May 252014
Leah wedding dress

The BBC website informed me this morning that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West married yesterday “at a fortress” in Florence.  At a fortress?  There’s romantic.  Lovely.  Mind you, I wouldn’t recognise either of them if they introduced themselves.  I’d have been mildly interested in pictures of frocks because, well, pictures of frocks interest me.  Especially if they are either incredibly beautiful or just jaw-droppingly over the top.  (BFGW, anyone?  Loved it.)  Alas, the BBC was not forthcoming in this respect, probably because there is a huge media deal with someone I’ve never heard of.  Ah well.

I do love weddings.  I go all gooey at the first mention of a wedding and hit with the urge to help in any way I possibly can.  Maybe I missed my vocation and should have become a wedding planner instead.  But then again, judging by my attitude to a lot of the ‘stuff’ that seems to be involved, maybe not.  I am constantly horrified at the amount of money people throw at a day – one day – which shouldn’t really be about money at all.  At one stage,  I was developing a theory around the fact that the more people spend on the wedding, the shorter the length of the marriage.  Sixteen thousand and four months was the case for one couple of my acquaintance.  That’s a grand for every week of their apparently not particularly happy married life.  Surely that can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered good value?  Mr March and I managed the whole thing on less than a thousand.  That included my frock, his new jeans and shirt (2 pairs of jeans as they were on offer at the farmers’ merchants!), license, register office and reception at the local pub.  Oh, and wedding favour candles, which I made myself.  The cake was a present and we were driven – together – to the ceremony by some friends in their nice Mercedes, as they were going too.  With the Best Dog in the back.  The whole day was extremely informal and people were told that they were to wear whatever the heck they liked and felt comfortable wearing.  “My new girlfriend’s a goth and she’s a bit worried…”  Tell her to be herself and not to worry.  She’ll fit in perfectly.  She did.  And to this day (we’ve been married nearly 10 years) people are still wittering on about how much they enjoyed our wedding precisely because it was so completely unstuffy and relaxed.   And a little, er, “different”.  Apparently a “Best Dog” is unusual, and the Register Office had never witnessed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as bridal attendants before.  I think the staff enjoyed it as much as we did.

So why does everything to do with the “W” word seem to be so pricey?  I frequently hear people say, “Oh, it’s all a racket.”  Well, yes, I’m pretty certain some of it is.  But then it is imperative to factor in The Stress Factor.  For it’s almost always there.  I’ve yet to have somebody bounce into my shop or studio with a big smile and say, “I’m going to a wedding/getting married/the mother of the bride(groom)/being a bridesmaid!”  They either stomp or slink in and always with a visible cloud hanging over their countenance and eventually announce the fact, accompanied by a heavy sigh.

This is not the way it should be.  Weddings should be joyful occasions for all concerned.

But the truth is that they’re not.  Because the minute the “W” word comes into play, so many normally perfectly nice and sensible women turn rogue.  Not all of them but most.  And a Bridezilla (or Mother of Bridezilla) is a ghastly thing, turning the most joyful occasion into one of stress, hassle, fear and misery.  Most keenly felt by the dress designer and the bridesmaids.  Followed closely by the harpist.  (As a wedding harpist, I had a scale of charges which depended on who did the booking.  Venue was the cheapest, followed by the groom.  If the bride booked it, the price went up and if it was her mother, then it went up even further.  Brides’ mothers fuss, fuss, fuss about the choice of music and in actual fact, on the day neither she nor the bride will register anything that is played.  And provided the harpist’s frock doesn’t overshadow the bride and or clash with the bridesmaids, they’re both happy.   I also learned the hard way and tripled my price for “friends” of myself or my husband when we hadn’t heard a peep out of them for years but all of a sudden their daughter was getting married and wanted a harpist at her wedding.  Frankly, three hours of plinking with a late start as the bride was late, no break (ouch!) and one glass of poxy flat liquid surreptitiously handed over by a kind waiter was not my idea of a good gig for £100.)  But I digress…

Wedding dresses.  Yes, they’re expensive.  Go to a bridal shop and have a look.  Why do they cost so much?  You can find them on the internet from China for little more than the price of the postage!  Yeah, good luck with that.  You’ll need more than luck.

