When Paul and I got engaged after six years of dating, we decided the wedding had to be at “The Ranch,” my parents’ working cattle ranch in Montana that has been in our family since 1876. What better location to start a new home than at a homestead? My husband is from Manchester, UK, but we live in nearby Missoula, MT. We knew this wedding was the only chance we would have our friends from around the world gathered in one place.
I spent a full year crafting our “cowboy tea party” wedding, combining the best of rustic Montana with the classic details of an English garden party. I am a freelance writer by trade and an avid reader, so my favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, inspired our “mad” tea party. We focused on using colors in tangerine and teal so they would pop out agains the tawny hillside. Our guests were encouraged to wear hats and fascinators, and some people even designed their own.
The aim was for it to be an adventure as much as an event, and thanks to a microburst storm after dinner, it truly was. Family and friends gave speeches in the crowded garage while the storm passed. Our friend and professional San Francisco photographer Sonia Savio, brilliantly captured us, these surprise moments, my DIY details and the rustic beauty of rural Montana. Lucky for us, many friends and family pitched in to help us realize our vision and witness our freshly penned vows. They celebrated, humored my detail-oriented vision and never overtly attached the ‘zilla suffix to my name.
My husband Paul had this to say about our wedding, “We wrote our own ceremony and vows, and had my mother Sue act as the officiant. One of the themes we incorporated into our wedding was the range of cultural backgrounds influences that have affected our lives. For example, my family has Scandinavian roots, so we incorporated a Scandinavian tradition of asking the guests to join in the vows. After we made our vows to each other, the guests were asked if they would promise to help and support the newly married couple in the future. As we turned to face our assembled friends, families, loved ones and plus-ones, they announced, loudly and as one, “We do!” The shiver that sent down my neck was one of my favorite moments of the day. Here are our 10 favorite DIY projects that made our wedding day sublime.
1. Painted Paper Flower Bouquets + Boutonnieres (Time: 15 hours): My everlasting flowers were made from old books on the Drummond Library discard shelf. This is the kind of project that deserves the label “Labor of Love.” The first step was to paint the ripped pages teal and tangerine with watercolors and hang them to dry. Then, I cut the paper in the shape of petals and crinkled them. I attached each petal to a knotted floral stem and worked my way from the center to the outside of the flower. Once dry, I painted the edges of the petals with darker colors and hot glued pearls in the center. I wrapped six flowers around a silk hydrangea to fill it out. I stuck those stems inside a six-inch portion of a foam pool noodle and wrapped the entire noodle with grosgrain ribbon in white or mapped patterns. For the boutonnieres, I made smaller, brighter flowers and attached petals made out of construction paper with floral tape. I twisted the stem into a curlicue and attached a pearl pin.
2. Bespoke Manchester Meets Montana Wedding Invitation: Paul and I are lucky to call San Francisco/New Orleans graphic designer Cody Dingle a close friend and one who understood our country/city mouse dynamic. He combined landmarks from Missoula, MT, Hall, MT and Manchester, UK. It’s hard to say how much time Cody spent on it, but the beautiful artwork now hangs in our home.
3. Tea Pot Centerpieces (Time: 2 hours): Part of having a wedding out in the country is the reality of keeping things fresh. A large metal horse trough filled with ice kept drinks cold, but it would have been difficult to keep flowers alive for long in the hot August weather. I bought teal, tangerine and white flowers from Michaels. Then, I collected teapots from garage sales, thrift stores and vintage stores. Two months before the wedding, my aunt Judy, mom and I arranged them. We stuffed floral foam in the bottom and customized each bouquet to the teapot it sat in. Once the flowers were collected the process went surprisingly quickly.
4. Willow Arbor (Time: 20 hours): My brother Cooper got married just two months before I did, and he used his chops as a woodworker and artist to turn a cattle pasture into an alcove for the ceremony. Assisted by our friend Carl, he agreed to build a similar arbor for our day, by wrapping willow branches around a metal frame, creating a whimsical, tunnel-like canopy. It gave structure to the wedding ceremony, while fitting seamlessly into Big Sky scenery.
