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The Flower Project


The second time is more colorful.

Hannah, Writer, Music Teacher, and Yoga Teacher & David, Theatre Teacher

The Flower Project | A Practical Wedding

When Jess got married she stitched silk leaves onto her dress: a swoosh of green as she walked the aisle. I stood at the front of the church holding my tears at bay, ready to take her bouquet when she and Anders exchanged rings. I’d traveled from Massachusetts to Perth, Australia to stand beside my childhood best friend as she exchanged her vows. I didn’t tell her that I didn’t believe in marriage any more.

Seven years, one divorce (mine), and two daughters (hers) later, I began planning my second wedding. I’d loved Jess’ green leaves so much that I decided to co-opt the idea. Instead of leaves I’d sew flowers.

I got married for the first time at age eighteen, and wearing a traditional white dress made sense then. I was young, and marrying the boy (er, man) I loved felt clean and simple. Jess and the other bridesmaids wore pale yellow, the color of June sunlight. The second time around, I knew that marriage is neither clean nor simple. It has its summers and its winters, its autumns and its springs. The flowers on my dress would allow me to embody the hues of all seasons: the pale and the bright, the dusky and the dark.

The Flower Project | A Practical Wedding

Still better, I decided to ask the important women in my life to sew the flowers. That way even those who couldn’t attend the wedding would accompany me down the aisle. I’d come a long way from rejecting the institution of marriage, but I cherished a healthy skepticism that the love David and I shared would sustain itself by its own magical momentum. We’d need support, and plenty of it.

Four months before our July wedding I scoured craft blogs and settled on a simple flower design: something anyone could sew. All you’d need was a bit of ribbon, a needle, and thread.

In April I traveled to my parents’ house near Philadelphia for a bridal shower with old friends. I prepared a rainbow of ribbon colors with matching spools of thread, but I couldn’t have prepared myself for the experience of watching my friends work. When I created the samples, I had stitched quickly, eager to prove that it was a five-minute project. We’re all so busy, aren’t we? I didn’t want the task to feel laborious or cumbersome. All I wanted was a quick little burst of love, scarcely more time-consuming than typing a Facebook comment or forwarding a funny YouTube video.

But the women at the shower had an entirely different perspective. Their work would appear on my wedding dress, for heaven’s sake. Each flower had to be beautiful. They deliberated over the ribbon hues. Several women stitched two colors together into double-layered flowers. The seamstresses assisted the self-proclaimed un-crafty folks. The project engaged everyone so fully that the buffet stood untouched for the first half hour of the shower.

Back in Massachusetts, I typed up a blog entry with instructions for the project and pictures of the first batch of flowers. To my delight, friends I hadn’t spoken with in years saw the blog on Facebook and let me know their flowers would be in the mail. I thought through my past and emailed the blog link to others: favorite teachers, far-away relatives, and women I’d never meant to lose touch with.

The Flower Project | A Practical Wedding

I felt audacious each time I asked someone to create a flower. I typed, “No pressure!” over and over again. With every request I was saying, “Please love me.” I trusted my friends’ love whether they made flowers or not, but summoning the courage to ask for their participation felt like a big deal.

The flower project began as a fun way to add color to a wedding dress, but it evolved into something symbolic. With each request I was wiping away the web of unworthiness that shrouded my mind. It wasn’t just that asking for flowers felt audacious. The whole wedding felt audacious. Didn’t I have a wedding twelve years prior? Hadn’t people poured forth love and gifts and good wishes to me once already? I’d fudged my first marriage. Who was I to deserve a second shot?

But as my friend Doug wrote, “I am convinced that those of us who enter a second marriage, aware and having done the work in between, are the ones most likely to truly get the most out of a union. It’s not a ‘second chance,’ it’s just the natural and amazing journey from asleep to awake, and the opportunity is truly to be cherished and celebrated.” I didn’t regret my first marriage. I carried too many hard-won lessons to wish that time away. And Doug was right. At thirty-two I was far more awake than I’d been at eighteen. Every day I marveled at the ways David and I cherished and celebrated each other. Why not let our community cherish and celebrate us too?

Flowers began to arrive in my mailbox with notes from old friends. Heather’s purple flower brought me back to our childhood in Hawaii. Kathy stitched three flowers: different colors for the different eras of her life that we’d shared. Michèle was going through a time of major transition when she spotted my blog entry; she wrote that sewing the flower felt like therapy. I began to understand that the project wasn’t just about me. People want to participate in the business of loving. All you have to do is invite them.

