You wanna come to our wedding without melting in the 110 degree heat? I thought so. Here’s your invitation. Even though we got married…oh, 7 months ago, I’m just now finally getting around to sharing our photos with you. It took us about 8 months to create our dream wedding from scratch and now, just as much time to cut our billion photos down to 101 that tell our story. With my brother and I out of the house, my parents have gone through various stages of “let’s sell the house and downsize,” and I’ve always emphatically replied, “not until I get married in the backyard!” This urging started even before Lucas and I met. They had to wait. As soon as Lucas proposed in my parents’ living room in front of both of our families, we started drawing to-scale diagrams of how we’d fill the backyard. With that, I bring you our DIY backyard BBQ wedding. The story of how a craft-obsessed California girl married a design-savvy woodworking Texas boy. On the hottest day of the year.
Our good friend Cas officiated our ceremony in the garden of our neighbor, whose house my dad built. All 170 guests then marched across the street for the celebration in my childhood backyard where my mom spent nearly every day for months gardening in the dirt. To be clear, she started this gardening extravaganza even before Lucas proposed…telling the landscaper she was “preparing for a wedding.” Pulling the talents of our friends and family, almost every detail from cupcakes to flowers to photobooth props to bar was handmade (to withstand temperatures above 110ºF). We served Texas-style BBQ fare on paper plates with homemade fabric napkins wrapped with twine around compostable flatware, and we reserved a clearing through the trees for handmade orange & turquoise chevron-painted cornhole, ping pong, and horseshoes.
As we go through, I’ll share details, alternating between day-of anecdotes and our DIY touches, including a copy of our vows and links to where we bought certain things. We did lots of research to find the best prices, and, in general, we tried to buy as much as possible using our Amazon points. This is the first of a two-part post – this half brings us up to the end of the ceremony. All images are copyright of Brent Van Auken Photography, except where noted with the “© SK” mark. Click any picture to enlarge.
We designed our own stationery suite and had it all printed and cut on thick kraft cardstock. Our friend Foscho’s little sister screen printed the flags on the back, and we assembled them with some baker’s twine and tags we made with two punchers (one and two) and a custom CA + TX stamp from Etsy.
We each got ready in separate rooms of the historic Hotel Diamond with our respective wedding party. What you can’t see in the above picture is that while my mom is tying that beautiful bow, I have the belt of my robe wrapped around one of my bridesmaids to show step-by-step how to tie a straight bow. The thousands of tiny bows I tied on the favors, program fans, and invitations gave me lots of practice.
After trying on several vintage frocks, I found my dress at Shadow’s Bridal, a salon specializing in affordable vintage-style dresses. My custom-cut Casablanca tea-length gown turned out to be the best decision ever in that hot hot heat; a quick twirl turned it into a wearable fan. I replaced the thin beaded waist-band that came on the dress with a wide belt with soft fabric flowers. My something new.
My friend Angi and I spent several frustrating nights watching YouTube videos on how to make a birdcage veil, and together made the veil and flower hair clips using the beaded belt we removed from my dress and a $4 piece of veiling tulle. The videos make birdcage veils seem way easier than they actually are. I made similar flowers out of the same re-used fabric to make my own garter with a few inches of stretchy lace I dyed off-white with tea bags.
Months before the wedding, my namesake Sarah and I went to a bead expo to pick out pearls and she made my earrings and necklace to match my dress. A gift I’ll treasure forever. On my right hand I wore a dainty blue ring that belonged to my late grandma and now my mom – something blue & borrowed. My friend Emily sent me a “sixpence for your shoe” that I stuck under my heel and forgot about all night (and later recovered from the spot on the grass where I hastily kicked off my heels).
We’d made plans to meet at the creek downtown at 2:15pm for a first look. The groomsmen, in long pants and long-sleeves, were on time. The ladies arrived a bit late, you know, to make them sweat. Literally. Lucas would like to add, “a BIT late??!” Lucas looked so handsome in his turquoise bow tie with his fancy shoes. I was nervous I might trip and fall into the creek. The bridal party all peeked through the trees as I tapped him on his shoulder.
A few weeks before the wedding, my bridesmaid Sofia and I made the bridesmaid bouquets using dried lavender, billy balls, and wheat grass I bought online (here and here). We added some homemade pinwheels and wrapped it all in wire, floral tape, and jute twine with some hot glue to hold the ends. We made a smaller bundle to use as a toss bouquet too. I calculated that each bouquet rang up at about $12. The groomsmen wore pinwheel boutonnières with pin-backings and our moms and grandmas wore pinwheel corsages on tea-dyed stretchy lace.
