Do It Yourself Advice from a Real Bride-to-Be

Wedding Photographer Julie Williams Shares Her Journey as a DIY BrideJulie WIlliams is Engaged

I have such a special treat for you today. One of my favorite mountain wedding photographers, Julie Williams, is getting married, and guess what!? She’s a DIY bride! And she’s in the think of it, like right now! Like her wedding is in three months!

Most recently Julie caught my attention with a post she wrote about DIY-ing with the her close friends and family members. Can you imaging having for your wedding album shots of three generations of women, including your grandmother, sewing napkins and bunting? How wonderful, and sweet and amazing!

Not only do I hope you’ll be inspired, but I also hope this will encourage a bit of a truce between DIY brides and wedding pros who naysay them. I’ve been seeing and hearing a bit of negativity from a few select, but vocal wedding vendors lately who shudder at the thought of a DIY bride. They hate DIY-ers and think such endeavors will only end in disaster. Well, it’s really not that simple. Nothing really ever is. Here’s the real deal: more crafty and creative couples are opting for meaningful, personalized DIY projects for their weddings.

In fact, Julie is a wedding photographer herself, and a darned good one at that! She chose her DIY projects carefully, chose her collaborators thoughtfully, and has had a blast with the planning and DIY-ing process. Interesting the biggest pain in the ass for this DIY bride was not a project, but finding her wedding dress. I hope the brides and wedding pros alike who read this blog will find inspiration in Julie’s DIY journey.

Julie WIlliams Camp Wedding

First a bit of back background:

Wedding date: Tuesday August 30, 2011

Theme/color scheme:  We’re getting married at a campsite in the Canadian Rockies…close to our home – Canmore, Alberta. It truly is a bushparty in the woods! The only theme we have is mismatchy and keeping it as eco-friendly and DIY as possible. When we first got engaged we figured we’d probably do more of an elopement-style wedding – just our closest family members in hopes of keeping it simple and CHEAP. Then once the news was announced on Facebook, we got so many happy congratulations…and a particularly excited note from some great friends in New Zealand saying that they couldn’t wait to come to Canada for the wedding! Then we knew we just had to throw a really great party to celebrate with all these awesome people.

DIY wedding Bunting

What DIY projects are you incorporating into your wedding?

  • We’ve got coordinating tablecloths, napkins and bunting flags sewn from vintage-inspired fabrics by my two aunts!
  • Thrifted mason jars for drinking vessels and cutlery wrapped in a burlap napkin “ring”…almost no waste at the end of the night!
  • Mismatched 2nd hand frames sanded, painted red and turned into chalkboards for the BBQ buffet menu, welcome signs, and little notes and quotes around the wedding site.
  • My mum and best friend are getting together a bit before the wedding to do bake-fest to take the place of a traditional wedding cake. We’re going to bake brownies, cookies, lemon squares…and tackle various flavours of cake balls! I’m not a very savvy baker, so I’m trusting my mum to lead the way. She’ll be so proud to have supplied the desserts for the event…she just loves feeding people yummy stuff.
  • [Not really DIY, but I love it] One of my past brides has donated three dozen big red paper lanterns that will be hung in the trees, and there’s going to be tons of white mini lights and mason jars with LED tea lights around the site at dusk.
  • I’ve always loved vintage colored glass so when we started planning the wedding, I knew that would be the one decor item I would want to feature. I already had a decent collection and gathered a bit more. When my fiance’s mother got wind of this, she and a couple friends set off and scoured garage sales and antique stores all over Vancouver Island. The collection is now extremely impressive.
  • My aunt and uncle have offered to grow a selection of regional flowers for us! I love that the flowers won’t be shipped from across the world.
  • Adam’s mum and dad have made wine for the wedding
  • Our wedding planner/friend is determined to help us construct a really fantastic showy Anthropologieque backdrop for the ceremony site. Think 1000’s and 1000’s of safety pins linked together. Crazy, but it’s going to be incredible…there will be countless bottles of wine [and likely Band-Aids] required for the completion of this project.
  • My sister is in charge of making a playlist for the afternoon and evening. We’ve picked a few songs that we certainly want to incorporate at particular parts of the day, but otherwise I’ve left it in her hands…she’s very music-smart. Her fiancé is supplying the PA system. We’re so lucky to have so many amazing and talented people in our lives!
  • Finally, Adam & I recently bought a 13 foot vintage Boler trailer as our wedding gift to each other. We’ll of course use it as our wedding night accommodation, as well as for our roadtrip honeymoon. It needs a LOT of work on the inside…so we’re tackling it as our first home-reno project. We’ll test our home improvement skills and patience on these 70 square feet before we think about tackling a full on fixer-upper as first time homeowners.

friends and grandmother help with DIY projects

What factors were central in choosing your DIY projects?

When we began to plan this wedding, I knew that we wanted it to have lots of personal touches and quirky elements…but at the same time I was determined for it to remain very, very simple in hopes of keeping the entire process stress free. I’m a wedding photographer and I often pick up on how hectic things can get for the couples I work with.

That said I come from a long line of crafters, so it was only natural for things to get a little “out of hand”…in a good way of course! I’ve had such a great time so far with all the projects we’ve tackled. It means so much to me to have had so much support and good times with the great people in my life.

Everything that we’ve done yet has been fun and meaningful, the time spent working on the projects means way more to me than the outcome!

It’s also very important to me that we keep things as eco-friendly as possible by recycling and repurposing as many items as possible.

coloring picture frames for the wedding

What strategies have you been using to manage your DIY projects?

Because I’m a wedding photographer, and I’m getting married during wedding season [like a crazy lady] I’ve been very determined to get the bulk of the projects completed before things get into full swing with my business. May is when things kick off into the hectic time of year for me.