By the time June rolled around, I’d received well over a hundred ribbon flowers. I had to tie six or seven knots per flower to keep the thread from slipping through the grosgrain sash. I joked with friends that I was tying the knot thousands of times before actually tying the knot. The work felt simultaneously beautiful and mundane: a lot like marriage itself.

The Flower Project | A Practical Wedding

David received a job offer in Kansas ten days before the wedding, so we began planning a cross-country move while finishing half a dozen projects and entertaining family. I still had forty-something flowers to add to my sash. I hadn’t intended to ask for anyone’s help, but boy did I need it. Jess arrived from Australia two days before the wedding and put her hands to the task. My mom and aunt Lisa completed the sash twenty minutes before the ceremony began.

At the reception that night, Jess spoke of the “rainbow wedding” I planned when we were kids. I looked around at our bridal party, each member in a vibrant hue. Strangely enough, I’d forgotten that I’d envisioned this as a child. My girlhood imagination had decked out the women with puffed sleeves and full skirts; though the rainbow concept had returned to me, the execution looked mercifully different.

That was how the whole wedding felt: like something I’d been planning my whole life, and also like nothing I could have imagined. The flower project was a microcosm for the preparation process. David and I enjoyed dreaming up the various elements of our wedding: whimsical invitations, rustic setting, epic flash mob. Next, we summoned the courage to ask for boatloads of help. His grandparents worked nine months to prepare their property for the ceremony. Friends and relatives donated graphic design, photography, decorations, music, choreography. With every request we were saying, “Please love us.”

The poet William Blake wrote,

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love . . .

Any bride will tell you that walking down the aisle is surreal. You hardly dare look at your beloved looking at you; you’re both barely holding it together. Love pulses in the air. People beam upon you like the sun on a hot July morning.

As my eyes met the gaze of the women I love, I knew they saw their flowers shining right back at them. And as I stepped forward to make brave promises, their handiwork encircled me. It’s not easy, learning to bear the beams of love. It requires courage; maybe even audacity. But what better way is there to spend a life?

The Flower Project | A Practical Wedding


The Info:

Photographer(s): Amanda Edwards, Aaron Whitman, Mike Burke, friends and family | Location: Georgetown, MA | Venue: David’s Grandparents’ Home and The Black Swan Country Club | Hannah’s Dress: David’s Bridal | Hannah’s Sash: Created by the women in my life | Florist: Jan Lorrey

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  • Winter

    I’ve been trying not to put too much on my loved ones planning our wedding part duex (long story). The phrase “your wedding is not an imposition” has run through my head a lot in the past 3 months. Reading your story and seeing the beautiful flower sash made something shift mentally for me. Today it has finally sunk in. Ask for help, people who want to participate in being a part of the Mister and I’s love story party happily will. Also the Blake quote have me chills. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      I love your mantra! “Your wedding is not an imposition” – perfect phraseology. Maybe it’s the title of your post a few months down the line! Savor the experience, Winter, and feel free to connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like!

  • Katie

    This brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Chiara M

    This is amazing, and speaks so fully to what I’m experiencing planning my wedding. I keep not wanting to ask people to do things for me, for fear that they will find it too much, but weddings just make people so happy and excited. I just joined a choir and I wanted them to sing at the wedding but didn’t ask for fear of it being too much, my director heard and asked if they could sing and every one is so excited. It’s amazing.

    Your flowers are fabulous. I love the rainbow of colours and all the meaning in them. They represent such a beautiful community of support. That’s the most important part for me of weddings, the gathering of community, and a willingness of people to help out and contribute. You’ll need that in your life together. Don’t forget those people.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Wise counsel, Chiara, thanks! When David and I initially started talking about getting married, I was hoping we could have an itsy bitsy wedding, but I’m so grateful we gathered our tribes around us. I’ll bet the choir will be a gorgeous touch to your celebration! Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/somewhere else if you’d like . . . I’d love to see your pics down the road.

  • Cardamoms

    This is my new favorite post. Beautiful idea, beautifully written.

    • http://heartsvsbrains.tumblr.com/ HeartvsBrain

      Ditto!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks so much! What an enormous compliment! Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like; I also blog at hannahlynnmell.com.

  • Lindsey d.

    I’m laid up in bed this morning with the dregs of a migraine, mostly caused by taking on too much (wedding + new responsibilities at work + prepping my house to sell). This post is exactly what I needed to see. Gotta let the people in my life love me/us and HELP!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Preach it, sister. Best of luck with everything! I can relate to taking on too much. Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/somewhere else if you’d like.