I saw a programme on the tellybox where Alex Polizzi was attempting to turn around the fortunes of a bridal shop.  She told them in no uncertain terms that there was no profit in stocking dresses that retailed at less than £700.  And, sadly, she was right.  Yes, you can find them for less but when you factor in the hours of time taken in assisting a client choose her dress and the fun and games involved with altering it to fit her when it arrives (“ready to wear?  I think not, baby puppy…) the profit margin goes right out the window.  Hence the price of most of those frocks.  The staff at the bridal store earn every penny, trust me.

So why do I charge more for a wedding dress in exactly the same style, just in white or ivory?  Well, I don’t.  Not in theory.  But nobody has a wedding dress in a plain white cotton, er, sheeting, do they?  No, they want poncey fabrics like silk  or satin…  Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore silk.  Silk dupion is my favourite fabric.  Favouritest favourite.  Toppiest top.  Love it.  But it’s expensive.  Several times the price of the cotton poplin that I normally use for my frocks.  So you have to take that into account.  Yes, there are synthetic versions.  No, I don’t use them.  Not only are they so ghastly to work with that I just plain refuse, they are not particularly nice to wear.  If you want to feel hot and sweaty on your special day, then choose a nice acetate satin and watch those stains spread.  Nice.  Plus, if you choose white or ivory, there’s all the extra fuss about keeping it pristine while it is worked and manipulated from flat fabric into three-dimensional masterpiece.  Do not underestimate the ‘fun’ of that part.

No, the traditional bridal gown is not a fun thing to produce, especially when the bride goes ‘zilla and fusses and frets over every single aspect of it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  My first bridal client was just lovely.  She came into the shop with her mum and sister and asked about wedding dresses.  I said that in theory I did them but they weren’t traditional and would be retro-style.  All three ladies looked around the shop and left.  Then they made an appointment to come back and talk about dresses properly.  She sent me pictures.  They kept the appointment and I prepared myself to make a fifties-style halterneck in white.  When I asked about fabric, the lovely Leah pointed at the sample of emerald green silk dupion I’d shown her purely to show the fabric type as I didn’t have a sample in white and said, “That.”  Okay, what colour?  “That!”  Really?  Things were looking up.  “With an electric blue petticoat, edges bound in satin.”  Yesssss.

Leah wedding dress


So that’s what we did and she looked stunning.  She was also the easiest to work with, not batting an eyelid when I said the dress would be ready two days before the wedding.  (When a bride says she “might lose some weight”, alarm bells ring.  Once that frock is made and fitted, it’s not being altered again so it goes out at the last possible minute to prevent the need.)  Leah’s sister also had a dress made by me for the occasion and she was a delight to work with, too.  If only they were all that easy!  Actually, that’s not quite fair.  When someone picks me to make their frock and I agree to make it, we usually have a pretty good understanding of how the relationship will pan out.  We will choose a design, I will make it.  If we can’t agree on a design or I get an inkling that they are going to become a Bridezilla, then the price will rise to a level at which point they will make the good decision to go and bother someone else.  And if they still decide to stay with me, then at least I’ll be recompensed for the amount of hours and grey hair incurred.

Incidentally, the green fabric that attracted Leah wasn’t the one used for her wedding dress, as the original was shot with black and her petticoat was blue.  I found just the right shade of green shot with blue for her and was ecstatic over the effect for days.  In fact, I still have a small piece of the fabric somewhere and it makes me smile when I look at it.  The first length of silk languished in my Guilty Fabric Stash until a young lady came to me for a prom dress.  It’s currently a work in progress but this is what I do with silk dupion.  And dotted silk tulle.  If I must.  You’ll have to wait for a future blog to see the finished thing on the lady in question but I think I can guarantee it will be worth the wait.

Zoe prom dress wip


Wedding dresses in silk dupion start at £695.  Take that, Alex Polizzi…

For me? Oh. How, er, kind…

 Wednesday March  Comments Off on For me? Oh. How, er, kind…
May 182014

Wardrobes.  I have a few.  But then again, too few to mention.  Current tally is 3 but I am expected to share, so Mr March has half of one of those.  It would appear that I am nowhere near as blessed with wardrobe space as some of my friends and customers.  Note to self:  Buy house next door to use as walk-in wardrobe and make more frocks.

