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Would you do your job free or for a discount?

Have you ever been asked to work for no/less money? How did you respond and how did you feel afterwards?

The Un-Wedding posted this on Instagram today, and it chimed with some recent conversations with fellow designer-dressmakers who have been asked for discounts, or even to work free in exchange for “exposure”.

I’m either not famous enough or too scary looking to have ever been asked to work for nothing by an influencer or celebrity, and the vast majority of people do recognise the value of what I do. (Actually, one influencer didn’t even tell me about her YouTube channel until after she’d booked me).

Who even does that?

However, on the odd occasion I’ve been asked for a discount, it’s been for wedding dress alterations. This tends to be the last thing to be paid for when planning a wedding, because alterations typically happen as close to the big day as possible so your body is the size and shape it will be on the day.

I’ve become a lot stricter – nay, assertive – about discounts, because every single time I’ve agreed, I’ve resented the customer, hated the work, and gnashed my teeth with every stitch. I’m not out to rip anyone off or obsessed with making as much money as possible; I’d have stayed in corporate PR if I were.

I’ve become more assertive about discounts. Sorry, not sorry.

I usually do put in a lot more work than agreed for the sheer fun of it, and on the odd occasion I’ve even waived my fee entirely just because I wanted to.

Top ‘reasons’ people have expected a discount

Below are the reasons I’ve been given for why I should agree to a discount and my response to each:

1. “We’ve overspent on everything else and run out of money.” (Three instances of this)

Think back to before you booked a single thing. Would you have called me – a stranger –  and asked me to buy, say, your cake, or pay for the extra flower arches? Because that’s effectively what you’re asking me to do now. 

2. “The alterations are costing more than half what I paid for the dress!”

Your dress was an absolute steal but is three sizes too big for you, eight inches too long and will need to have most of the lace removed, replaced and re-beaded by hand.

3. “If I pay that much, I will cry.” (Actually the same person as 2, above)

The work you need will take me around three days in my busiest month of the year when im already starting work at 5.30am and finishing around midnight, and if two of those days are unpaid, I will show you bloody crying.

4. Calling me after the fitting: “Can we round it down to £xxx if I give you cash?”

Err, oh. OK. I was caught off, in a flap and acquiesced. But why should cash necessitate a discount? It actually creates work for me because I have to make a trip to a real-life bank to pay it in. Plus I’m far too socialist to not declare any income on my tax return.

This particular person had also given me an unwashed dress to take in that she had worn clubbing and needed for her hen do (lots of fiddly work to the underarm section) and was condescending to her lovely sister in every appointment.

She also spent one fitting on the phone boasting about how much money she’d got another supplier to come down by. I agreed to the discount but hers was the only name I’ve ever made a mental note of to never work for again.

Same same but different

There are some inquiries that might sound or feel like asking for a discount but aren’t, so please don’t feel afraid to ask (and vendors, please don’t feel offended of you encounter them). Asking for a starting price or rough estimate isn’t rude and neither is surprise when finding out the cost.

Not many people have ever bought anything wedding-related before they plan their own so it’s not reasonable to expect anyone to know what things cost.

Manners for makers

A discount means a compromise on fabrics,  my time or both, and you can’t do that with couture. Moreover, I’m not willing to do any of those and still put my name to the result.

Even MORE-over, asking for a discount is rude. Either you value my work or you don’t.

Aah, that was cathartic. Therapy I didn’t know I needed.

Not actually me, but how I’m feeling now
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How to see fewer weight-loss ads when you’re engaged

Planning =/= shredding for the wedding

Fifteen years ago, I was excitedly, a little smugly and absolutely bloody FINALLY making my betrothal to my favourite human official: I changed my relationship status on Facebook to ‘Engaged’.

The effect was immediate. In addition to the flattering influx of likes, comments and messages of congratulations, the adverts in my newsfeed changed. Wedding dress boutiques, honeymoon destinations, venues, and, most noticeably, ways to lose weight. This diet, that meal replacement, hashtag ‘Shredding for the wedding’.

The algorithms that determine the ads you see on social media might be more sophisticated these days. When we changed our relationship statuses again to ‘Married’, I started getting ads for fertility treatments and nursery furniture; my husband to ‘Meet hot singles online in your area.’

However, these algorithms remain slave to market correlations, including that planning a wedding also often means wanting to lose weight. A highly unscientific poll I’m running on Instagram currently says two thirds of people saw more weight loss ads after they got engaged.

Reasons for deliberately changing your body are complex and personal so this isn’t a post about whether ads for weight loss treatments are right or wrong, nor whether anyone should or should not lose weight.

But the issue is close to my heart. Brides sometimes come to me because they dread – or have had – horrible experiences in bridal boutiques. In my own case, I have come through eating disorders so it would have been good to have not had to see these ads.

