Category Archives: DIY

A Pinch of Salt – Advice

So I thought I’d do an advice section. …And my first piece of advice is DON’T TAKE ADVICE. Everybody is different, and everybody needs to do things differently, so read or listen to advice and take it with a pinch of salt – as a personal experience. Not only is everybody different, but some weddings are nothing like others and generic advice can be counter-rpoductive.

But, just for the record, here is my pinch of salt!

1. The day doesn’t go fast – it’s full, it’s busy, but it goes slowly, and at the end of it, it feels like it has been more than a day. This is how it felt to me. I was so worked up with expectations from repeated advice that the day would go fast and I would have to rush around that it took me until the end of the reception to actually relax and go “off-duty”. Don’t let expectations shape your day (but yes, do make time to talk to everybody: we circulated the tables between courses and it was great!).

2. Don’t do the “done” thing. We stayed in the room together the night before, and it was completely expected that we would. And it was lovely to go to bed together and get up together, and I really needed Guy. Following the “traditional” route would just have made us miserable.

3. Wear blue. Wear black. Wear lime green and indigo if you want to. You will still look like a bride, people will still recognise you as a bride, and you will have a dress you can wear again, alter to wear again, or just look your best in.

4. Something will always go wrong. Your guests will be chaotic. Don’t get upset. Rise above it. It makes good storytelling later, and people are much more interested in the cake collapsing than what my dress looked like.

5. If you can have ceremony pictures HAVE THEM. Our ceremony shots are some of my favourites: they look so much more natural than the posed shots, they’re well spaced and we look at our best.

6. Have ushers. They are like gods. I have no idea how we could have done it without them.

7. Make things. People do notice the small details, and they get very excited about the little things you have made and personalised. Making things is fulfilling, exciting and saves you money – and if it doesn’t get noticed, you won’t mind anyway!

8. If it’s a “must-have” you don’t need it. We didn’t have a videographer or chair covers and we are glad that we didn’t have them. You don’t automatically have to have everything on your wedding day, and don’t let yourself get pressured into having things for fear of regrets. Decide whether it’s actually important to you and whether you would have thought of it by yourself. Make your wedding about you, not other brides.

9. Don’t put your soul into the wedding – focus on the marriage. Make sure you have new projects lined up for after the wedding and honeymoon and kick the post wedding blues in the teeth. I didn’t get this, and I’m pretty sure it’s because my life did not peak at my wedding day. It was a great day. One of many. And I have so many all-consuming projects anyway that the wedding just meant I put them on hold: now I am back to enjoying them!

10. Stick by your guns. Make sure that your guests are warm, confortable, well fed and supplied with alcohol. After that, your decisions are up to you, not them!

Things I’m glad I had or did:

1. Wore a hat. This is not usual, but it worked on me and I prefered it to a bare head. A veil was never an option, but the white detail worked the “bridal” look.

2. Travelled by rickshaw. Not only was this great fun, but it was a bit different. The guests loved them!

3. Had a getaway car. This was expensive for what it was and we would have been fine with a taxi. But we wanted the send off and everyone loved the car. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and we’re both glad we decided on this treat!

4. Learnt salsa and performed our first dance. A lot of people don’t like the idea of practised dances (although salsa is a kind of improvised dance), but I thought it was very entertaining and was something we enjoyed doing together and keeping a secret up until the wedding day. It’s also important to spend time together during the lead up to the wedding.

5. Had the evening to ourselves so that we could unwind and spend some time being close on our wedding day. A rave up would have left us with quite a different feel.

6. Had a drinks reception in Somerville. Going back to Somerville was important to us and whilst we were busy socialising and having photos, I feel it made our wedding ours and was an important tribute.


The Week Before the Wedding

My mega-super-over-organisedness was a godsend the week before the wedding. I had been working to a deadline in labs and been basically up to my ears, so being able to relax for the week beforehand was definitely needed. Not, of course, that we didn’t have plenty of wedding preparation left to do. Like prepare my speech, for example, bustle the cat off whilst we were on holiday, and, of course, bake the wedding cakes.

I really like this picture of me making the cakes because it shows my engagement ring bare of a wedding band. And I remember thinking, as I touched the cake, how loose the engagement ring felt on my fingers, and how it would be the last time I would wear it alone…

I also did lots of exercise, just some starjumps every now and then to ensure I would weigh in at dress size, and Tom and I went climbing on Wednesday after he turned up in Birmingham to help. I stuffed Guy and myself with vitamins and minerals and energy tablets to keep us going and as healthy as possible across the next few days and performed various “beauty” treatments on myself – like plucking my eyebrows and shaving regularly to avoid rash on my legs on the wedding day (needless to say, they came out in a rash anyway, but that’s what we have long dresses for).