Or is it time for a bit of a wardrobe edit?  One of those wardrobes is certainly very full indeed and I have to admit to not wearing some of the items for a fair old while.   Does this mean that I am guilty of not practising what I preach viz the “only buy it if you love it and it makes you want to dance and you absolutely promise to wear it to death” thing?   Well, no.  No, I’m not.  Because I’m pretty certain that none of those items that I’ve bought and lurk with the dark recesses of my wardrobe space were bought because I thought they’d be “useful” or were “a bargain”.  But there are things in there that I haven’t bought.  Things that have been given to me by well-meaning friends and relatives.  Things that they have bought and never worn or worn a bit but tired of and don’t want to just “throw away”.  They know I love clothes – hell, I’m in the rag trade after all – so they ‘gift’ me with them.  How kind!  And I do appreciate the sentiment.  Some of it.

Recently, I spent time with a favourite person who has a lot more wardrobe space.  I am not envious of this, I rejoice in it.  She adores her clothes and they make her want to dance.  Well, some of them do.  But she has a huge collection of other stuff that, quite obviously, doesn’t float her boat and that huge stash of unnecessary clothing is dragging her down every time she opens a wardrobe door.  Did she buy too much stuff for possibly the wrong reasons?  Oh, yes, she did do a bit of that.  But there is a very large part of it that was given to her by friends and relatives who know she adores clothes.  By friends and relatives who also adore clothes and, just possibly, buy more stuff that they can actually wear and that they then need to rehome on, it has to be said, a shamingly regular basis.  So they very kindly give it to Miss X.

Did you catch the slight hint of sarcasm in that last “kindly”?  You see, from the angst that these unrequited clothing donations cause her, I deduced very swiftly indeed that these “kind” donations aren’t actually kind at all; they are purely selfish; people shifting their own acquisitive habits and heedless consumerism onto a kind friend.  Because a great many people buy far too much stuff.  And unless they are going to end up on one of those “Hoarders From Hell – I Can’t Find My Floor!” programmes, they know they are going to have to get rid of it and that getting rid of it will make them feel better but then there is the guilt at having bought it in the first place and that is exacerbated at the idea of just throwing it away.  Car boot sale?  Too much trouble.  Ebay?  Oh, but eBay means taking pictures and wrapping things up and going to the Post Office…  Charity shop?  Again?!  What will they think of me?!  I know!  I’ll give it to Miss X!  She loves clothes!  Ideal!

And then poor Miss X has to look thrilled and deal with all the stuff that kind person didn’t want and couldn’t be naffed to actually deal with.  Nice.

It isn’t kind.  Not if that person isn’t dressed in rags and you haven’t asked whether they’d actually like – and I mean really like – the items.  Not a cursory, “I’m having a wardrobe edit and wondered if there’s anything you could use?” before dumping a whole binbag of your cast-offs on their floor and legging it.  Because that is just saying, “I couldn’t be naffed to deal with this or take it to the charity shop and you’re really nice so I thought you could do it for me.”

But those items of clothing come with strings, don’t they?  Because they’re not just random items of clothing that appeared from nowhere but they are things that someone – a ‘friend’ – has given to Miss X.  Gifts.  (Of love?  Nope.)  And, as such, how can she possibly just pick up the bag and take it to the charity shop?  So she puts it on the floor and tries to pretend that it isn’t there.  After a while she opens the bag and attempts to sort through it and, because it came from someone who knows her, it’s highly likely that there will be things in there that are her “sort of thing”.  But rarely a gem that makes her want to dance.  Some of it will be absolutely ghastly; much of it useable but not really what she would pick for herself given the choice.  And none of it is actually needed.  But can she get rid of it?  No, she can’t.  Because she feels the guilt that the kind person has passed on to her, while they dance off to replenish their wardrobes with more crap that they will probably never wear (much of the last donation of unwanted garments was still sporting its tags) and then, once again, hand on to Miss X to deal with.  And she finds it deeply distressing.  It isn’t kind.

