled the price of the second dress, and neither of these frocks were quite the silhouette I'd been looking for. Did I love them anyway? Yes. But I also discovered some useful considerations for other brides thinking of buying online.
Original bride in dress (seller photo).

Understand the Policies. Snore...but oh so important. I was fortunate: the Etsy seller agreed to let me return the dress within a specified amount of time if I decided it wasn't my type after all. This may seem a no-brainer, but understanding guidelines like return policies is a way to protect yourself from ending up with a dress you don't love - or worse - a dress that is damaged or defective.  

Prepare to Alter. No matter how accurately the seller has measured the dress or you've measured your body, there's a good chance you'll still need to make friends with a tailor. I used to work in product development and measured garments for a living, and I found this to be the case. 

Go To A Store. Seriously. Trying on dresses is the best way to figure out what silhouettes, fabrics, and details you like. After looking at hundreds of gowns in magazines and online, I thought I knew what I wanted, but actually climbing into some dresses was a step towards bridal enlightenment. Plus, the people at bridal boutiques know what they're doing and have a wealth of knowledge to share.

Melissa Sweet: "Lithe"
A Warning to the Frugal. As I learned from my own experience, buying a discounted dress doesn't mean you're really saving money - at least if you want your gown to be ship-shape on the big day. Please, don't EVER settle for a dress because it's a great price! I loved my wedding and reception dresses, but with all the money I spent on them and their alterations, I could have bought the dress that got away: a Melissa Sweet "Lithe" gown in ivory that I tried on at Sewly Yours. Melissa Sweet no longer exists as a brand, but I'm going to hunt down that dress for my vow renewal in 2091...

Vintage Whines. Much as I adore antique textiles, they come with their own set of issues, quirks you might not be able to recognize in pixel form. For instance, they can be difficult or impossible to clean, and they tear easily. (I have a stunning Edwardian silk skirt and bodice that are almost too shredded to handle, let alone wear). With my wedding dress, I found that the ethereal nature of the fabric meant it was too delicate to redesign or even wash. If you find yourself falling hard for something vintage, make sure you love it the way it is: your tailor might not be able to create a bustle or turn it into that one-shoulder style you envisioned. 

In the end, you need to know what you want and what looks good on you. If you're convinced that dress online is The One, then go ahead and "Add to Cart." It's OK to commit. :)

Would you ever buy a wedding dress online? What are your favorite or least favorite vintage finds?