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What to bring to your dress fitting

Your dress is a good start.

It’s finally happened. I’ve had brides arrive for wedding dress fittings without their shoes or underskirt several times but today brought a first: a bride just arrived for her without… her dress.

It’s absolutely not her fault; she’s storing it at her parents’ house and her dad handed her the wrong grey storage box. We only realised what had happened when we opened it in my fitting room and found an assortment of summer clothing and books.

While she runs back to her parents’ house for the correct grey box, I thought I’d put together a list of what you need to have with you to make sure I get your dress fitting perfectly:

Yourself. As you are, no worries about whether you’ve gained/lost weight or that your dress won’t fit. That’s why you’re here.

Your dress. Obviously.

Your shoes. Unless you’re absolutely 100% certain you don’t need your dress taking up.

Your underskirt. This can make an inch or more’s difference to the length, especially if it’s hooped. If it has a suck-you-in waistband, it can also change how the bodice fits. They tend to sit Simon-Cowell-waistline high so if you have a sheer bodice and/or an open back, nows also the time to check whether it’ll be on show if we don’t do something about it.

Your undies. Anything that changes your shape or size such as a padded bra, minimiser bra, shapewear, padded knickers (would not be a first) will need to be on you when I pin you in your dress. Just remember to take them with you when we’re done (but it also wouldn’t be a first if you forget).

Belt. Especially if you want it sewn on.

Not essential, but feel free to bring your veil, jewellery, garter, and anything else you’d like to try to see if it works with your dress if you’d like and we’ll have a proper play.

Not the bride in question, but could have been.
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Am I right to be angry?

Genuine question.

Here’s another: is this even appropriate?

I’ve just come out of a wedding dress fitting with a bride who loved her dress bit now wants me to restyle the neckline of her dress because the priest (Catholic, if it’s relevant) conducting her church ceremony asked her:

Not my actual bride in question, just another badass.

“How revealing is your dress?”

Consequently, she has gone from loving her dress and feeling confident with the V-neck illusion panel (ie skin-toned translucent tulle) to being paranoid and wanting to add approx 4″ of lace to conceal her cleavage.

I’m not religious so wanted to get perspective(s) on whether I’m right to be feeling angry on her behalf. I feel the priest is policing her body, was sexist to ask her this (he didn’t ask the groom) and what she chooses to show of her own body at her own wedding is no concern of anyone else.

If it even makes a modicum of difference to the priest, should he even be a bloody priest? If he’s worried about what other people think, that’s irrelevant. If he’s worried about being distracted himself, or having “impure” thoughts provoked, that’s a him problem, not a neckline issue.

If he’s concerned about some epidermis causing a distraction, I’ve offered to dance at the back in a bikini.

I realise this is technically none of my business either but I’m feeling invested now after seeing the effect his probing has had on the bride.

So, is my rage justified?

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The Machine that Changed My Life: A Love Story

My first sewing machine, dusted off to list for sale

Why can’t I part with it? Yellowing, with a spool holder thick with layers of glue, it’s still in perfect working order. This little Singer Tradition sewing machine isn’t the byword in Vorsprung Durch Technik. It has a fiddly front-loading bobbin, I’ve never managed to get the needle threader working reliably, and it clatters along well below the top speed of my later machines.

It’s not even my most cherished machine. That accolade resides with the early electronic machine I inherited from my beloved grandma, with the once-working metal toy machine used my mum a close second. I also have two beautiful, decorated handle-wound antique Singers, both in need of a good service (and me a good lesson in how to actually use them).

With one of my ornamental antique Singers that I wouldn’t know how to use even if they still worked.

After several years lying fallow under my desk next to a further two spare machines, it was time for this one to find a new home. But I couldn’t do it.

This was the machine my parents, grandparents, siblings and in-laws had clubbed together to buy me for Christmas over a decade ago. The machine two of my best friends from my NCT commune, Siân and Fiona, had taught me to use. The machine that accidentally changed my career and a fair chunk of my life.

I’ve been sewing since I was 5 but sewing machines terrified me. All those sharp things hammering away, grabbing and tugging at your precious fabric. No thanks. My grandma ended up making most of my GCSE Textiles project because I just couldn’t get my head around the machines (she got an A). So I did everything by hand.

I had time and it was just a hobby. Then another great friend had a knicker-making workshop for her hen do. We only had a couple of hours. There was no avoiding using a machine. I took a deep breath, winced a bit and my tense, clawed toes nudged the pedal. Bbbrrrrzzzz. Done. Elastic in.