Travelling to Oxford on the Thursday was tricky. I was incredibly paranoid about the cake, especially the lemon layer which was making a bid for freedom. We carried it with the metal sides of the largest cake tin around it in its box, just to add extra support for when the train wobbled. We got to the station really early and sat in the dark gloom of Birmingham New Street, chatting about rubix cubes (Tom is a rubix cube fanatic) whilst I periodically checked that the stationary cakes were okay.

It’s a straightforward journey to Oxford. We played cards. And arrived at the city we were getting married in about 10am. I hadn’t seen it since I graduated.

We went straight to Cecily’s, where we made the other two layers of cake, and then trotted out for a lazy pub lunch together, which was a really valuable time-out session and gave us a chance to catch up properly.

But soon we were all systems go again. Guy and I took the wedding stuff over to the town hall and then walked down to the hotel with only our outfits and the honeymoon case to burden us. Tom visited the florist and took them our vases.

We had planned a relaxing session in the hotel pool and sauna before having pre-wedding dinner with the family (mine, mostly). We took full advantage of the free facilities and swam (read: played in the water), hot tubbed and steam and sauna roomed for a couple of hours. We also bumped into Abby, who used to be my babysitter when I was a child, and I introduced her to Guy.

And then we dashed off to change and meet the family. Guy had already met much of my family, but he hadn’t my my great aunt Catherine or – and neither had I – my great uncle Goff. My mum had told me stories about Goff, but I had never met him, although he sent us Christmas cards every year in beautiful copperplate. I know some people don’t like to invite people they haven’t met, but my family is not very big and gathering for this event did draw people together. Everyone was excited to catch up


Boxing Things Up

As the wedding drew nearer, I spent a lot of time boxing things up and getting ready to travel to Oxford – and then on honeymoon. Some of the things I boxed up weeks beforehand, the cat went to the cattery on our last day in Birmingham, and the final items (cakes) were only boxed up the day before – in Oxford.

First I bagged up the wedding party bits and handed them out at the first opportunity, with the final few being given out or left for collection the day before the wedding.

All of the honeymoon packing went into one case – the smaller of the two. This included my trousseau clothes which my mother had bought for me – some summery skirts and a tunic.

I dumped everything on the bag, then began to fold and tesselate. So quickly this

became this


We also packed the two books we received as wedding gifts because they came before the packing began. They were the only thing we opened early, and we didn’t start reading them until we were on the train on the 20th May.

Packing up the wedding things was more of a squeeze. I packed 3 boxes – two for the caterer and one for the ushers to decorate the ceremony room. We put the seating plan on a large board down the back of the suitcase and the boxes of cake stand were never going to fit.

The caterer’s box contained some sheets outlining dietary needs, the room plan, and a colour-coded by dietary need plan. There was the cake knife and alittle plastic pack for each table with the name of that table and colour-coded plan of it stuck to the front… yes, I went hyper-organised.


Inside each pack were the place names for that table and the right number of sliced corks, a menu, a table runner and a load of cranes packed into decorated drinks cans to stop them from getting squished in transit.


The ushers’ box contained arch/aisle drapes and the ceremony table runner, doily confetti cones and a bag of confetti, 10 small blue umbrellas, the orders of ceremony and some balloons and balloon tree components.


I piled everything up in the library, and with all this, plus the box of vases and thank you presents, we made a rather ominous looking pile.

…Which did not fit in the case.

We had two amazing helpers which made getting it all to Oxford possible. The first was our usher Tom, who took the week before the wedding off and came up on the Wednesday to help make cake, pack up the last items and carry them to Oxford with us. He even had to make two cake boxes, because we discovered the originals weren’t quite big enough.

We made two cakes in Birmingham and two in Oxford, after we arrived at Cecily’s – so I had two cakes (the two biggest cakes) to carry in my arms on the railway. And Guy had his suit and my dress on hangers. And my hat in a bag. Tom had his own case (which we also filled up with wedding stuff) and we had our honeymoon and wedding items cases – 3 cases, two massive cakes, 2 wedding outfits, and 3 people. It wasn’t going to work.

So Caz came to the rescue. At basically no notice she turned up and carted off the two boxes full of cake stand (light, but substantially sized) and transported them to Oxford for us. And the first I saw of it was entering the ceremony, whilst it was all set up outside. Fantastic!

