Wedding cake topper I made, for about $15. It includes some of our favorite things in life: the dog, books for me, and computers for John.
In college, my roommates and I would gather in the hallowed hallways of our dormitory, sharing empty calories and offering up independent theories on why Room 206 smelled like stale sex and green olives. Two girls occupied the room in question. One believed she was a vampire, descended from cats and/or unicorns (she was hoping for both, if I recall correctly). The other hosted slumber parties with the local high school boys, who tried their hardest to look like college men. For whatever reason, they ended up looking more like the singer, P!nk, but without her namesake’s hair color. It was all about the frosted blond tips, back then. We never could figure out who had the olive fixation.
When not discussing the great olfactory mysteries of our time, we were comparing notes on where we’d like to be, in life. There was the usual grab bag mix of future lawyers, doctors, doctors’ wives and starving artists. Because when you’re 18 and living virtually rent-free, being a successful artist is both an oxymoron and insult to the craft. Other dreams weren’t quite as ambitious. A few expressed interest in sleeping their way to the middle. Or at least a free meal. For myself, I just wanted to be able to afford a cartful of groceries, at Whole Foods, one day. We were young, with goals to attempt to accomplish and bucket lists to fall into and never make it out of.
My love/hate relationship with Whole Foods began in the summer of 2001. Every weekend, a friend and I would scavenge enough coins, from between the car seats, and fill up the gas tank, to a level “just above E.” Then, we’d make our way to the original Whole Foods in Austin, and spend most of the day sampling free food and grazing from the bulk bin section. At day’s end, I’d stand in line with my dollar’s worth of bulk bin granola and pay with the remainder of my car cushion coins.
I’m 31 now, and have come to the realization that Whole Foods’ appeal is that they make sure that no one can really afford it. A while ago, I filled my cart up with an impressive array of non-essentials. Fresh pasta made by the grandma I’d imagine I’d have if I were Italian, vegan pastries made by non-vegan trophy wives in Colorado, cider with an alcohol content so low, it’s probably a great one to share with your underaged children (during BYOB playdates and such), and Seventh Generation cleaning supplies that somehow do less cleaning than a cleaning lady hired with a Groupon.
The total was enough to cover America’s national deficit. I think. I can’t remember. I tend to black out terrible memories involving cash. The cashier read my total, then asked if I’d like to donate my bag refund to some undisclosed charity. Then, if I’d like to round up to the nearest dollar for another charity involving kids, somewhere. Finally, she asked if I’d like to just give a specific dollar amount, anywhere between $5-$500, to another one. Maybe it’s the same charity. Who knows. I think you get a free calendar, keys to the store and a rescue puppy if you do.
And that’s when I realize that I can never truly afford Whole Foods. Sure, I can afford the cart of non-essential groceries, but I can never afford to adopt that family of four, in Swaziland, with a weekly check-out line donation of $500. As the college-aged cashier bags up my fair-trade/shade-grown/free-roamed olives, the look on her face reads I guess not everyone can afford to shop with us. I just don’t shop there as often anymore. Only when I feel like I don’t need money anymore, but do need that soy-free/dairy-free/gluten-free gulp of air Whole Foods has packaged in a nice recycled box and selling for $6.99. $7.19, with tax and bag refund donated. $8, rounded up for those kids you keep hearing about. $508, for that family of four.
When I began the planning process of our wedding, over a year ago, my Whole Foods’ experience came back to mind. Weddings can be cheap, but the industry doesn’t want you to ever think so. Your flowers will never be as fresh as that girl’s bouquet, the one from The Hills. Unless you hire the florist-to-the-stars. The same one who makes you put down a deposit of “first child” to secure a date. If you tell a caterer that you have a food budget of $10,000, they’ll push you toward the $15,000 package deal. The plan that includes two servers per guest. One to peel and hand-feed seedless grapes to your family and friends. The other to wipe mouths and any other orifice that needs wiping and tending to. The dress lady will put you in $9,000 dollar dresses, even when you tell her your budget is for two-thirds that amount. So, like Whole Foods, I just didn’t go there unless I was felt like I wanted to be taken advantage of. Every time a vendor pushed me towards a higher spending limit, I walked out the door and never went back.
