East Dakota Quilter


DIY Wedding Projects… and Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago, I was married at a campground in Wisconsin.

During the planning stage, a close friend of mine, wedding-wise from having planned her own elegant wedding a few years ago, told me I should start by realistically determining how many projects I could complete before the big day, adding a buffer of a few weeks to address any last-minute issues. Then she said to cut that number of projects in half.

I felt like a total genius for deciding to focus on three big projects. Just three! That would be insanely easy, right?

Invitation by East Dakota Quilter

The wedding was perfect, but not because I was a wedding project rockstar. I finished one project the night before we left for the wedding. I finished another at the venue the day before the wedding. The third project got halved. And I had several tantrums moments of concern the week before the wedding, which my now-husband tolerated admirably.

working on projects during the drive

working on projects during the drive


What lessons did I learn from this?


1. I don’t like chain piecing or repetitive sewing.

I love finished projects with recurring patterns, but I hate sewing them. Unfortunately, Project Number One was a quilt with twenty identical blocks, and Project Number Two was bunting – 120 feet of identical little flags. It was hard to find the motivation to work on these projects each week.

I like how both projects turned out. They were responsible for almost all the color where our wedding reception and dinner were held. But BOY, did they take forever. And BOY, did I think I was going to vomit if I had to sew one more quilt block!

The quilt fabric was purchased years ago. It sat in a closet because I was afraid of making mistakes when I first started sewing. Lately, my push has been to use existing fabric instead of buying new. I thought a citrus-colored quilt would infuse color into the wedding while simultaneously using up my fabric stash. (This delighted my husband.) It also added a personal touch, representing that as a couple, we like to spend time quietly together at home, near each other but working on different projects.

Even cutting HSTs was an assembly line process

HST assembly line

HSTs by East Dakota Quilter

Wedding Quilt by East Dakota Quilter

I used the Midnight Garden quilt block. (You can get the free template here, although I did my own resizing).

Like my quilt, the bunting was intended to use up stash fabrics, although it didn’t work that way. The bunting size I chose was a fabric hog – I could only get three flags from each fat quarter (FQ) of fabric. I ended up buying lots of new FQs. One thing I think made the project look more professional was the cotton twill tape I used to connect the flags at the top. It was also easier than making a million yards of bias tape.

Bunting Assembly by East Dakota Quilter

Bunting in Progress by East Dakota Quilter


2. A project that might be fun on a small scale becomes a hassle when multiplied to wedding proportions.

One project I added along the way was paper pinwheels for the tables. Learning how to make my first pinwheel was fun! About 30 pinwheels in, I realized both that I wasn’t having fun anymore and that most people wouldn’t care whether I made a few hundred more. I recalled a fantastic post from the blog A Practical Wedding that said “backdrop over details.” The theory is that a backdrop will end up in hundreds of photos, whereas the detail items are viewed briefly by one or two people and then mostly forgotten. I kept the pinwheels I’d finished but scrapped the rest of the project.

Pinwheels by East Dakota Quilter


3. It’s okay to let some things go.

The pinwheels weren’t the only things I let go. Project Number Three was a set of pillow covers. I wanted to put pillows on the benches around the fire pit at the campground, which we used to host a welcome bonfire Friday night and where late-night revelers went the night of the wedding, post-dance.

There are a million sweet pillow cover patterns. I spent hours scouring the internet for patterns that would perfectly represent the vibe of the wedding we wanted.

In the end, I finished just three: one made with Heather Ross fabric because… well, Heather Ross (I made up the pattern); one with felt pigs to represent the hog roast dinner, for which we ordered our favorite Kansas City BBQ sauce (pig template here); and one with a bear, which sort of represents the groom’s surname.

Pillows by East Dakota Quilter

I scrapped a half dozen other patterns. But you know what? I got tons of compliments on the three I finished, and no one knew there were supposed to be more! My mom said one of the sweetest moments of the wedding for her was seeing a little boy asleep on one of the pillows next to the pavilion, worn out from too much dancing.


4. It’s okay to change course and prioritize new projects.

I was a bunting-sewing machine in the weeks leading up to the wedding. But I still decided to skip making bunting for the final side of the pavilion. It was just too much.

My friends and family did all the decorating. I wanted to be involved, but (surprise surprise) was too busy the day of the wedding. I envisioned the bunting facing outward, but friends decided it looked better facing the inside of the pavilion, where everyone would be except for about 2 minutes at the beginning of the event. Genius. They also decided that the side of the pavilion without bunting would be the side where we connected the food tent, which they protected with some of the extra vintage sheets I bought. The lack of bunting on one side of the pavilion looked intentional. A million thanks to the people who made such great executive decisions (and put in the elbow grease to make the venue look amazing).

