Deconstruction of a DIY Project Gone Horribly Wrong

Unless the point of the show is to instruct prospective brides in the finer points of carrying out DIY doings, such projects are usually presented on television as a silly idea doomed to failure from the outset because you should leave that sort of thing to the professionals, you silly, incompetent bride-person, you. If they work out, someone carefully points out that if it had gone wrong, clearly the wedding would have been ruined. If the bride, her mother, or her friend is unsuccessful, droll or doleful music is played and the scenes are cut to make it clear that there was never any chance of anything short of disaster.

But is disaster so inevitable? Not necessarily. In fact, if approached thoughtfully and planned intelligently, DIY projects can add tremendously to the intimacy and charm of a wedding without causing undo fuss behind the scenes. Let’s deconstruct a DIY disaster on a recent episode of Bridezillas and see how it might have been done more successfully.

Maria had a DIY brainstorm for her wedding. She decided that instead of having more traditional centerpieces of flowers on her reception tables, she wanted to decorate each table with a home made layer cake. I can see some of you shuddering with fear already, but as an experienced home baker, I actually thought it was a very good idea. Unfortunately, there were numerous disasters along the way, but each one could have been avoided. Here’s how.

1: Consider the scale of your project. Maria needed thirty-eight cakes to use as centerpieces for her tables. She also planned to have a traditional bride’s cake. That makes thirty-nine cakes in all, at least one of which will need some fairly elaborate decoration. If you’re going to do that much, you need to know what goes into each one of those cakes (bouquets, dresses, favor boxes, or whatever your project happens to be) and how long it takes to make one. Time your project from laying out the materials to the final flick of frosting or tied bow and decide whether you really do have the time, skills and resources to do it properly.

For instance, I can do a simple layer cake in about three to four hours from setting out the butter to soften to the final smoothing of the frosting. More than half of that time is waiting for things to warm up or cool down to the proper temperatures. If I have plenty of the ingredients and equipment on hand and enough room to work, I can turn out two or three cakes in one day without completely losing my marbles. That’s working alone in the kitchen I actually own. Assuming two cakes a day, that means I would need approximately nineteen days of unrelieved baking to make thirty-eight cakes all on my own. I’d better get a helper or two…and at least one extra bowl for my stand mixer.

2: Determine whether there’s anything you can do in advance, and make arrangements to do so. Maria, from the look of things, waited until a few days before her wedding to start baking. The thing is, cake layers can freeze well. Many kinds of cake can last up to two months in the freezer. Quite a few of the sturdier frostings can be frozen even longer without turning.

Consult your cookbooks to see how long your cake can freeze successfully, and start making room. If your project is making the flower arrangements and you need a lot of them, consider using silk blooms or some other non-perishable item to make them. Tulle bags or little boxes for favors can be assembled months in advance even if what you’re filling them with can only go in the day before the wedding.

3: Seek out volunteer help…and determine the best use of them. Maria did have help. She had a mother and ten siblings most of whom seemed to be helping out. Unfortunately, she was not good at delegating the right job to the right person. One sister kept trying to make batter and being screamed at because she didn’t really know how to do it to Maria’s satisfaction.

Not everyone who wants to help is good at all the parts of a project. Someone who is terrible at mixing batter, though, might have a good hand at frosting, or could be sent to the store when there’s a sudden dearth of flour, milk, or butter. She could have been put in charge of keeping the pots and pans clean and ready to use. It’s all help. Anyone can do something. But if the first thing you ask them to do doesn’t work out, don’t scream and yell. Just put them on a different part of the job. Or maybe make your instructions clearer. Sometimes it’s not that someone is incompetent, but that they didn’t get the memo on how it’s supposed to be done. Maria screamed at her sister that she was putting things in the batter the wrong way, but never showed her how to do it properly, and never explained what was wrong about how it was being done. Clear instructions could have saved a lot of misery…not to mention wasted cake batter poured down the sink.

4: Be thoughtful of your volunteers and thank them often. Well before the ordeal was over, at least two of Maria’s sisters were muttering mutiny for the cameras. Why? Because Maria spent so much time yelling at them, finding fault with everything they did, and bossing them around. In fact, she’d ordered one sister to have labor induced so she wouldn’t be in danger of giving birth right when Maria needed her to bake and frost cakes. Then Maria complained that there was a crying infant in the kitchen. Yup, that would make me want to do some more baking for her…probably just so I could smash a cake in her face.

