I recently wrote up and emailed some instructions to one of Morgan’s (my new sister-in-law) friends on how to build one’s own chuppah. Since they were so lengthy, I thought I’d make the effort worthwhile by spreading it to the interwebs. The photos tell most of the story, but if you’re hung up on a decision, the step-by-step may help you.
- Buy birch poles. You can use whatever material you like for this, of course, not just birch. But birch is nice looking and recognizable. Each pole is unique, so you’ll get a rustic look. It may end up looking DIY based on how “unique” they are, but we liked that since we were having a camp wedding. Our verticals were 8 feet tall, and I think 3 inches in diameter. Get 4 of those. Our horizontal cross bars were 6 feet, and 2 inches in diameter. Get 4. I’d actually recommend 7 feet for these to make for more room inside the chuppah. There’s a little overhang on each end when it’s constructed, which you need to take into account. The photos will make this more clear.
- Buy pots. We found the flower pots we liked at Lowe’s. What we liked about them was the neutral color (greyish), the size, and that they were about $10 each. Ours are plastic so they’re very durable. Get 4.
- Buy PVC. We picked the PVC based on the diameter of our birch poles. Because we had ordered them online, and because they came from trees, the birch poles weren’t all the same size, so we ended up with 2 different sizes of PVC, 2 thicker pipes for the front and 2 thinner pipes for the back pots. You just need about 8 feet of PVC, depending on how tall your pots are. Go thicker than your birch poles. There will be some wiggle room, which you can account for once it’s in place at the ceremony site by wedging a stick or something into the space to make it sit how you want. It took a NASA rocket scientist to figure this out for us (Mark Ryne) on the wedding day. You could cement your birch poles straight into the pots (not recommended), but then your structure wouldn’t be very transportable, or as easily stored.
- Buy cement. Probably just 2 bags of the quick dry stuff. The cement should fill about half way up the pot. The staff can help find the right one. You’re going to mix directly in the pots, which makes things clean and easy.
- Prepare the PVC. Using a saw, cut PVC to the appropriate length for the pots. Consider that you don’t want them to show, but you also want them to be taller than any soil or filler you put into the pot in the final preparation. Probably 1 or 2 inches below the rim of the pots is good. Consider drilling a hole about halfway down each of the PVC pipes, where the cement will come up to. This will help with drainage if you decide to grow live plants and keep them this way long term. Since you’re pouring cement, there’s not really anywhere for water to go once it’s in the pot. Therefore, also consider drilling a hole in the bottom center of the pot where water will collect when it runs down the PVC. Test that your PVC actually fits your poles by sliding them in. Tape both ends of each of the 4 new PVC pipes to prevent water and cement from entering during the next step.
- Pour cement. This probably takes 2 people; 1 to keep PVC pipe in place, 1 to pour and mix cement around it. (Thanks, Sasha Kluger, for being my person!) Before you pour any cement or water, place and hold the PVC in position (center of the pot, vertically). Pour cement around it. Continue to hold PVC in place vertically as you pour the proper amount of water and stir the mixture. I don’t think the proportions dictated on the bag need to be exact, so don’t stress too much about getting it right. Once you’re done mixing, you can smooth out the top of the cement if you’re a perfectionist. Once it dries it’s staying exactly as is. It goes without saying, but going forward I wouldn’t suggest ever turning the pots upside-down, since your creation could slip it. (Side note: We dropped 1 of our pots in transport and discovered exactly this, but the cement and PVC remained intact, as did the plastic pots. All was fine.)
- Test it out and finalize. In a day or two, the cement will be dry. Put in your 4 vertical poles and make sure they stand up straight. Consider wedging a stick down the pipe to force the poles upright if needed. Position the pots how they’ll be during the ceremony and attach the 4 horizontal poles. I used 4 wood screws, about 4 inches long, and screwed these about 1 inch into the vertical poles where I wanted the horizontals to sit. These screws act as a ledge. Attach your own canopy or talis with ribbon and make sure it looks right. It should be tall enough so the lowest point won’t touch anyone’s head. Use the same ribbon to secure the 4 corners together. Give it a good shake to make sure it’s sturdy. A day or two before the ceremony, prepare your pots with potting soil and live plants (fitting your decor), and water them. Also consider adding extra “dead” flowers and greenery at the ceremony site purchased from your florist to fill them out and conceal the PVC. After the ceremony, you can put the pots in your garden where they can live long term. We plan to grow vines up the poles, and build a living wall on our deck for privacy. We’ll see if that actually ever happens.