  • M.

    Friday morning desk-cry/heart-burst. Wow. <3

    • BreckW

      It’s just dust in my eyes, OKAY?

  • C

    Everything about this is beautiful, from the writing to your journey to the dress itself.

  • Laura C

    First, what a beautiful idea in theory and practice, and what a lovely post about it. Second, it particularly spoke to me in a somewhat tangential way, to something around giving and receiving in my own life and wedding planning. Last night I came to a moment of realization about my relationship with my future mother-in-law specifically about giving. She and I have different giving styles that have been hard to mesh at times (and I’m sure will continue to be). Last night, though, I decided that at least for certain things related to the wedding, I just have to let go and accept her desire to give. If I can take something happily, I should. I’d been feeling like saying “oh, you don’t have to do that” was the right response since we were talking about sometimes significant amounts of money being spent on things I didn’t see as necessary. But it not only makes her happy as a woman who wanted a daughter and didn’t have one and is now doing some of the shopping she’d have done for a daughter, it makes her feel like she’s building a relationship with me. Which, to the extent that we’ve now had several phone conversations about my taste in jewelry and the diamond jewelry she is getting me, among other things, I guess it is. (And again, she totally did not need to buy me diamonds and it feels weird that my “ok, I give in, I will graciously accept your offers” moment came around something so cliched as a way to a woman’s heart.) I just…I give in. Giving stuff is her way and as long as it’s something I want, or even just could imagine being nice, I’ll stop feeling weird about it and then I’ll relax more in my conversations with her about these things because I won’t always be looking for the moment to say “it’s generous but not necessary” and it’ll just be better all around.

    Anyway, like I say, tangential to this post in some ways but also about a fundamentally similar realization, I think.

    • KC

      I would also get weirded out by diamonds, but some people’s language really is gifts.

      (for me, the challenging part with gift people: figuring out how they “hears” love, in addition to not refusing their love attempts)

    • Crayfish Kate

      Seconded on her love language being gifts, and good for you for just letting it go :-) I totally agree, I think she’s just so excited to shop & do things for a daughter. Who knows, perhaps she’s been waiting her whole life to be able to pick out ‘daughter gifts’!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Wow, I’d feel just the way you do in that situation! It’s such a challenge to simply receive. Sounds like you’re opening yourself up to your future mom-in-law despite fundamental differences, and that’s courageous. I bet you’ll both teach each other scads in the years to come. It might not always be comfortable, but I suspect you’ll find a way to make it beautiful. Thanks for sharing your story! Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like; I’d love to see wedding pics.

  • lady brett

    “People want to participate in the business of loving. All you have to do is invite them.”

    • Jess

      This line hit me right in the gut.

      • Hannah Lynn Mell

        Thanks lady brett & Jess! Please connect on Facebook/Twitter if you’d like.

  • Emma Klues

    SO GREAT. I also had people in my life make fabric flowers to scatter on tables in lieu of real flowers. I love seeing their choices, their handiwork! We now decorate our dining room table with a bowl of them. And people took them home as a favor.

    Lovely sentiment, beautiful photos, excellent writing. Trifecta post!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      It’s phenomenal that you had people in your life make flowers for your tables; beautiful that you keep them on your dining room table now. I’m still trying to figure out how to display my sash. I think I’m going to drape it over the headboard of our bed eventually. We just need a headboard! Thanks so much for reading, and feel free connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like; clearly we’re kindred spirits.

  • http://rationalcreature.com/ Amy

    I don’t even have words for how incredible this post is. I am sitting here imaging the warmth and love that your friends and family put in to their flowers, and it is a lovely, lovely thought for a chilly Friday morning.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thank you, Amy! I’m glad my post brightened your chilly Friday. The warmth and love of our tribe really keeps us going, doesn’t it? I need to spend more of my chilly days contemplating it. Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like; I also blog at hannahlynnmell.com.

  • MisterEHolmes

    Glorious color and life, with both the idea and the result. Absolutely fabulous!

  • Kayjayoh

    This is so amazingly beautiful.

  • Kayjayoh

    “Four months before our July wedding I scoured craft blogs and settled on a simple flower design: something anyone could sew. All you’d need was a bit of ribbon, a needle, and thread.”

    Can you share the one you used?

