Mix it up! Craft your own wedding cake topper

Weddings often are costly affairs, but with enough advance planning and a little homegrown ingenuity, you can make things instead of shelling out for them.

Wedding magazines and Web sites help, too.

"There's nothing you can't craft for your wedding," says Darcy Miller, editorial director of "Martha Stewart Weddings" magazine. Among other items, she mentions gifts, decorations, flowers and the cake.

Ah, the cake.

The Knot Inc., which runs two wedding-related Web sites, surveyed the spending habits of 18,000 couples who got married last year, and found that on average couples spent more than $500 on a professionally decorated cake. There are ways to limit that cost, Miller and other experts say.

For starters, craft your own cake topper, and end up as well with a keepsake.

A recent "Martha Stewart Weddings" favorite, for example, was clustering colorful, craft-store butterflies along one side of a fondant cake, Miller says. Another: Top the cake with a tea cup, either from grandmother's inherited china or from your own, registered china.

Another lively topper comes from "Real Simple Weddings," an annual guide published by Real Simple magazine: Deputy Editor Jaimee Zanzinger suggests placing tiny images of the bride and groom in elegant frames on top of the cake. She's also seen small cornhusk dolls adorn a cake's top, and notes that many of these craftsy items can be commissioned.

Teri Bellman Garvin, 38, of Golden, Colo., ordered a simple fondant cake from a baker for her April wedding, then personalized it herself with a mountain-biking theme. Instead of paying the baker nearly $100 for chocolate-covered strawberries that were supposed to mimic boulders, she and her husband, John Garvin, substituted chocolate truffles from their local Whole Foods Market.

Garvin says the design represented the couple's passion for cycling on trails near their home and the force with which they fell in love. The cake had two trails running up either side and meeting at the top. It was crowned with two, iron-crafted figurines — hair-tousled caricatures flying off their bikes — that Garvin purchased from an online shop.

"That's how life is," Garvin says, explaining her cake. "You're fooling around on your own path and then crash! You meet someone who changes your life. Luckily, we weren't on our bikes falling head over heels when we met."

Both Miller and Zanzinger note that wedding cakes are getting smaller: Brides are straying from the traditional three tiers and supplementing cake with other desserts.

Cakes also are getting more colorful as brides shun the traditional white or ecru in favor of something more daring. Sugared flowers, which pop up the cost of a cake, are losing favor. And cupcakes or mini-cakes — one per seated table — are gaining in popularity.

"Couples today are wanting everything personalized in their wedding, especially something like the wedding cake," says Miller.

The following directions are for a dove topper — "a beautiful, classic topper that's something you'll hold on to," says Miller. For other ideas and crafting techniques, consult the new "Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts."

Dove Topper (adapted from

Small block of StyrofoamFoam glueScrap of cardboard for spreading the glueTwo hanks of white seed beads6 stems of cotton lily-of-the-valley2 branches of silk maidenhair fernHot-glue gunHank of alabaster-colored seed beads2 millinery doves

1. Carve the Styrofoam into the shape of a birdbath, trying to keep edges rounded and smooth.

2. Working from the base, spread the foam glue in a 1-inch band completely around the Styrofoam birdbath. Attach the strands of white beads by spiraling them around the birdbath. Continue adding the glue and coiling the beads up the sides and onto the top until you have a 1/4-inch-wide band on top.

3. Arrange the lily-of-the-valley and fern branches into two half-arches; insert their stems into the center of the Styrofoam birdbath and secure them, using the hot-glue gun.

4. Glue on the strands of alabaster beads to fill in the top of the birdbath, spiraling toward the center.

5. Hot-glue doves in place.