So please don’t do it.  If you have something that you honestly think – or, better still, actually know – a friend will love and cherish, then ask them if they’d like it.  And watch their face when they reply to make sure they’re not just being polite.  By all means have a good wardrobe edit.  Be ruthless.  Take those unwanted things to the charity shop and use them to bless the world, because there will be people out there who will be thrilled that you did this.  Really thrilled.  But don’t dump them on a friend and expect that friend to deal with your problem.  It isn’t friendly.

Oh, and next time you go shopping remember – if it doesn’t make you want to dance and you’re not going to love it forever and wear it to death, don’t bloody buy it!

May 112014

It’s been a busy week at the Wednesday March HQ, what with customers visiting, meetings about fashion shows and deliveries of fabrics and petticoats.  I’ve barely had time to think of and studiously research this week’s Wittering.  But I did have a comment from customer that made me think.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard it said and I know it won’t be the last and now I want to know you what you think so do, please, leave me a comment.

I send out a lot of fabric samples to people enquiring about my frocks.  Sure, I can send pictures – and some people are perfectly happy with this – but others like actual swatches.  I am one of them.  I like a nice set of swatches, too.  You can tell a lot from a swatch, not least the colour and pattern but also the quality and handle of the fabric.  When sending swatches, I usually edit the selection or I’ll be sending a parcel rather than an envelope and I make the choice according to many factors, including what I know of the customer’s tastes, personality and colouring.  I also tend to make a private bet with myself as to which I think they’ll pick.  Sometimes I’m very surprised indeed but not often.  This week I received a message that said, “You’re right about the petrol but I don’t do floral.”  Fair point.  No problem.   And she selected a delicious teal penny spot fabric which will look equally stunning.

“I don’t do floral.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this and I know it won’t be the last but, why?  What’s wrong with a few flaaahs?  This statement often comes from people who I know for a fact love their gardens and flowers play a large part in that.  Equally, I often hear it from people who are raving over one of my frocks that is clearly made in a floral fabric.  I also get, “I don’t do dots.”  Less often, admittedly, but it does crop up.

So, why?  Why do we have such strong likes and dislikes when it comes to the picture on the fabric of our clothes?  I often wonder why people make the choices they make.  Colour is a relatively simple affair.  Some people (and I am guilty) just like black.  Black is, well, easy and versatile although don’t for one minute kid yourself that it’s “slimming”.  It’s the actual cut of a garment and the way it fits your body that dictates whether it flatters or not.  A huge, black-clad arse is still a huge arse, just clad in a dark colour.  Ditto vertical stripes.  Wear ’em and you’ll find out.  Nobody will say, “Oh, Wednesday is looking so much slimmer in that striped outfit,” they’ll say, “Vertical stripes?  Who does she think she’s kidding?  Look at the way they curve…”   Horizontal stripes, on the other hand, do give width.  If you’re trying to balance a heavier top half, then horizontal stripes on a skirt aren’t a bad way of doing it.  Although do be aware that if you’re tall there are some comparisons you don’t want to court.  Such as Smeaton’s Tower.  ‘Nuff said.

A customer last year was loving a pin spot Verity frock, although she said “I don’t do dots.”  And she gave the reason, which interested me.  She had a schoolteacher that she hated who adored polka dots and to this day she associates the two.  Now that I understand.  It’s not a happy association and there’s probably nothing I can do about it that doesn’t involve expensive therapy.   My mother has done her best to instil a fear of red and white polka dots into me by (very predictably) saying, “Oh, Minnie Mouse,” whenever I wear a favourite 1930s-style tea dress, despite me explaining that Minnie Mouse tended to go for a shilling spot (dots the size of an old two shilling piece rather than the penny spots I favour), her style of frock differed widely from the one in question and that I don’t wear white shoes.  I still wear the frock (and pattern of fabric) because I love it and I know perfectly well that my mother is just trying to spoil my fun.  But flowers?  What did the poor little flowers do that was so wrong? Everybody loves flowers!

Oh, wait – was it the aunt in the 1960s floral crimplene number?  Or the very short, very overbearing woman in the 1980s who wore massive and overpowering splashy floral prints along with a vat of Giorgio perfume?  I can understand those reasons, too.

