Katy & Aaron's forest handfasting and dance party wedding

December 7 |
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Photos by Des Haigh

The offbeat bride: Katy, Graphic Designer

Her offbeat partner: Aaron, Museum Collections Assistant

Date and location of wedding: Pacific Connections Garden and Graham Visitors Center, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA — September 24, 2011

What made our wedding offbeat: It was very important for both Aaron and I to put together a wedding that truly spoke to who we are as individuals as well as a couple. Neither of us are religious, so we really had a blank slate and were able to pull from many ideas/traditions. We knew that we wanted a small and intimate wedding with only our closest friends and family present. Our guest list ended up being about 80 people (quite a feat considering the huge family I have), and it was just a perfect size for us.

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So many things made our wedding special just to us. We drew our inspiration for the overall event from our love of the forest and Renaissance fairs. To this end we had pot roast for dinner, pumpkin pie for dessert (made by my Aunt), and instead of table numbers, we made different crests to mark the different tables. We also got a large cardboard deer head to hang behind our head table Renaissance-style, and used terrariums that we made as the table centerpieces (each with its own plastic knight in shining armor and dragon/other mythical beast inside).

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I also handmade 80 accordion-style books for our guest gifts. I love to make books, so I made as many elements of the wedding as I could: officiant folder, guestbook, guest gifts, table numbers, etc. Our maid of honor's dad cut tree rounds from a felled tree in his yard for us to put our terrariums on each table, and my dad finished them with eco-friendly varnish to make them look fancy. These really added to the forest theme of the reception.

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Tell us about the ceremony: The ceremony was performed by my uncle, who was ordained online, and we chose to incorporate a handfasting. We made our own handfasting cord out of ribbon (three ribbons total: one for him, one for me, and one to symbolize our vows). We wrote our own vows but we broke it down into two parts. First we exchanged personal statements, which were more of a free-form opportunity, and then we repeated identical vows to each other, while bound by the handfasting chord. After saying these vows, we removed the cord without untying the knot and placed it in a special box we had found for the purpose, and there it will stay. We liked the idea that the knot will remain forever from the moment we were wed.

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We were worried about the venue because we were not allowed to have chairs (except for the elderly and handicapped) and didn't want our guests to be standing for too long. We tried to keep the ceremony short and sweet but still long enough to give the proper reverence for what was taking place. We tried to make it memorable, personal, fun and also sentimental. We both cried.

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Our biggest challenge: It was very hard to please all parties involved with the formation of the guest list. We were still making final decisions way after the original invitations had gone out. In the end, Aaron and I had to stick with one rule to determine if someone made the cut or not: do they know us as a couple? We had a lot of extended family members and friends who only knew one or the other of us and due to our venue's limitations and personal wishes, we could not invite everyone.

So, we limited it only to people who knew us both, together. These are the people who would take the greatest joy out of being at our wedding, and who we felt the most comfortable inviting to be with us for our private moments that day.

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My favorite moment: The handfasting ceremony was very symbolic to us as a visual representation of not only our coming together as two people linked as one, but also the formation of one cord forged from both of our lives to create a single stronger cord bound by love. We both cried while we read our personal statements to each other. Additionally, our friends and family made some wonderful speeches at the reception that did not leave a dry eye in the house.

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Come at me, bro.

My funniest moment: The crazy dance party! We have never really been big on dancing and usually pass it up at weddings, and assumed our friends and family would be the same way. We made an "after dinner mix" anyway with our favorite music that was too fast to play during dinner, and lo and behold — the dance floor filled up. It was crazy. One of my aunts danced so hard that night that she stressed her ankle and had to wear a boot for a month afterwards. It was so crazy, unexpected, and WONDERFUL.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? There just was so much to do on the actual day of the wedding. I am a very organized and detail-oriented person so I had a three page Excel document detailing the entire run-down of the wedding and delegating jobs to people. It still felt like there would never possibly be time to get everything done.

After myself and my bridesmaids had our hair and makeup done, we were supposed to go to the venue and help for a few hours, but we were delayed and ended up only being able to stop by briefly before it was time to leave to finish getting ready. I thought for sure that the hall would be nowhere near completion and that there wasn't enough people to help. Turns out, our friends and family are awesome and it was coming together very quickly. Sometimes its hard to let go and trust that other people will do what you ask of them, but everyone that was involved (and even some people who I didn't know) came through with flying colors.

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My advice for offbeat brides: Most likely this experience is not going to be like all of the movies and magazines tell you, or even what you read about in some blogs, but if you stick to your guns and fight for what is important to you as a couple, you will have the best day of your life and it will all be worth it. Don't be afraid to express your wishes to your family, even if it means repeating yourself politely but firmly several times.