For the bride’s bouquet, I took the moms and Lucas’s sister to the Farmer’s Market the Thursday before the wedding to pick out some wild flowers. We spent $15 on three large bouquets. I pulled out only the colors and flowers I wanted and mixed them with two succulents and some of the dried flowers to make my bridal bouquet. I fastened a little yellow sunflower brooch to the front that belonged to my great-grandmother – something old. We used the rest of the fresh flowers bits of decor around the yard – the only fresh flowers we bought!
We mailed paint strips to each awesome person in our bridal party so they could pick out their own dresses and pants within a color range. We wanted all the bridesmaids to end up with a dress they loved that made them feel fantastic. The groomsmen were told to pick out an orange bow tie, with some suggestions in case they had trouble. All but one of them picked from the list – boys seem to like directions:).
Fun fact about our bridal party: my friend from college, Cas (bottom, center), went to high school in an itty-bitty town with Lucas’s friend from college, Eric (top, second from the left). They hadn’t seen each other since.
We’d intended to take so many more group shots, but the sweltering heat made everything feel like we were moving in slow motion through a sauna. The groomsmen had to go back to the house and toss their shirts in the dryer while they waited for the ceremony the start. I’m actually baffled that you can’t see the sweat streaks through their shirts in these photos. The heat also made us completely unconcerned with arrangement in favor of “just take the picture so we can let everyone stand in front of the enormous fan!” – My amazing Maid of Honor Kira is on the far right in the picture below (holding orange like me:)
We lined the aisle with these homemade pinwheels instead of flowers.
Aren’t they just the cutest ever? Our flower girl, Lucas’s cousin Lola, rocked her Texas roots in a gray tutu and cowboy boots. She later showed me some killer moves on the dance floor. My cousin Dane, our ring-bearer, carried the ring pillow in one hand and a bright-blue electric squirt-bottle fan in the other as he walked down the aisle two feet behind the flower girl. I’m totally okay with that because he also walked around all day spontaneously saying, “Cousin Sarah? You’re beautiful. I love you” accompanied by a kiss on the cheek. Melt. My. Heart.
Over Thanksgiving 2012, my dad, brother, husband, and good friend Brian tore down the old fence lining the property and replaced it with a new redwood fence. We upcycled the fence boards into wedding decor. There were about 30-40 hand-painted signs around the yard, each centerpiece had a slab of fence board as a platter underneath, and my dad built 4 tables and a bar out of the reclaimed wood. Most of the other random decor pieces were things my mom had on hand – her rustic style really came in handy!
We made these program fans out of heavy card stock and some paint stirrers donated by the local wood shop. My mom and I tied colored raffia bows to each handle to fancy them up a bit. In the video of the ceremony, you can see nearly every guest fanning themselves – probably wishing they’d gone with shorts. Note: when making program fans, have someone else proof-read before printing, cutting, and gluing them, or you’ll end up with 100 fans that have “June 29, 2013th” written across the top. Do over. There was a vase of pinwheels for the kids at the entrance too – way more fun than a fan (the trick to making the pinwheels spin is to thread a couple tiny beads on the needle between the pinwheel and the dowel to give it some space).
When I went to JoAnn Fabric to buy the burlap for the ring pillow, the chatty lady at the cut counter inquired into what I was making. Her face when I replied, “a ring-bearer pillow” was priceless. “Oooo. Usually people make those out of satin…” HA! This ain’t any ol’ wedding! My mom added the dried flowers at the last minute – perfect touch. I also turned several pieces of burlap into bunting flags that read “GIFTS” & “LOVE ♥ IS ♥ SWEET” using leftover gray paint from when my parents first painted their house. I printed and cut out letters on plain printer paper, traced them on the burlap using a black sharpie, and filled it all in with paint. I sewed them together using some heavy jute twine.
Gold is pricey these days. Lucas helped design my custom-made engagement ring, and we had the same jeweler create a matching wedding band. For Lucas’s band, we had a local jeweler melt down his parent’s original wedding bands with a gold pendant from my late grandma to make this wide hammered band.
With the help of our officiant and friend Cas, we wrote our own ceremony. Our moms and Nana were escorted to their seats to What I Wouldn’t Do by A Fine Frenzy; The bridal party strolled in to Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (RAC Mix); And my dad and I walked arm and arm to All You Need is Love.
During the ceremony, my close friend Ashley, who had just become a new mom, read the children’s book An Awesome Book of Love. Lana Shea ft. Kevin sang Ingrid Michaelson’s You & I while playing the ukulele, and the entire bridal party joined in for the last two choruses. Sofia sang Bright Eyes’s First Day Of My Life while her brother Mattias played the guitar. Our friends are super talented. Cas saved a bit of sentimental surprise anecdotes for the day-of, and we wrote our vows to each other in secret – with an agreed upon format.