I did it! That was so easy! That was so quick! It wasn’t me that had been the problem; I just hadn’t had the right machine! It went straight to the top of my Christmas list. I remember thinking this was going to change everything.

The Fabricland Massive: me with Fiona and Siân

Siân and Fiona taught me everything. How to thread it, rethread it when I snapped the thread again, why I kept snapping the thread in the first place, how to change the feet, the stitch type, stitch length and tension. I could run up outfits for my toddlers while they were at preschool in days; dresses for myself once they were in bed.

Friends asked me to make things, then friends of friends, and before I knew it, I had a viable business. A year later, Siân also started her own sewing business and we continued learning together: new techniques, overlookers, coverstitchers, embroidery machines.

More machines have followed in the eight years since and I’ve realised I’m far too sentimental to sell the one that started it all. I do need the space though, so my yellowing Singer Tradition is now on permanent loan to a the mother of a very good friend, whose daughter is going to teach her to use it. Her daughter, my very good friend, is Siân.

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How old is “vintage”?

I was wrong.

Anitta at the 2023 Grammy Awards wearing a black "vintage" Altelier Versace gown from 2003
Anitta in the infamous “vintage*” Atelier Versace gown in Sarah Hambly’s video that had me spitting my tea. *Or is it..?

This week’s tea-spitting moment was brought to me by the otherwise utterly awesome dressmaker Sarah Hambly casually mentioning in her Grammies fashion round-up that Anitta’s Atelier Versace look was, “Vintage, from 2003.”

(If you missed me literally spitting my tea at this, you can catch it below and here.)

Here’s a confession: I believed she was right. I’d assumed that ‘vintage’ stemmed from the French word for 20, ‘vingt’. The uproar in the comments prompted me to check my facts.

I was wrong.

Or possibly not because I can’t find an actual, to-the-year, official definition.

A good year

My beloved dictionary of etymology informs me that ‘vintage’ is actually born of the pre-1425 Old French ‘vendange’, meaning a yield from a vineyard. A grape harvest if you will, as evidenced by going even further back to the Latin ‘vīndēmia’, which itself is formed from ‘vīnum’ (wine) and ‘dēmere’ (to take off). You can see where we also get our words ‘vine’, ‘wine’ and ‘vintner’. And why we talk about wines having a “good vintage” (or not), first recorded in 1746.

No mention of any age, 20 or otherwise. Oops.

Despite the word being used for nearly 100 years (since 1929) to describe something being of an earlier time, I can’t find a firm definition for how old something has to be to be be officially ‘vintage’. At least, not one with universal agreement.

Cheers to vintage

Contrast this with ‘antique’, which seems to enjoy broad acceptance as meaning aged 100+ years old. Just a quick Google of definitions of ‘vintage’ throws up anything from 20 to 93 years or more.

Cars

It also depends on what we’re talking about. Cars have clearer definitions, with only those manufactured specifically between 1919 and 1930 considered vintage, regardless of how old they are at any given time. At odds with the above, cars are officially ‘antique’ at just 45 (11 more months to go for me then), and ‘classic’ at 20.

Lotus Europa John Player Special JPS limited edition driven by then owner Edward Winter circa 1983 possibly at Poddington in a sprint trial.
My dad c1983 in his Lotus Europa, which would now be an antique had he not totalled it in 1984, and a family heirloom had he not sold what was left of it to fund flying lessons shortly before he died (in unrelated circumstances) in 2020. I’d love to know who has it now, to buy it back.

Clothing

For clothing specifically, it depends whom you ask. I suppose traders have a vested (pun intended) interest in maximising the critieria to allow them to sell more so it makes sense for them to include items as young as is credible, albeit tea-spittingly so. Other sources (e.g. Farm Antiques) says most antiques dealers consider 40 years to be vintage.

I have been contacting fashion and textile historians this morning for more authoritative clarity but have had no luck yet; I’ll update the blog when I can.

UPDATE: 10 February 2023

I’ve had a response from the V&A’s assistant curator in its Textiles & Fashion department Claire (no surname offered). She tells me: “Apologies in advance not to be of more assistance. As far as I’m aware it’s not a term we have a specific working definition for at the V&A.”

That’s actually helpful in itself and good enough for me: ‘vintage’ seems open to interpretation.