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? I learned a lot about communicating with my husband and that finding a compromise does not mean necessarily that you won't get 100% of what you want out of the situation. I am a "big picture" person and Aaron likes to get all of the details ironed out before he moves on to the next task, so at times it was a tug and pull to get things organized.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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  1. What a beautiful wedding! I love the handfasting ritual, I would like to do that at my upcoming St. Patty's day wedding. I am glad that you mentioned what you did with the handfasting cord after the ritual, I have been confused about what to do afterwards! Also, I like the idea of only having guests that know you as a couple. This is something I have been trying to explain to my fiance since most of his "friends" haven't bothered to meet me in the past 3 years we have been together.One more thing, I love the Claddagh ring!

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    • I am also very grateful that you shared your handfasting cord idea! We have been planning to dance with all our might down the aisle and had been trying to figure out how to get handfasted so we could still boogey. Your idea is the perfect solution! Also love your bridal Doc Martens and terrarium centerpieces :) Congratulations!!

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  2. What a beautiful wedding! We had our rings made at Greenlake too-they did an amazing job! Congrats.

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  3. Thank you for featuring our wedding! It is such an honor to be on OBB!

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  4. Just wondering if Katy would share the designer/style of her dress – it is stunning!

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    • Hi Angie – it is a Robin Jillian dress and the style is called "Halifax". I really loved it!

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  5. Holy moly – is that a Lady of Guadalupe matryoshka doll tattoo you've got on your arm?! It looks freaking amazing!

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    • Hey Ansy,
      It's just a regular matryoshka, but it does have similar colors! Thanks – I totally love it!

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  6. Can anyone offer guidance on how, exactly, to tie a handfasting cord? We'd like to remove it without untying, and although I watched carefully at the last wedding I attended, that one wasn't actually tied off, just wrapped! Also, we're planning on using several ribbons — one for each aspect of the vows. It should be easy to gather them together and tie one big knot or bow, but it's an additional factor in the awkwardness. Ideas?

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    • We just practiced a lot! We had my uncle lay the chord over our hands (we held both of each others' hands), double it once underneath, and then come back around to the top and do a simple double-knot. When we were done saying our vows we just let go of each others' hands and put the chord in a box. I'm not sure how anyone else has done it…we kind of made it up :)

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  7. What songs were on your "after dinner mix?" I'm in the midst of planning my music playlists now and I don't think we have much of a dancing crowd.

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    • Hi Jenny –

      It was a lot of 90's, punk, ska, and other items like that. Just songs that we enjoyed and wanted to share with other people.

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  8. Your wedding is/was incredibly beautiful!!! My partner, Joe, and I are getting married at the WPA at the end of June. I would love to hear any advice that you have for working with the venue, decorating, anything!

    Congratulations on your fabulous day and for an even more beautiful marriage!

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    • Hi Michelle – I'm sorry, what's the WPA? Is it part of the Arboretum or is it the other reception venue that UW offers?

      We had some challenges working with the Graham Visitor's Center. They would not let us into the venue before 12 and the wedding was at 4, so decorating and getting ready in time for the ceremony was a crunch. We were also not allowed to have any type of decorations at the ceremony site itself (inside the arboretum) and all of our guests had to stand – they made an exception for my elderly grandparents. Other than that, the venue did work well with my vendors and they tried to be helpful, they just have some pretty strict rules that they won't budge on. Hope that helps!

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  9. I too am getting married at the Arboretum this year, in August. Katy your wedding looked great!!!! Where did you get your boquet made? it's super cool!

    I've been trying to work with the people at the arboretum too and it's been ok so far. It's nice to see weddings there that went well. I think my biggest challenge there will be decorating from noon-4…

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    • Thank you, Dianasaur (love your name! lol). We made the bouquets ourselves from flowers that we bought from Lake Union Wholesale Flowers, which I highly recommend for the price.

      I was super worried about the decorating timeframe but family/friends really came together for me and I'm sure they will for you to. Best of luck and congratulations!

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      • Hi, Katy! I am getting married next summer and I was hoping to do the wholesale/DIY flowers thing, but I'm curious – how did you manage to do that? Based on my research, it seems like all the wholesale flower places in Seattle require a business license to shop there. What did you do? Thanks so much! Your wedding was really beautiful – we're seriously considering the Graham Visitors Center ourselves!

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        • Hi Rachel, we used Lake Union Wholesale Florists and I do believe we were required to have a business account (my mom works for a church that has an account there). I don't know all of the rules but if you have a family or friend who owns their own business perhaps you could have them open an account you could use? I also heard that if you go to Pike Place Market (or any farmers market) you can work with the growers ahead of time and request specific flowers – which would still be a less expensive option than a florist. Good luck!

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