As mentioned several times, we’ve been so lucky to have so much help given…we really haven’t been required to beg our family and friends for help, they’ve just offered…and suggested tons of great ideas! All these DIY decor elements are not important enough to me that I would ever consider tackling them all on my own or hire someone to complete it, so it’s been great to have the help.

Also, we’ve got my good friend and colleague Callandra from Cherry Tree Occasions onboard as our wedding planner. She’s been great with offering suggestions, ideas and keeping things on track logistically and keeping us in check, realistically.


What has been the easiest or most fulfilling project?

I wasn’t overly involved in constructing the napkins and tablecloths, but I’m so pleased with how they turned out. I met my mum and aunt at the sewing store one day and together we picked out a handful of coordinating fabrics.

The next time I was visiting, they had everything completed and it looks so great together. Linens were something I did not even consider, I was happy to just eat straight off the picnic tables [my mum cringed when I said that] but now that we have some very thoughtfully designed and constructed linens, I’m just tickled pink.

It’s been suggested that we make a quilt out of some of the tablecloths after the wedding is over. I’ll be relying on my sewing-expert aunts to pull that off. It would be a pretty amazing anniversary gift…hint, hint.

In about a month or so, I truly hope I can say that the Boler renovations will be the most fulfilling project [and not the biggest pain in the ass!] We’ve just got a small start on the improvements at the moment, but already it’s looking promising in there. We bought the Boler off another young couple who hosted a camping wedding a few years ago…they also went on a honeymoon roadtrip in the Boler so it was meant to be passed onto a couple with similar intentions. I can’t wait for all the fun and adventures this little trailer will offer in our first few years of marriage.

wedding boler

What has been the biggest pain in the ass and how did you deal?

It wasn’t a pain in the ass at all, but I had a heck of a time finding a dress! My mum and I went to several bridal stores but I just wasn’t having any luck finding anything that fit my personal taste.

From day one, I’ve been set on having a tea-length dress and knew I would likely need to have some serious alterations done. Even still, there aren’t many dresses out there at the moment with silhouettes that are suited to a shorter style. I found a couple styles that could be altered, but they weren’t quite right for various reasons – I didn’t like the neckline, there were too many jewels, the wrong fabric. [I had a pretty solid idea in my head of what I wanted.]

Eventually I realized that I would have to get the dress custom made. This began a whole new journey…I looked into several dressmakers and eventually settled on a lovely lady based in Greece who I found on Etsy. I came across her shop one day because she had already constructed a dress very similar to what I had in mind. She was incredibly responsive to all my questions and her price was right. She’s been a joy to work with and I’m so excited to receive the dress!

blue glass for wedding decorations

Any disasters or near-disasters so far?

Hmmm…seriously, everything has went SO GOOD so far! No bad experiences yet. Surprisingly, it was really challenging for us to get our hands on the Boler. Once we started looking, we realised that these little guys are a hot item at the moment.  Adam was the one who was particularly adamant about having a Boler in time for the wedding. He has been on a mission scouring supermarket cork boards, Kijiji, Craigslist and other online classified sites that I didn’t even know exisisted to find us the perfect 13-foot egg-shaped 1970′s camping trailer. Plenty out there, but as soon as they hit the market they are gone. Gone for an absolutely insane price, at that.

Also, I have to say, from the small amount of renovation work we’ve done on the Boler trailer, I’m not 100% keen on that kind of work. I’m happy to pick out the colors and textures, but when it comes to the elbow grease side of it, I’m not the most productive worker. Adam, however, is thriving on this project!

The only thing that hasn’t turned out better than expected to date, is the chalkboards. I originally tried coating the thick poster board with spray chalkboard paint – it just turned out blotchy. But since we’ve got plenty of time before the wedding yet, we’re just going to grab a can of traditional chalkboard paint and roll it on.

wedding mason jars

Have your experiences as a photographer helped your own planning?

Absolutely – my line of work has inspired me to keep it simple and 100% enjoy the planning process.

Also, because of my business commitments, if we wanted to get married in the summer [a must for us because we insisted on hosting the celebration outdoors] we had to have a 16 month engagement because by the time Adam proposed last year, I was fully booked for the upcoming summer – no time to squeeze in our own wedding. I feel lucky to have had a very long engagement. It’s given us lots of time to enjoy it [it’s been the BEST year!] and really think hard about our plans and ideas, scout around leisurely for our preferred vendors, and spread out our DIY projects with time to spare.

I’ve learned that it’s so important to keep the celebration true to you as a couple. If you don’t like cake – don’t get a wedding cake! If you have never danced together – don’t bother with a first dance! If you’re not into classical music – PLEASE don’t hire a harpist for cocktail hour! I realize that we’re incredibly lucky to have really cool and understanding parents that aren’t insisting we stick to any of the traditional wedding rules.

Lastly, I’ve been inspired to keep the event as eco-friendly as possible. I understand that there will always be an environmental impact from a wedding, but I see so much frivolous waste at so many of the events I attend.

Julie holds up her wedding bunting

What’s your best Hindsight {almost} Advice for other DIY mountain brides?

I keep going back to it, but I’ve really and truly enjoyed the entire planning process. It’s cheesy, but I’m going to have such valuable memories from the months leading up to our wedding. My advice would be if you’re facing a task or project that you’re not enjoying, question whether you are able to ditch it.

And a wedding planner/coordinator [even if only on the wedding day] is invaluable. INVALUABLE.

Mountainside Guide

Mountainside Bride Preferred vendorsJulie Williams Photography is a distinguished member of the Mountainside Guide, an exclusive vendor directory featuring the best and most reliable mountain wedding vendors in North America. Mountainside Guide members are screened and vetted for quality of work, reliability, and professionalism, both among their peers and on review web sites.

See Julie Williams Photography’s portfolio HERE.