Salsa Dancing

Before we moved to Birmingham, Guy and I discussed taking up dancing of some kind. We enjoy dancing together at balls and parties, and wanted to learn how to do it ‘properly’. However, in the stress of moving and starting my PhD and the financial constraints of Guy not getting a job, this had fallen by the wayside. But, in January, with the wedding approaching, I decided to bring up the idea again – because this way the lessons would be for our first dance!

We had a look around the Birmingham area and found several classes which piqued our interest, and in the end chose salsa – it was conveniently located, not too dear and salsa appealed. And so we began.

We started off going to the beginner’s class, and soon moved on to attending both that and the intermediate class. It’s great fun, the people are fun, and we are learning. And secret.

Yes, to make the first dance more fun, we decided not to tell anybody what we were up to until after the wedding day. It was obviously tricky, especially explaining what we’d been up to on Monday nights and making sure nobody noticed a pattern, but we enjoyed the thrill.

For our first dance at the wedding we had Frank Valli and the Four Seasons ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.

For anyone who doesn’t know it, the first 80 seconds are slow, then it speeds up for about 45 seconds, another 30 seconds of slow and the last minute is fast once again. This played into our hands for creating a first dance, because we didn’t want the whole thing to be scripted. The beauty of salsa is that it is improvised dance: you make up the moves as you go along (or the leader does). Obviously we’re still novices, so we had a think about what we wanted to do and practised a sequence of moves we had learnt in our class to find some which fit with the fast bits – and made the slow bits up of simpler moves on the day!

Slow dancing

Fast dancing

For dance enthusiasts, the salsa moves we used were siete, biamo and a crossover in the first fast part and sombraro sombraro and then d&g in the second one. We finished the first sequence with a drop (I fall back and Guy catches me over his arms) and the second with a lift (I run to him, he picks me up round the hips and turns round with me in his arms) – these were our own little added improvised parts.

(that’s us doing the biamo)


I had a browse at invitation styles online and through a few free brochures and quickly decided what I liked. I created a mock-up using scrap paper and card to show Guy the shape and work out the sizes, and he approved of the plan (oh, he did not know what he had agreed to!). It was also a practical design – I didn’t want bits of paper falling all over the place, but I wanted it to be easy for guests to read and search for information through. In hindsight, I should have bought some thin magnets you can cut and put those on the backs so that they could be pinned to fridges!

We bought some blue card off ebay and hammered ivory paper from Ryman’s (shiny paper does not do it for either of us) and wrote a template on OpenOffice.

We had three pages tucked into a pocket; the front one was Dress: Sharp Suits and Dashing Dresses and included a scanned in picture of fancily-dressed gentleman and lady: the premise of this was a nice picture and to warn the women to wear shoes they could dance in and get between the venues in. If nothing else, I warned them. We also told them the bridal colour, because some people worry about this (I really didn’t mind what colour people wore, but I didn’t want people calling up to ask and/or fretting over it).

Behind Dress was Location: a map of Oxford I drew showing the station, Somerville and the Town Hall

(it is labelled on the invitations), which was scanned in and contrast-enhanced using Photoshop.

And at the back was the Invitation sheet with an RSVP slip at the bottom. Once the RSVP slip has been cut off, the Invitation with all of it’s information fits comfortably as the front slip rather than the back – you see, we thought about these things!

Wording of the Invitation page:

Ms C S

requests the pleasure of the company of

Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms Guest

at the wedding of her daughter
Rowena Lucy
Mr Guy Antony Fletcher-Wood

to be held at 11am on Saturday 19th May 2012
at Oxford Town Hall

Please arrive 20 minutes in advance to be seated.

RSVP by 14th February to Ms C S,
Street Address, Area, City, Postcode

If you wish to bring a gift, we have set up an online gift list which you can access using the list reference number ##### and password ****.

You may find the list at Please contact Kay on, or 07#########, if you have any questions.


Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms Guest
will/will not be able to attend.
Meat meal? Y/N Alcohol? Y/N
Other dietary requirements? ………………………………

So we set up a production line. Guy struggles with scissors because he’s left handed, but I had a little ruler guillotine which cuts much straighter edges. However, I wasn’t that great at aligning it so as to cut perfectly down the middle of a pencil line – and he was. So Guy spent hours and hours loading paper into the printer and cutting the sheets I printed into the various slips of paper and one nametag (because there was a little excess space and I just couldn’t bear to waste it).

Guy definitely did more work on the invitations than I did: my job was making the pocketfolds and using double sided sticky tape to attach the cranes.

