“Will You Be My Bridesmaid?”

 Frocks, Style, Weddings  Comments Off on “Will You Be My Bridesmaid?”
Oct 122014
 

Also known as “Fifteen years of friendship down the drain…”

The bridesmaid thing.  Is it a blessing or a curse?  An opportunity to have a wonderful, friendship-sealing rite of passage with your closest friends/nearest and dearest or The Sweetest Revenge Opportunity Ever?

I get a lot of enquiries about bridesmaids’ dresses.  A lot.  Oh yes.  Most come from the bride to be and/or her mother.  Mostly they are nice and want something pretty but slightly unusual and ‘vintage-style’.  Something that isn’t prom/evening wear or in satin/chiffon/organza.   Mostly I am able to oblige them with exactly what they are wanting, even if they haven’t been able to quite put it into words.  Sometimes there is no way on this earth I am going to be able to work with either the bride or the mother and nothing I can do will actually make them happy.  That’s when my order book becomes over-full and fabric unavailable…   But usually I can help.

The thing with bridesmaids is that they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and outlooks.  It is an absolute minefield for the kind and caring bride to try to negotiate the terrain and keep each and every one of her attendants happy in a frock that will fit, suit, match the theme/colour scheme and not scare the vicar.  Enough to put you off getting married anywhere other than in secret with a couple of witnesses grabbed off the street.  (Regular readers will know that I had the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as attendants at my wedding.  Much easier and more fun.  And no, not a euphemism for various family members I detest, either!)

Of course, the majority of wedding consultations start out in a less than happy mood.  When there is more than one bridesmaid, they are invariably all worried about what is going to happen, what the others may want or not want and what they are likely to end up with.  They don’t want to upset the other bridesmaids and they certainly don’t want to upset the bride.  If I had a pound for every time I heard, “I’m just going to turn up and wear whatever you want me to wear,” uttered with a sigh, then I’d be smiling all the way to the bank.  Unfortunately, nobody ever coughs up that pound, nor does that sentence fill me – or the bride – with joy.  On the contrary, it’s when the feeling of Impending Doom deepens, blackens and threatens the swallow up the room and everyone in it.  Weddings should be joyful occasions and nobody wants a bridesmaid who is really unhappy with her frock or is there on sufferance.  Every female member of that wedding party should be wearing something that makes her want to dance.  Which is where I come in…

Happily, most of the people who come to see me about bridal stuff want “something different”; it’s quite rare for me to be confronted with “everything is to be traditional and done by the book”, which is probably my worst nightmare.  Weddings should be fun.  Have I said that already?  I’ll repeat it anyway.  Weddings should be fun.  And the participants should be comfortable.  To that end, I have a few styles that I know work very well for bridesmaid dresses.  The Leah and Diana styles (halter neck or cap sleeved, princess seamed, straight or sweetheart neckline) are the most obvious choices and very popular, especially as the bodices are shirred at the back, delivering excellent fit and the potential for devouring an extra slice of wedding cake in comfort.  Not everybody wants a halter neck, so the Diana gives a little more shoulder coverage.

Halterneck retro 50s style full skirted frock in yellow fabric with printed cherry pattern

Leah halter neck style, in yellow cherry print fabric.

 

Retro 50s style frock with cap sleeves in black fabric with bright pink roses

Diana full skirted style, with straight neckline (can also be done with sweetheart) and cap sleeves.

But then, there are always ladies who worry – probably more than they should – about their arms.  And tummies.  Hips.  Shoulders.  Oh, every bit of them.  At this point, I usually recommend a burkha.  When they’re over the shock of that and realise I’m joking, I point them in the direction of Verity, my pseudo-1940s style with the slight empire line and the full circle skirt.

Yesterday’s clients were a hoot.  Lovely ladies but not at all happy about the prospect of finding the perfect style to suit them all.  The dress they all – allegedly – wanted wasn’t going to work, as another dressmaker had already told them.  They said they “liked the style” of Diana but their faces clearly said, “Not that much…”  Sleeves were mentioned.   I waved to Verity and they all assumed an expression of horror.  Now, I know that poor Verity wasn’t on the best mannequin (Gladys, my lingerie model, who is difficult at the best of times, and is the mannequin on the right hand side in the following picture) and wasn’t sporting a petticoat, so probably didn’t look her most enticing.  But the reaction was hysterical.  “Oh, I don’t like that at all!” came from the bride.  Quickly followed by, “It makes me think of 1940s…”  Yes!  It’s supposed to!  “… Those things that cleaners wore.  Crossed over at the front.  Hideous.  Sorry.  I really don’t like it.”  Cracking description, albeit not how I see the frock.  Chief Bridesmaid was more succinct.  “Looks like a preg tent.”