While spitting my tea was the appropriate initial reaction, I can wipe down my cutting mat and go back to enjoying a fresh cup. 🫖☕️

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RIP Ian Stuart

I am utterly stunned to learn this evening of the death of my favourite wedding dress designer Ian Stuart, at 55. You can read more about Ian’s illustrious career here, but I want to record what his work has meant to me personally.

Wedding dress designer Ian Stuart

Ian’s designs caught my eye years before I was even engaged; his website was the one I least wanted my then boyfriend (now husband) to spot in my search history.

Once I was engaged, I coveted his pale green Bellini dress for my own wedding but, before I could even find a stockist (or my bridesmaids try to tell me the swirl lookes like a cat’s bottom), my mum vetoed the green.

Green wedding dress Bellini by Ian Stuart from his Strawplay collection
Ian Stuart’s Bellini in palest mint green

In the early noughties, his was the rare voice in boutique bridal proclaiming, “You  CAN wear colour,” and his work has massively influenced how I approach my own.

Ian struck that elusive balance between veering from the beaten bridal track – where I go – with mass appeal and therefore phenomenal international commercial success.

Ian Stuart’s Pompadour in coral

He remains the only wedding dress designer whose dresses I have actually bought, just to study and admire. I own three. One – Pompadour, in coral pink – I actually wore once I’d restyled it into a cocktail dress for a friend’s military Christmas ball (the dress code wasn’t clear on dress length so I went with both long and short).

Me in my restyled Pompadour at the Moulin Rouge ball, Artilliary House, London, 2018

Another, his beautifully opulent, silk Flower Bomb, featured in the V&A’s retrospective exhibition of wedding dresses through the decades. Mine, acquired just this summer, hangs in the window of my sewing room, where I learn something new on fabric manipulation, pattern cutting and structure from it every day. I will never wear it – it’s four sizes too small for me for one thing – but it remains my favourite.

Ian Stuart’s Flower Bomb at the V&A in 2014

I would eagerly await each new collection from Strawplay onwards – Belle Epoch, Runway Rebel, Killer Queen and more – and would pore over each dress in every colourway until I could recognise any of them in the wild (autistic much?). I’m still not over the brand’s sudden, quiet liquidation a few years ago.

I continue to check my saved search I’ve had on ebay since 2005 every day. I’d still love to get my hands on Gainsborough, Crazy Daisy (I can’t even find images any more), Bluebird and Sevruga, and I’d LOVE to study how Harlequinn is constructed.

My heartfelt condolences and all my love go to Ian’s family and friends.

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Typical!

My brides and dresses are all so different. Do I even have a typical customer?

What do a pink glittery ballgown, a satin ivory shift mini-dress, and a two-piece embroidered lehenga have in common? Or a backless, barely-there lace dress with a long-sleeved, high-necked, satin-twill number?

Some of my 2021 brides in their bespoke gowns on their wedding days. L-R: Emma, Steffi, Gemma, Isobel and Immi

I mean aside from the obvious, that they are all wedding dresses. And made by me.

The answer is in why I made them. Or rather why I had to.

UK brides are spoiled for choice whatever their budget with independent bridal boutiques, concessions in Harrods and Selfridges, chain stores like Wed2b and David’s Bridal, second-hand dresses and hell, even Asos is getting in on the bridal scene. If, and that’s a big if, they want a traditional ivory dress.

Not all brides do. Some don’t want ivory. Some don’t want a dress.

The very variety of styles I’ve made in the last year might suggest I don’t have a typical customer. But I have found that my brides tend to have some common traits:

1. All of my brides have a strong personal style. They know what works for them, what looks dynamite, and what doesn’t;

2. They know exactly what they’re looking for. Some had mood boards, others had lists of elements such as neckline, silhouette, embroidery details, etc, some had even produced sketches.

3. They couldn’t find what they were looking for ready-made in any shop. It didn’t exist.

That’s when they looked into going bespoke and found me.

So, do I have a typical customer? Yes and no. Do the traits above sound familiar to you?

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What is Pelling Pink? 💗

Forget Pantone, this is ‘Pelling Pink’. It’s not a single colour but shifts and changes shade and intensity with movement and glitters in the light.

Emma Pelling had always wanted a pink wedding dress but finding the perfect shade, not to mention style, proved problematic. The main problem was that we simply couldn’t settle on any one shade of pink. The solution then was to simply not settle for a single shade and create a dress that subtly changed shades as Emma moved.