Instead of depending on the wedding industry to give me my dream wedding, I relied heavily on myself. Sure, I hired a photographer, who I found at a wedding show (that I attended for free, thanks to a Facebook contest); but everything else was either made by me, collected by John and I, created by my family or bought at a steep discount. For instance, my Jenny Packham dress was purchased for 20% off the ticket price. The rest of the things were bought at thrift stores or foraged for. I made virtually everything: my own veil, hangers, fireplace alter and even wrote personal letters to each guest (using vintage paper from Goodwill).
We didn’t hire a wedding planner. I’m sure they work wonders for their clients, but for us, it wasn’t even an option. We used the extra cash to fly in our parents for the wedding, instead. One of the first things I made for our wedding was our cake topper. Here’s what I made.
List of things to get: 4 wooden balls, about 1 inch in diameter with a large hole on one end. 2 wooden balls, about half an inch in diameter and large hole on one end. 14 wooden beads, about half a centimeter in diameter, with a hole through the center. 4 bamboo skewers. 2 wooden dowels (1/2 centimeter in diameter) and about 1.5-2.5 inches in length. 5 pipe cleaners. Some small rectangular pieces of wood. Unused business cards. Wire thread. Felt and/or scrap fabrics. Drill and glue.
Step 1: For the bodies, you want to cut a piece of felt into a circle. Take the 1-inch balls and drill two small holes (large enough for the bamboo skewers to fit through) on the opposite end of the large pre-cut hole.
Step 2: Place the ball, large hole side up, on top of the felt. Add glue to the large hole and tuck the edges of the felt fabric into it. Trim the fabric to fit into the opening. Place the half-centimeter dowels into the hole. It should fit snugly.
Step 4: Feel out the two small holes you drilled and poke in two bamboo skewers. You can trim the length later. I stabilized it with a ball of yarn in a pitcher.
Step 5: You will need arms. Take the piper cleaners and twist two together. Place on top of the wooden dowel and add a dab of glue.
Step 6: I added a head by placing a 1-inch ball on top.
Step 7: Because every cake topper needs pants, I sewed a pair out of felt. I took two pieces of fabric, about two centimeters wide and three inches long. I sewed along the length and turned it inside out.
Step 8: Thread each “leg” through a skewer. Then thread a half-centimeter wooden ball to either end. Secure with glue. I wrapped a piece of wire to hold the ball in place while it dried. While that was drying, I cut a piece of felt to form a cylinder around the abdomen of the cake topper. I sewed with a contrasting thread, about two-thirds up the length.
Step 8: Using sharp scissors, I poked two small holes where I wanted the arms to be. Then I pulled out the pipe cleaners. After, I folded the top of the cylindrical fabric over, to form a collar. The same red thread was used to sew a ‘hem’ around the neckline.
Step 9: I sewed on a button to the collar and added in the coat arms, in the same manner as the pant legs. I also folded up the sleeves for a cuff.
Step 10: Using old business cards and wooden rectangles I had, leftover from a past project, I fashioned mini-books and a laptop. Cut the business cards just a bit smaller than the wood pieces. Glue the paper together. Then add one wooden rectangle, to either end. On one side, cut a strip of wood to form the book’s spine.
Step 11: Paint the books. The laptop is just one wood piece, painted.
Step 12: For the dog, I wanted her to peek out from underneath a book. So, I fashioned an “open book” using a business card and three wooden pieces.
Step 13: The dog’s book was “Beo-woof.” For the dog, I used the half inch circles. One for the head and one for the body, under the book. Both were connected with glued pieces of pipe cleaner. The tail and legs were fashioned with the same material, but with small wooden balls glued to the ends. Felt was fashioned into ears and a nose was made from a dark ball and some bamboo skewers.
Step 14: I used the same methods to make the cake topper version of myself. Except, I trimmed by outfit with lace and had my own favorite literature to hold. A few steps ago, I also found an old book by Melville. I drilled two pairs of holes into the book. I then cut the ‘legs’ to about half an inch past the small balls. I put some glue into the holes and poked the ‘legs’ into them. Drill deeper for a more stable hold.
Step 14: I added a messenger bag onto John’s replica, since I accidentally got paint on that side of his coat and needed to cover it. But basically, paint your faces on and you’re done!