Retro style frock in navy spot fabric with sleeves and crossover bodice

Verity in navy pin spot fabric.

At this point I did my best not to double up on the floor laughing.  I have never heard the expression “preg tent” before but I am certainly storing that one up for future usage.  Oh yes.

I’m not sure how Chief Bridesmaid was persuaded to don said “preg tent” but she was.  Petticoat was slipped over her head (she wasn’t going through the rigmarole of getting her kit off to try a cleaner’s overall!) and Verity followed.  Zipped up the back.  Expression changed.  She looked in the mirror and realised she looked fabulous.  She twirled.  She smiled.  Twirled a bit more and beamed. Everybody else beamed.  The bride was gobsmacked and changed her mind completely about the style.  All of a sudden, it ticked all the boxes.   The other bridesmaids did their best to try it on (wrong size, not their fault) and pronounced themselves equally enamoured.  And they all smiled.

Now all I have to do is source the perfect fabrics, because they’re all having the same design but different colours.  Very precise different colours.  Did they come armed with knowledge of the exact Pantones?  No.  Of course not.  (And, frankly, the day a bridal party does that is the day I run away screaming!)  But they are off to B&Q to arm themselves with those paint colour cards.  Easy.

Me?  I’m off fabric shopping, which I enjoy.  I’ll be looking for specifics when I rock up at the London Textile Fair in January, not just inspiration.  Excellent.

Meanwhile, the bridal party have the fun of deciding what colour petticoats (I’m recommending a pop of something vivid underneath their pastel frocks) and finding The Perfect Shoes.  The right style, colour and ones they can walk and dance in.  All day and night.

Now that we’ve settled on the style, I think I have the easier task…

 

Winter Is Coming!

 Frocks, Style, Sustainable fashion, Wednesday March  Comments Off on Winter Is Coming!
Aug 242014
 

What do you mean, ‘it’s only August’?!  It’s decidedly nippy out there and this morning was positively autumnal up here on Beastly Bodmin Moor.  So my thoughts have turned to warmer things, ie knitwear, tweed, furry stuff…

As my friends know, during the winter (which in my book runs from mid-August until at least the start of June), I am usually draped from head to foot in cashmere, tweed and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, animals.  Mostly as by-products of the food industry (ie, sheepskins, reindeer pelts, etc) but sometimes this involves the pelts of long-dead critters, sacrificed in a by-gone era when people’s sensibilities were very different and central heating hadn’t been invented.  (I’m not going to add insult to injury to the poor thing that died in the name of warmth by throwing it away like disposable rubbish.  That’s my point of view but I know others feel very differently on the subject.  And you don’t want to know what I’d do to the utter bastards who shoot things for fun rather than food or self-preservation.)  And sometimes the animals involved in my pursuit of warmth are still very much alive.  I’m frequently found on the sofa, buried under a large, gently snoring, shaggy, grey rug, also known as a deerhound, often with a couple of smaller rugs in the form of Mr Tigglesworth and the Weasel, (a Ragdoll and a Norwegian Forest Cat) for good measure.  Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And it does get very cold up here on the moor, especially when the wind’s in the wrong direction and the blasted Rayburn’s gone out.

Deerhounds all over the furniture

Still from the 1945 movie “I Know Where I’m Going” with Mrs Potts and her “half starved hounds” just in from a bracing walk and throwing themselves onto the sofas. Could be Miss Wednesday’s house on any given day…

But to cut away from that charming, domestic scene and get to the point of the post, I was actually wondering what other people who like ‘vintage’ stuff tend to do for winter wear?  More than one person this summer has asked about “winter stuff” and said that they struggle to find anything “retro” (eg, 1940s or 50s style) in anything other than summer frocks.  Really?  Oh.  Please don’t make me take up knitting.  You wouldn’t like the result.  Hell, I don’t like the result and, frankly, it’s a waste of decent yarn.

So, what do you want, then?  Give me a clue?  Tweed?  I like tweed.  Tweed is good, as is wool serge and flannel.  Full and circle skirts in wintery fabrics?   Lovely.  Pencil skirts in tweed?  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, just say the word.  Coats, suits and jackets?  Well, we can talk about it.  I’m happy to talk about it.

