Our synagogue had poles for a chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy), but did not own a cover. When we initially talked to our rabbi, he recommended renting a chuppah cover. However, with an intimate ceremony, we wanted a free-standing chuppah, which the synagogue's was not. We discovered that even the most basic free-standing chuppot were at least $80, plus the cost of any decorations we wanted to use on them, and we really didn't like any of the basic ones. The ones we did like were $500 or more, plus the cost of decorations, just for a rental.
Notwithstanding the fact that I had last sewed anything in junior high school, I decided that I could make a free-standing chuppah less expensively than renting. Although this is a large sewing project, it is one that will end up looking good even if your sewing skills are pretty much nonexistent. While we used it for a chuppah, nonJewish brides could also use it for a mandap or even just a decorative wedding canopy.
First step was the frame. We live in DC and were married in Massachusetts, so we needed something that was easy to transport. At the same time, we wanted one that we, the rabbi, our maid of honor, and our dude of honor could stand under, with room for a table to put things like our wine decanter and kiddush cup on.
One day as I was strolling around the waterfront of a nearby city, I saw a band playing under what I later learned was a portable popup gazebo. I took one look at it, and said, "There is our chuppah!" I found an 8' x 8' portable popup gazebo on eBay. The cloth cover is completely removable, so I was able to use the frame.
Next stop was finding the fabric for the cover. We ordered several fabric samples from Online Fabric Store, and finally decided on an ivory charmeuse fabric. We ordered 19 yards of fabric. (We actually needed only 13 yards, but we wanted to make sure we didn't run out.)
I used the cover that came with the gazebo as a pattern to cut the fabric, but allowed some extra fabric for seam allowances. I cut four triangles, each one a little over 8 feet wide at the base. I put them wrong sides together, and sewed the four triangles to each other along the sides. (For all the seams, I used a zig-zag stitch, which tends to be more durable if you are sewing a stretchy fabric like charmeuse.) I then folded the cloth back and sewed the right sides together, creating French seams (to prevent fraying).
I sewed a long strip of the floral tape horizontally at each corner of the cover, and also vertically at each place where the mechanism of the frame met the cover. The corner ones were used to wrap around the corner poles to hold the corners of the cover in place. The others were used to wrap around the top part of the frame to pull the fabric tight at the sides. Since they are just Velcro strips, they can be put on and taken off of the frame easily.
Here is a picture of the top, made from the four triangles with the floral tape securing them to the frame:
I got gold satin sashes from Elegant Perspectives. I actually got 90 of them, because we also used them on the chairs at our reception. I used four of the sashes as the edging for the cover. I sewed them end to end, using about a 6 inch seam allowance so that each 9' sash would be shortened enough to exactly cover the 8' wide frame. I then sewed the circle of sashes to the edge of the cover.
The next step was to make sleeves for the legs of the frame. I did this by cutting a 9' long piece of the fabric, and then cutting it in half lengthwise, so that I ended up with two pieces, each 9' long by 2.5' wide. I repeated that step, so that I had a total of four pieces, each 9' long by 2.5' wide. I then took each piece and sewed the long edges, right sides, together to form a 9' long by 1.25' wide cylinder. I then turned the cylinder inside out.
Here is a picture with the sashes and sleeves pinned in place, and four more sashes used as tiebacks for the sleeves:
I sewed one side of a strip of Velcro to the inside of the gold sashes at each corner. I hemmed the top of each sleeve, and sewed the other side of the strip of Velcro to the outside of the sleeve. That way, the sleeves could easily be attached and removed as necessary. I then hemmed the bottom of each sleeve. Because the sleeves are somewhat longer than the poles, they puddle a bit at the bottom. This creates an elegant effect--and also covers up any unevenness in the hem.
I then took some of the fabric scraps, and used them to make two pockets for the battery packs of the rose garlands. I sewed one pocket to the underside of the chuppah at each of the front corners.
I then sewed strips of the floral tape at intervals on the outside front of the chuppah, just above where the sash was joined to the charmeuse fabric, to hold the garlands in place.
Once I had the whole chuppah sewn together, I tied a gold sash around each pole sleeve. I stuck the battery pack from each of the lighted rose garlands into a pocket, and then attached the garland in swags along the top front of the fabric, using the floral strips. Where the two garlands joined, I sewed an ivory pew bow. Here is the finished chuppah set up in our back yard:
Here is the finished chuppah, in use at our ceremony:
My sewing is far from professional quality. The four triangles are of somewhat uneven size, there are seams that are not straight, etc., etc. However, the chuppah is normally seen only from the front, and only from several feet away. Thus, I was able to put the side that looked the best at the front, and not worry about anyone inspecting the seams closely. As you can see, the overall impression is good, even when the craftsmanship is lacking.
For those who have asked, our total cost of this project was $162.02, broken down as shown below. The cost would be reduced some if you bought only the needed 13 yards of fabric, instead of the 19 we bought. Conversely, the cost would be a bit higher if you had to buy the garlands.
We were able to resell the finished chuppah after the wedding for more than we had paid for the materials. Two years after our wedding, we learned that the chuppah had been used in at least three other weddings, and was now being rented out. I was fascinated by how each couple had made it their own: