Bottles and Bunches

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

All those bottles I spent an afternoon cleaning a while back? A good many of theme have now met their destiny as centerpieces and table numbers.

First were the table “numbers,” (actually names, specifically wine names), made up of a wine bottle filled with burgundy beads and topped with a paper-flower topiary. On each side of the bottle is the same viney frame I drew for our Save the Date cards around the wine name; nice, simple, and to the point. Even though we’ll only have six tables in a U-shape and a seating chart at the door (making table numbers or name rather superfluous), these were one of the first decor items I knew I wanted, so I stuck with then anyway.

I think the beads inside the bottles look a little bit like bubbles!

I think the beads inside the bottles look a little bit like bubbles!

As I was putting them together I realized that at the top of each bottle there was a necessary gap between where the beads ended and the stem of the topiary (which will keep it in the bottle in case the glue fails) meets them that looks just all kinds of ugly. So I took that same viney frame, popped our names and wedding date inside, and then made a quick logo of our initials and created a repeating pattern in Illustrator of it. Cut into 2 1/2″ x 5″ strips it made the perfect stand-in for the usual foil that wraps this same space.

Since we went with rectangular tables, a single centerpiece wouldn’t quite do. And while I love the look of a continuous arrangement down the center of the table, I also didn’t want to end up crowding the table too much. Instead, on either side of the table number, will be a cluster of elements, both bottle and otherwise.

jwalker_ttb_centerpiece cluster

The full bottle is a lot like the table numbers (without the topiary) only this time instead of wine names we inserted fun trivia from the years we’ve lived. After all, one of the fun things I first learned about Mr. Road Trip was that he was born the same year the original Star Trek series first aired. So we went from there, finding what information we could between sites like and looking up the dates some of our favorite movies were released. It seemed like a good way to include our “very good year” timeline idea from our Save the Dates as well as give our guests something to talk about, should they notice the little fun facts.

Not all were successful, but most cut fairly straight.

Not all were successful, but most cut fairly straight.

I spent an afternoon cutting some of the cleaned wine bottles so that they could be used in various pieces and parts in the centerpieces and other decorations. The cutter I purchased (Generation Green G2 Bottle Cutter) suggested dipping the scored bottles in hot then cold water to create the break, but that never worked–not even a crack. Next I remembered seeing something about using a candle flame to heat the score, then the cold water to stress the glass. That worked a little, but not well (the first half cracked well enough, and then went nowhere). And then when the air conditioner kicked on it started to work against my efforts. Finally I went to the web and found the same video that Mrs. Pain au Chocolat found using the tea kettle and tap water method and it worked like a charm (providing my score lines were correct–something that takes a bit of practice, I learned).

I had to set up an extra workstation in our library--no such thing as too many flat surfaces!

I had to set up an extra workstation in our library (aka the repurposed dining room)–no such thing as too many flat surfaces!

The bottom halves of some of the bottles serve as “vases” of a sort, filled with excelsior and topped with faux grape cluters. A couple things I learned on this one: don’t buy your grape clusters from the craft store (where they charge anything from 3-8 dollars per cluster), head straight to your nearest Dollar Tree and you’ll likely find a bin of them for the predictable $1 each. It takes about a cluster and a half to top a wine bottle vase and they should be secured with GOOP-style craft glue. Noxious stuff, but according to, the best option for securing pretty much anything to glass clearly. (No, hot glue isn’t recommended for this.) It also takes about an hour to set up, so I used painter’s tape to hold things in place while the glue dried.

Emery paper, a little water, and a movie on Netflix easily gets through a dozen bottle edges.

Emery paper, a little water, and a movie on Netflix easily gets through a dozen bottle edges.

Finally (or so I thought) the top halves of the bottles will round off the trio with an electric tea light inside to add some flickering atmosphere. I did sand these down a bit with emery paper (different than regular sand paper and not the same as emery cloth used for metal, either, though we did try that last one in a pinch) just enough that I wouldn’t have to worry about someone cutting themselves during set-up. They don’t all stand 100% straight and I’m somewhat surprised at myself for not caring that much. My OCD-ish tendencies must be taking a day off, is all I can figure.

That looks better--and what's that peeking out from the back, there?

That looks better–and what’s that peeking out from the back, there?

Of course, when I put the three pieces together I realized that the grape-topped vases needed a little bit more height. Guess it’s time to add one more project to the centerpieces before calling them done!

74 Bottles of Wine on the Wall…

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

And on the tables and on the floor and anywhere else I can think to put them!