Wedding Prep by East Dakota Quilter

Food Tent by East Dakota Quilter

Instead of those last 40’ of bunting, I decided to make a few extra flags to spell out “Just Married” for our sweetheart table. (That’s what you call a table that seats just the bride and groom instead of the whole wedding party.) The project was worth the effort. I’m so glad I made the push to finish that one.

Sweetheart Table by East Dakota Quilter

Once I had a “Just Married” bunting, I also wanted to dress up the sweetheart table in other ways. I thrifted a pair of wooden chairs and spray painted them yellow. (My husband, who worked construction before his present job, was appalled by the amount of overspray… but I covered every last nook and cranny!) I loved those chairs. We are storing them with the in-laws, but I can’t wait to be reunited and find a place for them in our next home.

Chairs by East Dakota Quilter


5. You can totally DJ your wedding with an iPod.

The project that probably garnered the most compliments wasn’t one where I made something decorative; it was the playlist for our wedding dance. I did a ton of research and have a few tips to share.

First, unless you have an intimate wedding in a smallish room, you’ll need an amplifier (amp) and speakers. Your computer won’t have enough output, and even most iPod or external computer speakers don’t have enough sound, particularly for outdoor spaces. I saw message boards advertising prices between $100 and $400. For our Wisconsin wedding, we got two sets of speakers for $240 plus a refunded security deposit. One set was placed at the ceremony site. The other was used for the dance. The guy who rented us the equipment helped us set it up and showed several people how to use it.

Next, music works great in sets. Each set should be 4- 6 songs (I did 5 to keep it simple) and last around 18 minutes (on average). Each set starts with a slow song. The next song is a little faster, and the one after that is even faster… and so on. The last song in the set is the fastest song and is a finale for the set. Then you start over with a slow song. A total of about 72 songs will last 4 hours, the typical amount of time for a wedding dance. (Most DJs charge more if you go over the 4-hour mark.)

Our very first dance was the Chicken Dance. I know not everyone likes it, but it was great to get kids on the dance floor right away. It also made it easier to get other people on the floor throughout the night because we’d already set the tone as a dancing wedding. I nixed the Hokey Pokey at the last minute but got several requests from four-year-olds later in the evening. If I had it to do over, I probably would have played that one, too, even though it’s not my personal favorite. The photo below is our father-daughter dance… a polka!

Polka by East Dakota Quilter

I made my playlist based largely on lists of the 100 most-requested songs at wedding dances found online (examples here and  here and here and here), with a polka to end most sets since both his and my side of the family like them. Many of the sets centered around a particular decade – the 1950s, the 1980s, etc. I found that while only the younger crowd would dance to newer music, almost everyone would dance to the older stuff. I’m glad I chose lots of “classic” music. I originally intended to make the last hour of the dance more modern dance/club music since older folks have usually departed by that point, but the oldest members of the family were still dancing! I made a few last-minute revisions to avoid driving them off. Tante Irene even did the two-step to Moves Like Jagger, one of the few modern songs we included!

Wedding Dance by East Dakota Quilter

My best advice for playlists is to include songs people can dance to. You’re not trying to impress people with your musical taste–you’re trying to get them to dance! To fit in some of our favorite songs as a couple, I played them while people were still eating. It made for some lively dinner music, but mostly it made people laugh.

Although people talk about DJing a wedding with an iPod, it’s usually done with a computer. I made playlists using iTunes—one each for the ceremony, the dinner/reception, and the dance. Include more songs than you need; it’s easier to delete a group of songs than to add new ones on the fly. Put one person in charge of the music and charge them with protecting the computer against impromptu changes from “helpful” guests. I didn’t have a huge issue until I made a change to the playlist myself, and then a few people thought they could do the same.

I wish I had also numbered my final playlist. Someone (probably me on accident) hit “shuffle,” then reorganized the songs by title toward the end of the dance. There was no way to revert to the original song order. I had to make a new, backup list of songs to avoid repeating songs that had already been played. It wasn’t a big deal but could easily have been avoided.

Obviously, be sure to have a backup (e.g. both a computer and an iPod, preferably linked to different iTunes accounts or different media players). Bring your power cord!!! If the event is outdoors, consider what you’re going to do in case of rain, e.g. we moved the computer to a table that was well under the pavilion.

At the end of the evening, my brand new husband told me, “This was the best day of my life.” It wasn’t because of the quilt or the pillows or the pinwheels or the playlist. Our focus the entire time was to spend time with family/friends and to create a place for people to have fun. These were the right goals. None of the details mattered… although I just LOVE having a wedding quilt on my bed to remind us of that special day!

Wedding Quilt by East Dakota Quilter

P.S. Thanks to family and friends for all these photos. I didn’t pick up my camera all day!

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Triple-Zip Pouch

I decided to use some fabrics purchased from Purl Soho in 2012 as the color inspiration for my wedding. I still really love the colors. Unfortunately, I am finding the repetitive blocks in the pattern I chose very tedious.

I decided to spend a bit of time last week making a quick project I could finish quickly to remind myself that sewing can be fun. (Yep, the wedding quilt is really that bad.) I made this awesome three-zippered pouch from the free tutorial at A Quilter’s Table.

Pouch by East Dakota Quilter

The fabrics are mostly from Leah Duncan’s Meadow line with a few from Heather Ross. I wish I had thought to take photos of all the pocket interiors. Each is different, and they’re adorable!

I bought my sister a small makeup pouch as a souvenir a few years ago. I noticed it was still in her purse last time I saw her and is a little worse for wear; I figured she could use a new one. Besides, who doesn’t love Happy Mail?!

If you have any tips for moving past a creative rut, I’d love to hear them. This one seemed to work for me!


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Starting a Dear Jane Quilt

In April 2012, I got to go to Purl Soho in NYC, the store behind the Purl Bee blog. It was kind of bizarre seeing in-person the projects I had seen so meticulously photographed for the blog. Naturally, I treated myself to some fabrics. Since I was in the middle of a half dozen projects (most of them unrelated to crafts/sewing), I put the fabrics in the busted-up UPS box that serves as my sewing room. It’s pretty classy.

Now that I’ve finished most of my other projects, I’ve started thinking about what to do with the fabrics. I have two sets: my “citrus fabrics” and my “autumn fabrics.”

I love and am inspired by color, so of course I bought the fabrics before I had any idea how I would use them. I overbought for the bird quilt, so I decided to show more restraint in quantities when purchasing fabric from Purl Soho. The result is I have a half-yard each of the 7 autumn colors and two yards each of the citrus colors. Fabric. Fail.

What I needed was a way to stretch my fabric by supplementing with some kind of solid. So now I’ll do a variation on a Dear Jane quilt with my autumn fabrics, using a cream solid to tie the pieces together AND make the fancy fabric I bought go further.

Even reducing the number of pieces by roughly half wasn’t enough to complete the quilt, though. See, I planned for fat quarters of 18 x 22″. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the fat quarter dimensions don’t take into account selvage, crooked cutting or lazy ironing, etc. But it was a surprise when I first measured.

I used an old-school cut-and-paste method to ensure I’d have enough fabric for all my blocks. I had planned very carefully, but based on the optimistic measurements:

My first idea was to buy a coordinating fabric and make some of the blocks from it. I did this, got it home, and was disappointed how poorly it matched the other fabrics. Then – DUH – I checked the selvage to see who the designer was. I quickly identified the fabric as Robert Kaufman’s Quilter’s Linen line. Which appears not to be a fabric being sold anymore this season. Ugh! Fortunately, I did find a website with most of the colors I needed. I only had two fat quarters of each color to begin with. Now I have an additional half-yard of each, so I’m back to over-buying!

The best part of making quilts is the design planning. Below are sketches of the quilt blocks I plan to make. I used seven colored pencil colors that don’t really coincide with my fabrics but that are easy to distinguish on paper.

The original Dear Jane quilt was sewn by Jane A. Blakely Stickle, finished in 1863. There are whole groups of women called Janiacs who follow Jane Stickle’s original pattern. I knew nothing about Jane or her quilt when I conceived the idea for my quilt. I wanted to put together lots of different blocks for variety. I searched for Pinterest photos of quilts with different block designs. Other pinners had these posted on boards with names like “Dear Jane Quilt.”  Seemed pretty straightforward. I have heard of quilting bees where each person contributes a block toward a quilt, and I imagined a few of Jane’s cousins sewing quilt blocks (next to a warm hearth, of course) and mailing them to Jane for her project.

After reviewing the history of her quilt and searching for images of Dear Jane quilts online, I can no longer tell whether the only Dear Janes are those that follow her original design or whether each quilter has some creative license. I hate sewing circles and isosceles triangles, so I gave myself permission to omit those designs from my quilt. I won’t do Jane’s border or scalloped edges. And my squares will probably be 12”. With quilt blocks using grids of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, 12” blocks will be easier to calculate than 8” or 10” squares. So I just found quilt blocks I liked and decided to call my quilt a Dear Jane anyway. Probably half the squares are “farmer’s wife” blocks. Mis-named with great excitement, I can’t wait to get started sewing!

P.S. Please feel free to comment if you know whether Dear Jane quilts have to follow Jane’s original design.