Helpers quickly grow to resent this sort of bullying treatment and stop caring about making you happy. If you smile, thank them often, and perhaps provide a couple pizzas when the work is done, you’ll get volunteers who still like you and want to do their best for you.

5: Assume there will be a problem somewhere along the line and prepare for it. Accidents happen. With the best intentions and the most organized helpers, something can still go wrong. In Maria’s case, a cake was dropped on the way to the reception. She’d needed thirty-eight cakes, so she’d made thirty-eight cakes. Had she thought to make forty just in case of accident, there would have been plenty to spare. Make sure you’ve got enough materials to make an extra or two of whatever you’re doing in case one gets damaged or you discover at the last moment that you miscalculated the number you needed. Besides, who can say no to extra cake? Oh, and if you can, feel free to pack it well and send it to me!

DIY projects take extra time and effort, yes, but they needn’t be ordeals. It’s amazing how big a difference a bit of thought and organization can make. It’s the sort of difference that can turn a wedding into your wedding.

8 Responses to “Deconstruction of a DIY Project Gone Horribly Wrong”

  1. Moo says:

    ORDERED her sister to induce labour? No way, that’s ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Twistie says:

    Yep. Even more unbelievable to me was the fact that her sister FOLLOWED THE ORDERS! I couldn’t freaking believe it. What’s more, she never once even hinted that Maria was completely insane for even considering asking something like that of anybody.

  3. Jennie says:

    As much as I love and adore my sisters, the words F*** off or F*** you come to mind if they made those kind of demands/comments. I actually watched Bridezillas a few times. I would have ZERO problems walking away…

  4. Twistie says:

    I’m absolutely with you, Jennie! There are some things you just don’t ask of people if you want to have a family or any friends at the end of the proceedings…or, you know, if you’re not composed entirely of evil.

  5. There are so many things on Bridezilla that are mind-bottling. The other day, the bride had a budget from her parents but had overrun it. The dad said he was dealing with it. My first thought was, “Didn’t the parents give their (28-yr-old) daughter a check for $X and say, ‘This is our contribution. If you go over, it’s out of your pocket?'” I mean, who gives someone a blank check and then says, “Have the vendors send the bills to us?”

    Tell the bride she’s running the show, tell her the bills are in her name, and give her a fixed dollar amount (if anything — honestly — at 28, you should be paying for your own wedding).

  6. Twistie says:

    So with you, class-factotum. My mind often reaches for the bottle while watching that show.

    I honestly do not have a clue why people allow themselves to be manipulated into going into thousands of dollars of debt for their child’s wedding. Yes, you want to make it as nice as you can, but there are so many ways of cutting costs. And frankly, I would worry about marrying a twenty-eight year old who couldn’t understand that $X does not equal ‘$whatever the hell I want to buy and have someone else pay for.’

    It never occured to me to ask for wedding money. I guess I figured if I was old enough to be getting married, I was old enough to handle the responsibility of paying for it. Of course, I was thirty when I married. Had I married at twenty, my father might well have offered…or more likely my mother would have insisted he offer something.

    Even if my father had given me money for my wedding, though, there’s no way I would have expected him to give me more purely because I wanted more expensive things. I would have expected to either stay within the budget offered or to pay the difference myself.

  7. Kristin says:

    Thinking about Maria’s “Bridezillas” episode gives me stomach pains! IIRC, all of her cakes seriously looked like crap after all of that drama.

  8. Twistie says:

    Yes, they did. And that reminds me of the tip I thoughtlessly left out of this article: make it pretty or don’t make it. If it looks like crap, it just looks slapped together at the last minute by incompetants, and that doesn’t make for a nice wedding.

    Maria entirely failed to decorate her cakes. They were just ordinary cakes with nothing but plain frosting on them. Come on! It’s not that hard to do a tiny bit of basic decorative piping, or sugar a few edible flowers and place them on the cake. Heck, even a few colorful sprinkles or pretty plates would have made them look more festive! It’s not always necessary to go the extra mile, but an extra foot or two is usually a great idea.