Knitwear?  May I respectfully direct you to either my beloved Brora, purveyors of the best cashmere with plenty of perfectly proportioned cropped styles that work beautifully with waisted outfits and full skirts, or the rather wonderful Miss Fortune, who has been supplying me with delicious knitwear for a couple of years now and has been seen photographing some decidedly nifty nordic-patterned knitwear lately.  Keep an eye on her.  I intend to…

I have been attempting to persuade a very talented friend to take up the challenge of recreating 1940s knitwear on a bespoke basis.  She’s thinking about it.  From under a nice warm pile of whippets.  (We do like our pointy dogs!)

But seriously, please let me know what you’d like.  I’ll probably be delighted to make it for you.  At the moment, I keep busy with what are, to me, summer frocks all year round but I know I don’t wear them in the winter and surely I’m not the only person who’s part lizard?

Just don’t ask for trousers.  Unless they’re old fashioned style jodhpurs.  I’m thinking about those.  Some days it gets a bit drafty walking across the moor in the teeth of a howling gale with my skirt up round my ears…

Woman and deerhounds silhouetted against the sky

Mrs Potts walking the hounds whilst clad in a fetching kilt/skirt, just as I do.

And if anybody’s actually interested in seeing more of the mad woman and the gorgeous dogs, the best bit of the movie can be viewed here on YouTube.

 

Birthing Pains

 Frocks, Style, Wednesday March  Comments Off on Birthing Pains
Jul 132014
 
Tropical fruit printed dress with ribbon trim and sewing machine

Adding the metres of grosgrain ribbon trim

Yes, it hurts. Every time. Although you don’t necessarily remember that part until the first flush of enthusiasm is over and the hard work begins. At which point you think to yourself, “Oh no, I remember this now…” but it’s too late to do anything other than carry on. Well, if you want to be able to eventually return to sleeping at night and not obsessing over small details, fabrics, trimmings, etc. When there’s a new frock in your head, there is no option but to make it.

And so it was with this one. Personally, I blame one of my favourite bloggers. Somehow, probably via Facebook, she managed to to sneak this little gem into my consciousness.

Pouting Brigitte Bardot meeting Pablo Picasso

Never mind the pout, check out the frock!

Yes, I know. Utterly gorgeous. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the dress. For years I’ve had a major problem with tiers, having seen too many droopy hippies in ghastly patchwork and crushed velvet skirts. So much so, in fact, that I’d forgotten what a joy they could be. Can’t imagine a droopy hippie in this little number, though, so I thought I might have a go at recreating it. And once that thought was in my head, there was no getting out of it.

The obvious fabric, a pastel-based rose print cotton, was already in my possession but something about another roll called to me. I’d ordered it because I loved the sample. When it arrived, I discovered that not only was it, technically, a one-way design (my OCD won’t let me put the writing upside down) but it was also printed across the fabric rather than along it, making it impossible to cut the full circles I usually use. So it was absolutely ideal for this new design. Perfect! All I had to do was cut strips, gather ’em up and stitch it all together. Piece of p… Well, you get the idea.

I did some basic calculations in an attempt to get the length of the skirt and the proportions of the tiers right. I scratched my head. I sighed a little, worried a bit and then said, “Oh, to hell with this,” and went off plan.

And produced this:

Tiered sundress in tropical fruit and flower print

I’ve road tested it for comfort, ease of fitting behind the driving wheel of a sports car and audience approval factor. It passed everything with flying colours, although I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive the sports car whilst wearing it with a petticoat as there is just too much floofiness for comfort. Without the petti, it’s fine. Do be aware, though, that it’s not a frock for blending in. I’m not sure that any other frock I’ve ever made has garnered quite so much attention from people who wouldn’t normally go for an obviously retro style. Everyone seems to like this one. Including the lovely Welshman in a Cornwall Council carpark, who said, “Ooh, you look gorgeous!” and didn’t appear to register the fact that I’m a 46 year old grumpy midget. I call that a good frock!

Now, there will be a few tweaks to the design before this one goes into “production”. I’ll be re-cutting the straps to give them some shape, making a slight change to the curve of the neckline and possibly taking out a little of the fullness of the skirt. Well, a 12 metre circumference might just be over-egging the pudding. Just a tad…

The full blog post that inspired me can be found at http://www.messynessychic.com/2012/04/26/when-bardot-met-picasso/

I’m aware that the link isn’t working. Unfortunately, WordPress isn’t working properly for me at the moment so posting and editing are very difficult and I can’t get links to work. I’m surprised I can even post anything! If you haven’t yet discovered Messy Ness Chic, may I suggest following her on Facebook? She’s fabulous.

And watch out for the next version of the Bardot dress. This one has the working title of Carmen Bardot. The Brigitte one should be lovely but closer to the original. I can’t wait to make it!