I also used our homemade wax stamp to stamp a seal on the backs of the envelopes and wrote on all the addresses neatly.

The finished products!

One things I didn’t do on the invitations was put down the finish time – this was a silly mistake, and a lot of people contacted us to ask about it so that they could book trains and plan their day. People actually started trailing out after the meal had finished (being very apologetic about it, not that we cared as they’d stayed for the important bits: skipping two hours of socialising was fine by me!) and other went on to further partying that night.

We had about 85 invitations in the end, seven or so for overseas and including our own, which we made first and sent through the post with a second class stamp to see if it was okay and would reach us without complaint, a trick I had learnt from the forum! It was very exciting receiving an invitation to our own wedding, and we opened it with a letter opener so as to leave the seal in tact!

All our invitations

We carefully chose an RSVP date well in advance of the wedding, but gave 6 weeks to reply by. Nearly 25% of people failed to make this date, and when asked, many of them assumed we’d know, or assumed they could tell us when they felt like it or just turn up on the day!!! Some of those who didn’t reply in time were making profound efforts to make the date against all odds, but others couldn’t make up their minds or couldn’t be bothered to send back the slip. This made me very unhappy, as obviously we were paying a lot of money for these people to enjoy our wedding and had chosen people whom we respected and thought respected us. A few RSVPed yes and then didn’t turn up on the day at all. And these circumstances are, it seems, far from unusual at weddings.

And so, in the honour of our lovely guests…

Stupid Things Guests Have Asked

Do you have a gift list?

Um, yes we do actually. The details for it and a contact to ask questions about it are provided on your invitation.

Where do I send my RSVP?

Okay, so if you look at your invitation… there’s an RSVP ADDRESS. Where it says “Please RSVP to…”

Where is the wedding?

Asked by an usher!

It turns out that her mum had perloined the invitation… So obviously, instead of asking her mum for it she Skypes me to ask the details, which she can’t write down because of bad RSI.

I thought the wedding was next Saturday?

No. This Saturday. The 19th.

Another usher!

Sorry I missed your wedding.


We haven’t got married yet…

I thought it was in February?

No, that’s the RSVP date!!!

Another Slice of Cake

We decided to make our own cake toppers. After several abortive efforts with icing, we decided to have non-edible ones, which we could make them well in advance of the wedding! To make an “adventure” cake, we also had some confetti on top, mini champagne bottle candles (with the wick cut off the top) and Little Guy was punting whilst Little Rowena was climbing!

Here they are:

Little Guy

Little Rowena

Little Iris!

These were made out of fimo modelling clay, which you mould with and afterwards bake in the oven to make it go hard (and Little Guy was fixed with superglue, after one of the cherubs snapped his arm off). If you want to know more about how I modelled them, there is a tutorial here.

The cake stand was designed to look like Oxford English Dictionaries, on theme with Oxford! Here is the inspiration picture –


And the finished article


We made this out of blue and black ringbinders with polystyrene down the middle and cardboard with a “book page” pattern stuck on top. We decorated the spine using silver pens (and mimicking the spines of OEDs) and a wax stamp we made ourselves out of a piece of wood with a wood burning tool.

Polystyrene mess




To make sure the stand could take the cake, we overestimated it’s weight and tested it using a pile of recipe books! The books are piled upon the scales, which rests upon the stand, so we increased the test weight by the weight of our scales (unknown for obvious reasons). It was a really good test for assuring us our construction was stable!

A Piece of Cake

We were determined to make our own cake.

I know what everyone says – that it’s too hard and too much work close to the day (especially if, like us, you want sponge not fruit). That we’ll just end up stressed. But I continued to read about other brides making their cake, and I really really wanted to.

We couldn’t believe the costs of cake, and I wasn’t convinced that any were that good (knowing how long they left them out, and trying a few samples). We didn’t want “meh” cake: we wanted excellent cake.

When I am stressed, I bake. I baked all the way through my exam revision (much to the delight of my housemates). My cooking style is high speed and manic, so people often think I’m stressed. I’m not. I translate internal stress into physical actions: I create things, and creating takes the stress away. What better thing to be doing on the lead up to the wedding! And furthermore it would be something we would do together, we could work together on in the lead up to the day. Because that’s important, and when you’re organising a big event, “you (pl)” time is not necessarily on the cards.


Here are some pictures of our trials.

After extensive research, and the subjecting of many innocent people to lots of cake testing, we decided on our four layers:

We had 11inch, 9inch, 7inch and 5inch tins from TK Max and bought dowels and boards from Halstead Icing. We made the cake boxes ourselves with tape and cardboard (Tom had to remake one because I had underestimated originally).

The chocolate raspberry port cake was especially popular during the trials. I put some on the table and everybody took a polite share. Then I said I had more, put out some extra, and it was seized!

For completeness, I include my recipes (to scale) here. Each of these recipes have been tried and tested, with different quantities of ingredients and methods to get the softest, yummiest sponge that keeps okay for a couple of days.

Victoria Sponge

For the whole cake (mixture should be halved so that the two halves may be stuck together):

150g sr flour
150g soft margarine
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
Vanilla essence

180°C/Gas Mark 4

Sticky Rum and Vanilla Pudding

For each half of the cake:

100g sr flour
100g soft margarine
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
Vanilla essence
Rum flavouring
100g of crushed walnuts (or walnuts and flaked almonds)

Overall topping
125g clear honey
250g caster sugar
200ml water

180°C/Gas Mark 4

Put all the syrup ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon.

Limoncello Indulgence

For each half of the cake:

150g sr flour
150g soft margarine
150g caster sugar
40g dessicated coconut
1½ lemons (grated rind)
3 eggs
1½ tbs milk

Overall topping
3 tbs caster sugar
3 lemons (juice)
Limoncello to taste

180°C/Gas Mark 4

Cook for 45 minutes and allow to cool for ~5 minutes before lifting from the tin.
Mix and warm the sugar and lemon juices, make holes in the top using a fork and cover spoonwise.

Raspberry Chocolate Port Cake

For each half of the cake:

200g of cooking chocolate
2 port glass full of port – combine in Henry
150g butter/margarine

2 punnet of pureed raspberries

4 egg yolks
12 tbs sugar – combine

4 tbs sugar
4 egg whites – beat together

COMBINE ALL + 12 tbs sr flour

165°C/Gas Mark 3


Only Part 1
electric whisk
big tins
1 port glass
a small grater
a lemon squeezer
a cup
a rolling pin

All/Only Part 2
2 mixing bowls
small tins
bowl scraping out tools
butter knife
pastry brush
table spoon
a small, non-stick pan
a wooden spoon
weighing scales
pestle and mortar (if nuts are whole)

NB. an extra 2 eggs are needed to use the white for sticking on the ribbon.
Henry is my pyrex measuring jug. His real name is Henry III.

Making the real thing:


I get the impression a few people were on tenterhooks as I updated my facebook status on the amount of cake we had produced. On the Thursday before the wedding, we did the chocolate and lemon layers, then we did the top two at Cecily’s the day after.

The lemon layer did collapse a bit – and I realise I should have shaved off the tops to make them sit less wonkily together. We had the top two layers removed before the breakfast as the lemon layer was so bad! So we cut a somewhat dimished cake. But – here is the final thing!


And post-accident:

Again, I don’t have any pictures of the cake being served and eaten, but it looked very exciting being circulated on massive round trays with an assortment of colours. Guy and I had some of all four layers and took a massive leftover piece of the rum layer on honeymoon, which was consumed for lunch on the Eurostar the next day! Guy’s dad also managed to wing an extra slice, and was very pleased with himself about it!

As had always been my priority, the cake was delicious. Guy said afterwards how pleased he was that we had done it: as it was displayed and as we watched it go out and everybody tuck in, we could think, “We made that. We did that.” So even a wonky, tumble-cake was so worth the effort, and I would urge anybody considering it to have a go!

And if you will, here are a few tips! …

– Test your oven many times to see ‘how’ it cooks your cake. We made the top two layers at Cecily’s and just had to trust her oven – luckily it was amazing (and these were the least risky layers by composition and size! – and we had time for repeats).

– Give yourself times for repeats!

– Don’t put the icing on your cake when it is still warm, even if you’re struggling for time. This is what I did with the lemon layer aiding it’s collapse. It will mostly be fine, but the weight may be too much for delicate sponges at this stage

– Test putting together layers in advance (we should have done this)

– Skim off the rounded top of your cake (don’t just try to squash it a bit) to help them stack better

– Talk to a good cake shop person and get advice and ideas

– Test the stand can hold the weight of your cake (we had fun with this)

– Try your recipes lots to get an idea of variation

– Get lots of help. Guy and I had Tom for the first ones and Cecily and Tom for the second ones

– Buy LOTS of icing. We had 1.5kg left over (we bought 5kg)

– Enjoy it! Everyone loves cake!