TIL how to stop weight loss ads on Instagram

So, I thought it would be useful to share a tip I learned today to avoid seeing weight-loss ads, on Instagram at least:

From the menu on your profile page, go to Settings > Ads > Ad Topics. If you’ve not done this before, it’s quite interesting to see what The Algorithm thinks you’re interested in based on your Meta (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Messenger) activity. If your list was anything like mine, it should also reassure you that the social media companies actually know bugger all about you.

Tap on one you’re not interested in (my first one was Stargate 🤷‍♀️) and you’ll be given to options about it: ‘No preference’ and ‘Show less (sic) ads about this topic’. Even if its slovenly grammar makes you twitch as much as it did me, tap the second option and that should do the trick.

You can then also search all of the ad topics; the one you need is ‘Body Weight Control’. Choose the second option again and you should hopefully start seeing the adverts diminish, rather than your mental health.

The video below shows you all this in 30 seconds.

Please share with anyone who needs to know.

Special thanks to Alysia Cole Styling whose column in Rock n Roll Bride prompted me to find out how to do this.

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If you…

…(hopefully) recognise yourself in at least one of these:

If you trusted me to design and make your wedding dress, veil or part of your outfit this year;

Some of my 2022 brides, plus model bottom right for Rock n Roll Bride magazine’s ’90s nostalgia shoot


If you chose me to restyle or alter your dress;


If you collaborated with me on a styled shoot, design, blog or magazine feature;

Belladonna, from my collection in collaboration with The Pickety Witch


If you liked, shared or commented on my a post, story, or reel, or tagged me in yours;


If you recommended me to a friend, wrote a review or followed me;
If you saved my sanity when a pattern draft/embroidery machine/tax return threatened it (again);


If you sent me your wedding pictures showing you in something I made, or dropped me a message just to say you liked my work;


If you sold me a beautiful fabric, some sparkling beads, or the badass embroidery machine that cost six times more than my car;

No cup holder?


If you sent me a card, flowers, chocolates or pins with heads shaped like bats;


If you entertained/fed/tolerated my children so I could put the extra time into my work;

If you are either of my children and told me you loved me;


If you helped me set up, pack up, ferry my gear or cut the breeze at a wedding fair;


If you taught me a new sewing technique, design trick or social media idea;

Oh look, I just drew my state of mind.


If you made me laugh until it hurt, let me cry until I felt better or at any point made me a cup of tea,

Thank you. You filled my heart, you made my year.

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Why Embroidery Scissors are Shaped Like Storks

You know the little embroidery scissors that are shaped like a bird? I’m not sure I even registered that the bird is a stork, but this week I learned why.

A white woman's hand holding golden embroidery scissors shaped like a stork to cut a thread on some celtic knot embroidery
My embroidery stork scissors at work on a bespoke project this week

Midwives’ umbilical chord clamps used to be shaped like storks, for their association with delivering babies. It seems a clever marketing person noticed that midwives would often work on embroidery projects while waiting the hours and sometimes days for a labour to progress and expanded the range to embroidery scissors in the same shape.

Antique umbilical chord clamp shaped like a stork
An antique umbilical chord clamp

I’m pretty sure midwives today have a bit more to occupy their time, and the appeal of the novelty ornate scissors has spread beyond their original niche.

If you’d like to see the video I made about this, including the story of my youngest’s birth, and the Nutella I hadn’t realised was on my chin, you can find it on my TikTok here.

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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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Old wives’ tales

Winter’s Wedding Words: wife

I’m disappointed.

Not in an epically understated way, like my gracious German cousins last week ⚽️🎉.

More like when I go out for Chinese food and the main course never seems to live up to splendiferous platter of prawn toasts, satay chicken sticks, spring rolls and duck pancakes we had for the starter.

I blame husband. Not my husband, nor anyone else’s, but the word ‘husband’ itself. Specifically, its etymology. Because after I learned that it shares its origin with 007 and bondage for my last blog post, I had high hopes for its feminine counterpart.

Disappointment (1882), by Julius Leblanc Stewart. I don’t know what he did either.

Alas, ‘wife’ began its recorded life as Old English wif, meaning… wife.

However, ‘wif’ could also mean woman, irrespective of marital status. So I researched ‘woman’. And here I found my nugget of geek gold.

An anomalous quirk of English language evolution is that the word ‘wife’, i.e. a woman as a man’s possession (the predominant mentality of the time), predates ‘woman’ as a female person generally.

Disappointed AND retroactively outraged.

So I embroidered the shit out of a veil and felt much better.

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Honeymoon is not as sweet as it sounds

Winter’s Wedding Words: Honeymoon

Remember that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral where Carrie asks Charles why he thinks it’s called a honeymoon? Charles suggests that it’s honey because it’s as sweet as honey and moon because it’s the first time a husband gets to see his wife’s bottom. Well, wouldn’t you just know it? He’s actually (partially) right. Just not about the butt cheeks.

I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.

It is indeed honey because it’s something sweet. BUT (not butt) it’s actually meant ironically, to describe something that seems wonderful now but won’t last, hence when people talk about the ‘honeymoon period’ of a project or endeavour, etc, with the implicit expectation of it all going to shit.