5. Homemade Limoncello and Root Beer With Custom Labels (Time: 5 hours): My husband’s dad, Mario, is from Italy, and it is not an official celebration until we drink limoncello. Instead of buying all the beverages, my mom and I decided to make 12 bottles and 200 bottles of homemade root beer. We peeled the rind from the lemons and dropped the peels into Russian vodka. We let that infuse for about two weeks. Then, we removed the peel, added sugar and mixed it up. For a full tutorial, click here!
For the root beer, we used extract, sugar and champagne yeast. We mixed and bottled it six weeks before the wedding so that it would have time to carbonate. The result was a very old-fashioned root beer with light fizz. I signed up for a subscription to Beer Labelizer and printed out custom labels on label paper using my home printer.
6. Sapphire Gravel Favors (Time: 6 hours): My engagement ring and wedding ring were made of blue sapphires mined nearby in Philipsburg, Montana. I bought three bags of sapphire gravel to divvy up amongst the guests. With my subscription to Jam Labelizer, I made “You Rock” labels. Then, I printed them out at home onto round label paper. I filled cheap white paper favor bags with six ounces of gravel and included a little instruction card as to how you mine sapphires in your backyard.
7. Aisle Milk Glass Vases and Bouquets (Time: 4 hours): My sister-in-law Cat came up with the idea to use tree stumps to mark the isles for her own wedding. I found 20 generic glass vases at thrift stores for about 50 cents apiece and proceeded to spray paint half white to create faux milk glass. I made a mixture of food coloring and white glue and painted the others to look like colored/stained teal and tangerine glass. My aunt arranged eucalyptus, wheat and Chinese lantern flowers and set them atop the stumps to line the aisles.
8. Margarita Case/Wedding Quilt: Close friends, San Francisco carpenter Carl Robertson of Clayton Woodworks and Erin Blanton, made us a custom drink case, and we could hardly believe it when we saw it. The margarita drink box features tooled leather, hand lettering, monogrammed coasters, a homemade box from reclaimed wood, removable storage for salt and all the makings for the perfect margarita. It is pictured here atop my mom’s handmade wedding quilt, peppered with custom embroidery.
9. Dyed Doily Table Runners (Time: 10 hours): I collected about 60 croqueted doilies and table runners. I’d inherited a third of them from my late Grandma Joyce, and the rest I collected at thrift and antique stores. I dyed them teal and tangerine by hand. Then, once washed, my mother-in-law and I stitched 17 five-foot table runners together a few days before the wedding.
10. “Eat Me” Cupcake toppers/”Drink Me” Cups (Time: 4 hours): I used Adobe Illustrator to design round labels and sent them to print at Vista Print. To make the cupcake toppers, I affixed two “Eat Me” labels together, front and back, with a toothpick in the center. Then, I attached the “Drink Me” labels to glassware and plastic cups. A nod to Alice in Wonderland, these items did actually help us grow in size, thanks to five flavors of cupcakes and a delicious Manhattan signature drink.
While our big day was greeted by a storm that took down the tents, tables, chairs and decorations, which could have meant the end to the festivities, almost everyone waited it out with us in a garage. We cleared the dance floor of debris to begin the first dances. The song “Singing in the Rain” was played, while 11 UK friends and family members performed a flash mob with Union Jack umbrellas. Everyone gathered on the floor to dance to “All You Need is Love,” and we felt our trip down the rabbit hole successfully joined our families together.
Photographer: Sonia Savio Photography
Floral Design: Krista Johnson (Bride), Shelley Johnson (Mom), Judy Neil (Aunt)
Caterer: Bob Baker Barbecue
Dessert: Pat’s Bake Shop
Venue: Bride’s Family Home
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