Like I said, after our planning meeting I felt way more confident about proceeding with our DIY decoration list (that is rather long and involved, I must say). Since most of my centerpiece and decoration ideas involve wine bottles, I first needed to sit down and figure out just how many we were going to need to get everything done.

Grand total: 74 bottles.

After I tallied everything up it occurred to me that there will be more wine bottles than guests at this wedding. And that’s not counting the ones we’ll be bringing to serve during the reception. For whatever reason this fact still makes me giggle. Perhaps these wedding plans have me a bit punch drunk?!

Now, I’d been stock-piling empty wine bottles for a while and they were hanging out in my home studio for years (making a few moves with me and everything) but even I wasn’t sure if I had enough saved up or if we’d need to get to the boozing pqd! Never fear, I had plenty of all sizes, shapes, and colors, the only thing they needed before we could start to cut (about 25 of them are going to be used in parts) and decorate them was to get all those labels off!

A smarter Road Trip would have been removing labels as each bottle was emptied, but I kept putting this task off thinking that I wanted to save all of them for craft projects. Save, schmave, it was time to clear these bottles and we were going to get them all done in one fell swoop!

jwalker_ttb_winebottles_tubbed copy

Step 1: Commandeer a couple of extra-deep storage totes from the garage and bring them out to the back deck. A bit of regular dish-washing liquid in the bottom and then I loaded in as many bottles as would stand up comfortably in the space.

jwalker_ttb_bottles_soaking copy

Step 2: Just add water! If I were doing this for only a few bottles I could have used a smaller container and hot water, but for the sake of time and volume, I just went with whatever temperature came out of the hose. Which was cold. I know this because filling up the tubs wasn’t enough–to keep the contents from playing bumper bottles (and, therefore, not keeping the labels submerged) you have to also partially fill said bottles and that tends to cause some blow-back. I was just shy of drenched after this step.

jwalker_ttb_bottles_secondbatch copy

Step 3: Now here’s the fun part. Once the bottles have had a chance to soak a bit, choose one and try to lift off the label. Sometimes the angels will sing and it will come off easily. Most of the time, no matter how long you let them soak, that’s not gonna happen. After a few reluctant labels I went and hunted up a putty knife and that helped quite a bit. I also had some steel wool handy as even the easy labels tended to leave a bit of residue that the steel wool made quick work of. After a quick rinse I put them into the recycle bins (emptied the day before, how convenient!) to dry off a bit.

jwalker_ttb_winebottles_cleaning copy

Step 4: Repeat as necessary, starting with fresh soap and water for each batch. I ended up doing 2 1/2 batches of bottles over the course of 4.5 hours. I also found myself incredibly sore for the next few days from the odd positions I found myself in trying to get those Bacchus-forsaken bottles cleaned. Once they dried outside for a while I dragged them inside and (eventually) boxed them all up by size and shape.

All in all I ended up cleaning 96 bottles and only sorta broke one of them while cleaning because one bottle slipped out of my hands and landed on the neck of another. But even then I was able to salvage the chipped one–I need a few that will be cut down to the bottom half only with the tops unaccounted for (as yet).

Some labels (Jones soda, this side-eye is for you) were incredible pains in the ass as they used a heavy-duty adhesive that just seemed to spread like the blob when scrubbed. Those will require Goo Gone or something similar to really get clean (and, yes, I have some smaller bottles in the mix for use in certain decoration configurations). The winner for easiest labels to soak off, though, goes to Perrier–they were an absolute dream to lift off in one piece.

A couple of other things I learned while fighting the upcycled decoration battle:

  • Champagne/Sparkling wine-style labels will fight you. Why? The bottlers know you’re going to likely set them into an ice bucket, etc. and don’t want the labels to be a peeling mess in the middle of your evening. Most of these labels have a water-resistant coating on them, therefore, and will take more work to remove. Consider yourself warned. White wine bottles come in second-hardest for many of the same reasons. (I don’t remember buying so many bottle of Oak Leaf Chardonnay in my life but I know I cleaned about a half dozen of them!)
  • Any labels with metallic foil (common on liquor bottles, but some wine labels used them, too) will be less prone to peel and more prone to disintegrate into a mealy, pulpy mess but only once due force has been applied.
  • It might be a good idea to remove any foil wraps left on the neck of the bottles before they get all wet and soapy, otherwise you’ll need to let them dry before you can cut them off. They usually aren’t glued, just heat-shrunk into place.

Mama Leadfoot asked why I insisted on doing them all at once and, honestly? If I’d planned on only doing half of them that day I don’t think I would have done the rest of them. It was better to get them over with!

Did you tackle any projects at one go that you knew you’d never finish if you parceled them out?