Lucas’s vows to me:
Sarah Elizabeth Nix,
You are my best friend, my partner, my confidant, and the only person I must talk to everyday.
I love because we can spend an entire day together and not be bored or want to be anywhere else but here
I love because you’re the only person who has seen all the things I’ve tried to hide and you still love me
I love how you look in the morning when we wake and love when you’re the last thing I see at night
I love how you know me better than I know me and how we really, really know each other
As your Husband, I promise to love you with my whole being, to always be honest with you, and to build a beautiful family with you
I promise to always let you put you’re ice-cube feet on me when we’re in bed, to feed the baby kitties, to clean the bathrooms, and to empty the compost
I promise to kiss you on the cheek each morning I wake up
I promise to listen when you speak, hold you when you’re sad, and carry you when you’re tired
I promise to always be on your team, to have your back, and to cheer you on
I promise to cherish every smile, every moment, every touch, and every embrace we share
I promise my loyalty to our bond and to work to strengthen it everyday
I promise these things to you, forever
My vows to Lucas:
I love you because you strive to always be honest, to me and to yourself. Even when it’d be easier not to be.
I love you because you stop in the middle of an argument to laugh at how ridiculous we’re being. Which makes me laugh. You always make sure we spend most of our time laughing.
I love you because you don’t mind when I wiggle my icicle feet under you, you just pull me closer.
I love you because you are patient and take pride in everything you do. And you can make or fix anything.
As your wife,
I promise to always be on your team and to be your accomplice on adventures.
I promise to treat you with patience, kindness, forgiveness, and goofiness.
I promise to support and encourage your wild ideas and interests, and to seek to learn new things right there with you.
I promise to fill your cup with seltzer water whenever you don’t want to get up because there’s a kitty snuggling in your lap. And to thank you with kisses when you do the same.
I promise to pause to listen to you and value your thoughts and feelings, even when I am frustrated.
And no matter what’s going on in our lives, I promise to kiss you every night before bed and to love you just as you are. Forever and ever.
I choose you as my person for all that life brings us. You are my favorite. Let’s get really, really, really old together.
We wrote these separately and secretly, I swear. When we both e-mailed them to Cas to make sure they were of similar tone and length, she asked, “did you guys agree on any content…?” Nope.
We cried when we read them. I’d like to think everyone else cried too, but it might have just been their eyeballs sweating. The groomsmen stood in direct sunlight smiling ear to ear. We kissed. Hand in hand, we walked out to Mario Matteoli’s Best Friend and the day-of wedding coordinator had an ice chest filled with frozen wash cloths for every person in the bridal party. Brilliant.
For the ceremony backdrop, we used tissue paper to make the bunting flags with our wedding colors and attached it to a frame my dad whipped up in about 5 minutes using old fence boards. My dad was like super-builder for our wedding. “Hey Dad? We need a table for the DJ.” 20 minutes later: “how’s this super elaborate bar with shelves?” “Dad, we need something to make these chalkboards stand up.” 5 minutes later: “how are these easels?” “Dad…” Already done before I could finish the request.
Also, it turns out my dress was like an enormous bug catcher while standing on the grass. Bridesmaids to the rescue.
All these people waited for 30+ minutes outside in fancy dress clothes in 110°F for our delayed wedding (recall the shuttle that took a whole bus-load of our guests to the wrong Sarah’s wedding). And they didn’t let a little thing like heat keep them from having fun either. From California to Pennsylvania to Florida to Texas to Massachusetts to Washington to Colorado and more, these 170 people made their way to our backyard to celebrate us. We wanted to make sure we got them all in one picture to remember all the love they surrounded us in that day. And always.
In the ultimate of budget-wedding moves, we sold more than half of the decor to other brides – feel free to check out what we’ve got left. Find part two here: Our bride & groom portraits and the backyard BBQ. Also, check out my recipe for a flourless salted almond chocolate cookie inspired by the deep dark chocolate cookies Big Sarah baked for the cookie table (and enter to win a chocolate-y giveaway!).
Photography: Brent Van Auken Photography | Cake: Melissa Haskins | Invitations: Printed by GreenerPrinter (designed by bride & groom) | Catering: Steelhead B.B.Q. Co. | Day-of coordination: Chico Event Specialists | Bride’s Dress: Casablanca | Rings: Sarah Perlis & Geralyn Sheridan Designs | Hair & Makeup: Lindsey Lifur @ Mecca Salon | Venue: Private residence in Chico, CA | Music: Bride & Groom