    • NB

      Yes! Please do! If you don’t mind my stealing your idea (now that I’ve blasted your beautiful post all over the interwebz because The People Need to Know), I’d really like to do something similar for a baby blanket, for my sister-in-law.

      And, if you’d rather keep this bit of special to yourself, that’s ok, too. This is awesome.

      • Hannah Lynn Mell

        NB, I’d be totally honored if you’d steal my idea. It’s a great notion for a baby blanket. Here’s the blog post with instructions. http://www.hannahlynnmell.com/2013/05/24/all-the-colors/

        And thanks for blasting on my behalf! I’m not so great at that myself; maybe I need to hire you as a promoter. Don’t hesitate to connect on Facebook or some other forum!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Hi Kayjayoh! I actually ended up putting together ideas from a couple different blogs, so the easiest thing would be to check out the blog entry I wrote about it. Here it is: http://www.hannahlynnmell.com/2013/05/24/all-the-colors/. Please be in touch – I’d love to see if and how you use the idea! You can find me on my website/Facebook/etc. Best of luck!

      • Kayjayoh

        Thanks!

  • Karen

    I really needed this today. For our wedding we are having a group of friends we’re calling Team Wedding. We picked “captains” several months ago but now that the wedding is just about three months away, we need to get serious about picking more people. I know people will want to help, but yes, it does feel like an imposition. It’s really okay to ask for help but it can be hard nonetheless. Thank you for posting this.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Wow, I love that you have a Team and captains! I can’t wait to read your post down the line. I’ll bet you’ll have amazing stuff to say. Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like!

  • Sophie

    This is beautiful.

  • MC

    I’ll just echo everyone else by saying it is beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Since we started wedding planning I’ve resisted the idea of asking anyone to contribute anything, but this is so lovely that I am rethinking that stance. Congratulations on your beautiful, colorful union.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks, MC! Ask for contributions; you’ll be glad you did. Letting yourself be loved is good practice for your marriage, too. Feel free to connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like!

  • Fiona

    In seems to me that in some ways, our anti-WIC, feminist dispositions have taught us that we can’t be selfish
    brides (and grooms) because that would be submitting to the MAN. If we let our joy show and ask our near and dears to participate, we will be bridezillas and will have lost. This story, however, is a beautiful illustration of how wonderful joy is and that it is the least selfish thing in the world to want to share it.

    I do understand the feeling of guilt that someone should be helping and taking their personal time to contribute to your wedding, and I absolutely understand the reaction of your friends and family that making those flowers is a freaking HONOR. I feel that same sense of giddyness when a friend asks me to participate in a personal way in a life-changing ritual.

    It is beautiful piece of writing. It is wonderful that your community participated in such an intimate way, no matter where they were.

    • ItsyBit

      Exactly this! Even though I, too, have felt absolutely giddy when dear friends have asked me to participate in their wedding, I still feel selfish somehow to ask for any help with mine. Showy (I think was the word I used to my poor fiancé), even, that we should be making our wedding big and expressive and creative, even though we’re both expressive and creative people. SIGH.

      I guess I should take some of my own (and your, and the OP’s) advice/wisdom to heart.

      • Hannah Lynn Mell

        Aren’t our little complexes funny? I’ll bet your big, expressive, creative wedding will be breathtaking. Enjoy it!! Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like; I’d love to see wedding pics.

    • Caroline

      This! It was really what I took out of the article. I’m so scared and tentative to ask for help (well, really, right now what I want to to celebrate with people, to share my excitement and giddiness) because I feel like I’ve been taught that to do so is obnoxious and Bridezilla-y. Hut that shit down, don’t talk about the wedding too much, don’t post on Facebook, don’t expect other people to be happy for you unless they express it first. I’m having a really hard time with that, and with fighting that lesson, and an feeling a little squashed by it lately. So thank you for this beautiful example of reaching out and being received in so much love is inspiring. Because I do know, when friends are getting married, I’m giddy and happy to help in any way and to celebrate with them lots. But somehow, it’s a little hard to express that I want a chance to be giddy and happy with friends about getting married.

      • Hannah Lynn Mell

        Caroline, I hope you fully savor the chance to be giddy and happy! Practicing during your wedding sets you up to do it your whole life long, right? Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like! I will be giddy and happy for you.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks so much, Fiona! I love your take on this. It’s so much better to put ourselves out there than to worry that we’re asking too much. Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like!