I designed a bespoke princess-style dress with multiple layers of silk, tulle and glitter I’m shares ranging from ivory to lilac to a hot dusky rose. We experimented inside and outside with great swathes of fabrics a spectrum of variations until, five hours later, we had the perfect combination. When layered just so, they would shift and slink and gather and flare to reveal all the different shades. I’m calling this Pelling Pink.

The skirt section featured the softest ivory tulle layered over a pink glitter tulle and a lilac-pink silk satin. The latter I just happened to have picked up in an eco-sale of designer dead stock with no plan for it but it was just too beautiful to leave. I’m so happy I got to use it for Emma’s dress.

LAYERS of silk and tulle create the perfect wedding dress shade for real bride Emma in this bespoke pink wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
The many shades of the layers that made up the perfect Pelling Pink: lilac silk satin, dusky rose glitter tulle, two layers of ivory tulle, over several further layers of netting and lining. (Sidenote: the lace shown on the neckline here wasn’t used in the final version)

The bodice included an additional extra-sparkly pale pink tulle layer and I created custom lace to embellish the illusion panel. A keyhole back and a corset fastening provided interest on the back, and a closer look at the corset lace ends revealed that I’d personalised them with Emma and her fiancé Sam’s names so they could literally tie the knot.

Personalised embroidery by Holly Winter Couture
Personalised embroidery on the corset ties meant Emma and Sam could literally tie the knot.

We made the front slightly shorter to show off Emma’s stunning pastel pink and blue shoes while the back dipped to a chapel train.

Emma’s layers and Cinderella shoes

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc on wedding plans, this dress has been over a year in the making. I am absolutely delighted that Emma and Sam finally figuratively tied the knot on Sunday 13 June 2021, followed by a celebration with friends and family on Sunday 11 July. Loads of love to you both, Mr & Mrs Sullivan!

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The UK’s First Wedding of 2021

Microwedding 2021 in lockdown. Wedding dress alterations by Holly Winter Couture
Microweddings: When daffodils replace guests

Just look at the love and joy! These beautiful pictures are of, I believe, the very first wedding to take place in the UK this year, and I am so thrilled to have had a (small!) hand in it. Featured on BBC News, Jess and Jonny finally tied the knot on Monday 29 March, the first day that weddings were allowed in 2021, as lockdown restrictions started to ease.

Microwedding 2021 BBC News Jonny and Jess. Wedding dress alterations by Holly Winter Couture seamstress dressmaker Surrey Hampshire Berkshire
Guest list reduced from 180 to four but Jess and Jonny tied the knot anyway.

Coronavirus had forced them to postpone their original 2020 summer wedding and cut their guest list from 180 to just four (plus the bride and groom themselves) to comply with the latest regulations but they leapt at the first opportunity to tie the knot they had.

Microwedding 2021. Wedding dress alterations by seamstress dressmaker Holly Winter Couture Farnborough Hampshire
They did it!

Jessica’s beautiful beaded mermaid dress had been under wraps for over a year and I last saw her for her final fitting in December 2019 (she arrived in full Mrs Christmas costume on her way to work with children!). Jess came to me for wedding dress alterations when the dress she had bought turned out to be a classic case of expectations vs reality.

Wedding dress expectations vs reality saved by couture finishing by Holly Winter Couture alterations
Expectations vs reality vs couture finish

Jess fell in love with the dramatic waves around the hem of the dress when she saw it online. Trying it on in the shop however left her feeling a little flat, just like the waves which fell over into a messy heap when she walked. I reassured her there was a solution (there is ALWAYS a solution 😊) and gave her glorious waves some extra staying power with a little couture magic. We also added some sparkly straps and shortened the length at the front.

Wed2b Osiris dress alterations Camberley Holly Winter Couture
The glorious waves of Jess’s hem.

I am over the moon for Jonny and Jess and love their style of staring down the restrictions and doing it anyway. They are planning a celebration with friends and family in 2022 and, oh my goodness, I cannot wait to show you the dress we have in store for that! 😍

Holly Winter Couture studio with bride customer Surrey Hampshire Berkshire wedding dress alterations
Mrs Christmas and me (an elf? 🧵🪡) in my studio, December 2019. 🤶

Wedding photos by the very talented Rob Burress at Shooting Hip.

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Shooting cats

💜 Amethyst Moon 💜

Opportunities for photoshoots are scant during lockdown so I endeavour to do the best I can on my own. At least I thought I was on my own.

Silky just reminded me why I usually hang things on a wall to take product shots rather than lay them out on the floor. She waited until I was teetering on the edge of a chair of course.