This is the fabric that arrived after I’d left on Friday and was lurking the darkness of the hallway, outside the door.  Gave me quite a fright when I snuck in yesterday to do some quiet frock-making but oh, I did squeal with joy when I realised what it was and opened the plastic covering.  The background is black and the flowers are bright and quite large.  So far, a lot of people are liking it, even the die-hard Goths.  Obviously, such a beautiful fabric requires a new frock design so that’s tomorrow’s task.  The design is in my head and now I need to get it onto paper and an appropriate pattern cut.  Hopefully I’ll be wearing it on Thursday because this one is for me.  It remains to be seen whether I look like a princess or a short and grumpy woman sporting a herbaceous border but I’m willing to bet that nobody staring at a beautifully blooming herbaceous border stays grumpy for long so it’s a risk I’m willing to take.  Plus I like flaaahs…

Black pink roses

Go on.  Tell me what you like – and what you dislike.  And, most importantly, why.  I love knowing!

Some things never change…

 Sustainable fashion  Comments Off on Some things never change…
May 042014

Following on, briefly, from last week’s blog on the subject of the disgraceful state of the garment industry in certain parts of the world, it has to be said that the UK garment industry is not what it was.  Britain used to have a proud and excellent textile industry, ranging from spinning and weaving the fabric to cutting, stitching and finishing some of the highest quality products in the world.  Alas, such hives of industry are now few and far between.  In our quest for more, more, more and paying less, less, less, we have inadvertently scuppered ourselves and lost jobs, money and, above all, skills along the way.  Now, when a small company (eg, me) is looking for skilled machinists – even one – it’s a fruitless search, especially in Cornwall which, to be fair, was always more about fishing, farming, mining and, er, something else anyway.  (“Fishin’s scat, farmin’s scat, minin’s scat – back to wreckin’ then, me ‘andsomes!”)

“But what about the Great British Sewing Bee?” I hear you ask.  “There’s a whole host of excellent sewers out there and in this economic climate, surely they’ll all LOVE to work for you?”

Er, no.  Not exactly.  Because sewing for a job – doing anything for a job – isn’t quite the same as doing it for pleasure.  And sewing is usually paid on piece work in order for the worker to get the best possible wage from their skills.  So, if you’re being paid £25 to stitch a frock, if you make it in 4 hours, you’re around the minimum wage mark.  Do it in 2 and you’re laughing.  Especially if you haven’t had to leave your home, pay for childcare or anything associated with actually going to work.  But, alas, this kind of mindset, along with the necessary skills, has been lost.  So I’m still stuck, making my own.  Beavering away in a small, dark, room for pretty much less than minimum wage, when you take into account all the hours I work.  (Whatever.  I’m happy!)

A couple of summers ago, a well-spoken lady came into my shop and raved over one of my dresses.   “Oh, it’s lovely!  It’s absolutely exquisite!  I must have it!  How much is it?  Is it terribly expensive?”

I informed her that the “exquisite” dress was £89 made to measure especially for her.  Her face changed.

“Oh, I don’t think I want to pay that much for it.”

“That’s fine.  I don’t think I want to make it for anything less.”  She was slightly surprised at my stance but then spotted some scarves that had been hand-knitted by a friend of mine.

“Ooh, I’ve made hundreds of those with my knitting group!  I wanted to set up my own knitwear company doing, you know, hand-made things but my husband said that I’d need a really good trade account with a supplier because after taking into account the cost of the yarn and time it takes to make things, I’d only be making, like ten pounds a garment!”

You don’t say…  My reply?

“Welcome to my sweat shop.”

With that, she left.  Which was a blessed relief, because apparently rank stupidity isn’t a legitimate reason for murdering someone.

Of course, the serious point to this is that by investing in something that was proudly Made In Britain, you are supporting not just the person who made it but the economy, country and future of us as a whole.  Because there are people who are dragging our manufacturing industry back from the brink.  As the workers in other parts of the world are requesting fairer payment for their skills, companies here have been discovering that it can actually be more cost-effective to manufacture here.  The machinists we have left are more skilled and faster; sadly, they are a dying breed and it’s time we made more of them.  This can only be achieved by putting our money where our country needs it most.  Buy British.  Support British.  Talk about British.  Promote British.  We can do this.