This is because of the nature of the phases of the moon: it is no sooner full than it begins to wane. So, ‘honeymoon’ is a rather cynical remark on the newlyweds’ long-term prospects for happiness.

Perhaps the last laugh is on the cynics though; they seem to have forgotten that even when the moon disappears entirely, it will start to wax once more and reach its full glory again (and again, and again) soon enough. That sounds sweet enough to me. Peachy even.

🍑
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Husbands, 007 and bondage: their surprising shared history

Winter’s Wedding Words: Husband

I’m never one to kink shame but I have to admit I nearly spat my tea when I was researching this one; under ‘husband’ in my etymological dictionary was the instruction to, “See ‘Bondage'”.

Another surprise on this etymological adventure was that it would lead me to 007 himself.

‘Husband’ is a compound of two words: ‘house’ and ‘bond’ (not ‘band’). Old English (about 800 years ago) combined ‘hus’ meaning ‘house’ and ‘bonda’ meaning ‘hold’ into ‘husbonda’, which meant householder, lord of the house, house owner. Before this, it probably came from something scandiwegian as Old Icelandic has the very similar ‘hūsbondi’.

But get this. The ‘bond’ bit originally meant tennant (ie not land owning) farmer, or serf. When you think about the modern meanings of bond, it starts to make sense. Tie, fetter, bind, hold, commit. These folk would hold their land temporarily rather than own it. You can also see how ‘bond’ became ‘bondage’ as in enslave or servitude.

It’s also probably the source of the surname Bond. The original Bonds were unlikely to be driving an Aston Martin. 007 has come a long way.

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Couples in Co-ordinated Clothes

I received a press inquiry this week asking whether couples should coordinate their wedding outfits. This question both resonated with and rankled me.

It was a well timed question; this week alone I’ve been working on coordinating outfits for three couples and it’s certainly something I’m seeing more of, for different reasons.

A traditional Ghanaian wedding (in LA). Credit: Kwame Agyei Jr Weddings

That said, my couple planning their traditional white wedding are also incorporating the same fabric for elements of their outfits. In this case, the bride is wearing a hooded cape and the groom a bowtie in the same pale pink velvet. 

A black bride and groom in coordinating pink wedding dress and pink suit sitting on outdoor painted stairs
Pretty in (matching) pink. Credit: Leesha Williams Photography via Unique Rebels Union.

It can be a cultural, which is true for my bride and groom planning their Ghanaian-British fusion wedding. In Ghana, the bride and groom’s outfits are made from the same fabrics, which is what I’m doing for the them, making the bride’s dress from the same traditional kente fabrics as the groom’s outfit.

The third couple are both wearing black with custom embroidered motifs that tell each of their stories.

Now for why the question rankled. First, being for a western publication, it was inherently western-focused but this excluded the cultures and traditions of other countries that are honoured here, such as my British-Ghanaian couple.

I also (politely I hope) asked the journalist not to forget weddings involving two grooms, two brides or non-binary couples who I also see coordinating their outfits, probably more so than heterosexual couples.

Two white grooms in matching brown suits and glasses with coordinating red details on their wedding day
Credit: Binky Nixon via Unique Rebels Union

And finally, the classic word “Should.” I don’t like to see “should” in any question about weddings, other than that the couple should love each other and should wear whatever the hell they want, matching or not. 😊

A white male and female couple on their wedding day wearing dungarees
Credit: Emily Steward Photography via Zane & Willow Zarecki

NB photos are not of my work or couples; their weddings are still to come so the details are top secret!

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Why White?

How Queen Victoria, new-fangled photography and rubbish laundry facilities created the iconic western tradition

Ever wondered why western brides wear white? Queen Victoria sparked the trend in 1840 and actually raised eyebrows by choosing white, which was usually only worn by debutantes for their presentation to court.

Victoria & Albert on their wedding day, and her trend-setting dress displayed at Kensington Palace.

Before then (and for a while after), brides would wear their best dress, whatever colour(s) it happened to be. There wasn’t even a concept of a wedding dress as something you wore just for your wedding day. It was expected that you’d wear your wedding dress again for other functions ans indeed, Queen Victoria did.

A bride and groom in Chicago in the 1890s

This expectation helped make the white wedding dress aspirational as it was only really practical to wash and maintain white fabrics, especially silk, if you were mega-rich. Ideally, you had staff to take care of that for you. European royals and nobility did of course and so the white wedding dress became associated with wealth and high social standing.

Simultaneously, photography was becoming more advanced and accessible and white dresses looked good in the early sepia photographs. Even nearly 200 years ago, we were all about the ‘Gram.

All of this means that you can still consider yourself a traditional bride if your dress isn’t white. This week, I took delivery of this stunning lace-satin-glitter (yes, all of them, in one fabric) fabric and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Satin, lace AND glitter all in one fabric. BIG plans for this beauty. HUGE.