  • ItsyBit

    I typed, “No pressure!” over and over again. With every request I was saying, “Please love me.” I trusted my friends’ love whether they made flowers or not, but summoning the courage to ask for their participation felt like a big deal.

    Oof, yes. I feel you. But so glad (and not surprised) that your loved ones jumped at the chance to help (i.e. love) you in this way. What a beautiful idea & project!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks so much!

  • http://www.marbleryephotography.com/ Melissa

    Hannah, this is awesome. The flowers, the symbolism, the acceptance of love and support from your People.

    And then, this – “At the reception that night, Jess spoke of the “rainbow wedding” I planned when we were kids. I looked around at our bridal party, each member in a vibrant hue. Strangely enough, I’d forgotten that I’d envisioned this as a child.”

    These are the made-of-magic moments in our lives.. when a dream we’ve forgotten we dreamed comes to pass. I take them as little assertions that I’m on the right path.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks so much, Melissa! You hit the nail on the head. We need to savor those made-of-magic moments, don’t we? Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like!

  • mackenzie

    Oh I am just a mess after reading this. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I love your rainbow wedding.

  • Kate V

    Who put onions in my office?

  • Sarah E

    Wow.

    Both your writing and the sentiments you convey here are beautiful, Hannah. I knew I’d like you when I read three jobs titles behind your name- that’s my kind of life. I’m really inspired by how you reached out to all the women that you always meant to keep in touch with. Personally, I’m always embarrassed by the lapsed time between contact, making it even harder to reach out sometimes. Or often, those women who truly inspire me and seem like they’d be awesome friends. . .probably already have enough friends, right? Why befriend me?

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience with asking to be loved. I’m definitely saving this post so I can refer to your eloquent language about such a communal ritual. I’m now starting to think about more concrete ways we can incorporate our loved ones into our ceremony and reception.. . .

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Wow back atcha, Sarah! You sound like a kindred spirit. You seem like you’d be an awesome friend. Please connect on Facebook or something if you’d like! There can never be too many inspiring people in one’s life.

  • Sara

    I am trying so hard not to cry at work, but a few tears have managed to squeak out. The people in your life are obviously amazing, I love the image of the bridal shower working on your quick craft (that would be me. Total perfectionist). The flowers are so pretty of course, but I have to say I love your entire wedding look.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks so much, Sara! I’m totally honored. Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    I loved the flowers when I saw them. But when I read about where they came from I loved you and your entire community.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks, Giggles! The feeling is mutual. Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like!

  • Jo

    The most beautiful.

  • Sarah D

    Oh, love! This is the best. Thank you

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

    Thanks for writing this. Your journey from not believing in marriage anymore to experiencing your community love you and embrace your second marriage is beautiful. I am in the just-divorced stage, and as I look ahead, I have a hard time imagining someone else I would want to spend my life with who would want return the feeling and the commitment. So, it’s nice to know there is hope…

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Oh, there’s hope all right. I hope your just-divorced stage strengthens you for the enormous love waiting down the road. Do your work, plug into your community, and keep an eye toward the horizon. (And in the meantime, don’t hesitate to connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like! I’d like to hear about your Adventures Along the Way.)

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

        Thanks, Hannah!

  • http://catherineannehawkins.com/ Catherine

    “Every day I marveled at the ways David and I cherished and celebrated each other. Why not let our community cherish and celebrate us too?” – Beautiful. It is that cherishing (both of the couple themselves and the people who love them) that make the hard work of marriage so worth-while.

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks, darlin!

  • lady mermaid

    Thank you for sharing about what it was like for you to plan a second wedding. It was wonderful to read I am not alone in the process of letting go some of those annoying judgemental thoughts about asking for too much from the universe of love. Your William Blake poem solidified what I really want to experience and create on our wedding: a celebration of Love!

    P.S. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell

      Thanks, lady mermaid! I believe more and more that the universe will give us precisely as much love as we’re brave enough to ask for. Love might not always be comfortable, but what else in life is really worth bothering over? Please connect on Facebook/Twitter/whatever if you like; I’d love to see your wedding pics down the road.

  • Hannah Lynn Mell

    Wow, reading these responses totally made my day. I’ll probably reply to everyone individually because I’m a glutton for connection. THANK YOU.

  • Alex Smith

    This was a touching and powerful post that really touched my heart. The flowers are amazing and everyone looks great, must’ve been a very magical day :) I love reading stories, here’s a good one too that i want to share http://www.bridalbuds.com/2013/05/bridesmaids-head-to-toe/