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Our Elegant Aberfoyle Mill Pandemic Pirate Wedding

A fancy pirate party in Guelph, Ontario

Chris, Programmer + Laura, Government Scientist
One sentence sum up of the wedding vibe: An elegant and intimate pandemic pirate party.
Planned Budget: $20,000
Actual Budget: $16,000 (we saved a lot on catering costs, but had unexpected costs for live-streaming, tent rental, and mailing party kits)
Number of Guests: 13 (75 originally planned)
Venue: The Aberfoyle Mill
Location: Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Photographer: Matt Boyce at The Eastcore

Where we allocated the most funds: Attire and photography. As a former theater kid and historic reenactor, our outfits were really important to me. I knew I wanted them to be more historically accurate than the usual “generic pirate” outfits that you usually find in costume shops. We had a local costume company sew the major parts of our outfits (Chris’ coat and breeches, and my outer gown), while I made Chris’ shirt and vest (my first time sewing pockets, I was very proud) and I made my underskirt out of my mother’s wedding gown.

I originally planned to rent my dress from the costume company but they had to relocate during COVID and my dress disappeared during the move. I had to get one sewn in the last month before the wedding, it was incredibly stressful. The seamstress and I worked together on it, with my sewing some of the details and her working on the major parts to get it done in time.

Our wedding ended up being during a cold snap in October, and since we were isolating before the wedding I couldn’t go find a wrap. Luckily, I had enough fabric in my sewing stash, including some handed down from my seamstress grandmother, to make myself a capelet four days before the wedding. We also ended up creating all or part of the outfits for our bridal party and parents (including matching masks), partly because we had a specific vision and partly because COVID made fittings for vulnerable family members an unnecessary and unsafe exposure.

Photography was something I knew from the beginning would be major because I wanted a specific photojournalistic style. Neither Chris nor I are particularly comfortable having our photos taken and we knew that candid pictures would best capture the feelings of the day. When we found The Eastcore, it was an easy choice to make. There were so many sweet moments that I’m so glad were captured.

Where we allocated the least funds: Décor and stationary. I work in the environment field, and the amount of waste produced by the average wedding was something I really wanted to avoid.

Most of our décor was thrifted or upcycled – the candles for the tables, all our lanterns and treasure chests, chargers, about half our silk flowers, and a lot of people’s outfits came from the thrift store. The mast for the sail backdrop was the trunk of a small tree I found in the woodlot behind my office that spent a year drying in the corner of my cubicle. I spent about five months collecting clear glass bottles and cleaning them (which was a way bigger pain than I anticipated) to get the look I wanted. We DIYed all the florals except the bouquets, and my mother (a sculptor) made our incredible octopus cake topper. Themed weddings don’t really have as many resources ready-made compared to more traditional weddings, so you either have to get really creative and hands-on, or pay someone to do it for you. If we hadn’t been such crafty people, the look we got would have cost a lot more.

We DIYed our stationary as well. I purchased a nautical-themed Illustrator pack and got free fonts from FontSquirrel to design our invitations, Arr-SVP cards, and day-of stationary. Chris built our website and we carried the theme there as well. When we made our cocktail kits for remote guests, a friend who owns the Polka Dot Paper Shop made us some adorable pirate ship cutouts that we made into cocktail stirrers.

What was totally worth it: Photography and our live stream (both done by The Eastcore) were so key for us. We had to cut our guest list down twice and it ended up being our parents, siblings, and witnesses there on the day. Having the live stream became a really important way for us to include our friends and family who wouldn’t otherwise be able to be there. Because we’d decided several months before to include a live stream option, we were able to make party kits to send to remote guests, with cocktail kits (recipe, stir stick, and garnishes) and our chocolate pirate coin favours.

We made sure to have parent speeches at the end of the ceremony so that they would be included in the live stream as well. It was important to us that everyone feel a part of the wedding and get to share in those special moments.

Having an eco-friendly focus at the wedding was definitely worth it as well. Even though it was a monumental task, I’m really glad we did so much of the wedding DIY. I had a really clear vision of how I wanted everything to look, and I knew that if we didn’t make it ourselves it wouldn’t be possible to do it without buying a mountain of stuff. I’m really proud of the relatively small amount of things that were bought new or that can’t be reused elsewhere (I even melted down the candle ends from the tables to make votives for home this winter). Our florist, Sweetpea’s Floral Boutique, has a local and eco-friendly sourcing policy, and because our venue was a restaurant we had no disposable items to throw away. Since we got married the week before Halloween, we re-wore our outfits to do a Halloween neighbourhood tour.

What was totally not worth it: Worrying about hotel blocks, but that’s pretty much because of the pandemic. We moved our wedding time up to 2pm so people would be able to drive home, and only two people stayed in a hotel the night before.

I ended up over-buying some clothing and footwear, since I wasn’t sure how many people would need help with their outfits. Since everything but a pair of boots was purchased second-hand (and I’ve since worn those boots), it doesn’t bother me much but I can definitely fully dress at least two more pirates with what I’ve got. Since we were shopping outside of normal costume season (our wedding was originally supposed to be in August), when I found things that worked well, I bought them.

A few things that helped us along the way: The spreadsheets from A Practical Wedding were my go-to, I kept all my planning details in there and added sheets just for notes to myself since it was all kept in one spot on google drive. I’m still opening it regularly to get addresses for thank you cards and holiday card lists.

Being able to access tools was also really helpful. We cosplay and have some tools like a Dremel and sander at home, but borrowing tools from family and from the Toronto Tool Library meant that we could DIY a lot of things without spending a fortune on equipment. My matron of honour lent me her much more powerful sewing machine which made things a lot simpler – I didn’t want to do 24 buttonholes by hand!

Lastly, the incredible support from our family and friends. My dad (a musician) arranged all our sound equipment, and my brother was our MC.

Everyone came together the day before to help set up and helped us pack up at the end of the evening. Planning a full wedding and then constantly having to replan and let more people know we couldn’t host them was stressful and heartbreaking. Our friends and family were generous hearted and supportive, and it made a crap situation a lot more bearable.

My best practical advice for my planning self: Don’t plan a wedding during a pandemic. 😐

Otherwise, give yourself plenty of lead time and project plan. I had a list of DIY tasks and broke down when they needed to be completed by in order to make sure we were on track. When things started shutting down, it was tough to stay motivated but I’m glad I kept working because I ended up needing all the time I had (see dress fiasco above). Take people up on their offers to help, but know that you’ll be answering a lot of questions and sometimes that’s more stressful than just doing it yourself.

In the end, do your best then let it go. Something is going to go wrong or be other than how you planned it, but it’s more important to focus on the beautiful parts of the day than to try to fix all the things.

Favorite thing about the wedding: How darn good everyone looked. Everyone really pulled out the stops and made sure their outfits were bang-on. They even made the masks look like a natural part of the outfits. My brother’s bearded mask was definitely the star of the show.

Anything else: We really made sure to communicate with our guests often, as plans changed. When we first decided to postpone, we let everyone know and as more changes rolled out, we kept updating our website (including adding a Health and Safety section) and reached out to everyone individually as needed.

I was worried that there would be a lot of hurt feelings when we had to ask people to stay home, but everyone was really understanding and kind. Finding a way to make the virtual experience more inclusive helped a lot. It was an unplanned expense but sending out the party kits made it seem like more of an event than just tuning in at the time of the ceremony. We asked our guests to wear the costumes they’d made during the ceremony, and show us in the video guestbook we’d set up on Tribute

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