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.
Are you ambimetric? The chances are that if you were born between 1977 and 1983, you are.
I just uploaded a short hyperlapse Reel showing the making of one the floral embellishments for my Happily Ever After veil. While fingers, beads and threads blurred, the clear constant throughout all 18 seconds was my scarred, tortured, gouged cutting mat.
I’d been worried about the state of my nails, but this proved to be the bigger embarrassment. And it made me realise what a stickler for inches I am. The other side of this mat is pristine, untouched, virginal cutting surface. No trenches scored by countless merciless passes of the rotary cutter. No fibres mashed into its surface by blunt blades to highlight gouges further. Just beautiful, brand-new, reliable cutting mat that I could flip over at any time.
Just one problem. It’s in metric.
The Measure of Xennials
Xennials – the microgeneration born between 1977 and 1983, including me – straddle Generation X and Millenials, with characteristics of both. Sociologists usually define us by the technologies we’re comfortable with. As a classic example, I grew up with a rotary phone screwed to the wall and didn’t have an email address or mobile phone until I was 19 but I was an early (well, 2007) adopter of Twitter. Then again, I met my husband in 1997 and have never used online dating.
I suggest they look at how we measure things. Don’t get me wrong about the centimetres. I CAN work with them, but only for certain things. Metric and imperial units were taught in school but their use had de facto rules whether we realised it at the time or not. Here’s how I’ve realised I work.
Speed can only be in miles per hour (MPH). Except for that drunken night in the pub with friends in 2003 when we decided that we were henceforth lobbying for the official adoption of furlongs per fortnight (FPF). More specific to my line of work is SPM: stitches per minute. My embroidery machine for example is currently working on a full moon at 500SPM, only half its top speed.
As with speed, my default is the imperial mile. Doesn’t matter whether it’s by car, bike, train, plane or crow. However, if I’ve swum it, it’s metres. I can’t run, but if I did, it would get metres, unless it were a marathon and then it would be 26.something miles; I’ve no idea how many kilometres.
However, distance across the living room with a retractable tape measure is always metric.
Similarly, fabric (and thread) length is in metres, but its width is in inches.
The british tabloid press will always convert distance into lengths of a football field, but I have no interest in the game so this one is wasted on me.
Humans must be in feet and inches. Oh, you’re two metres tall? I have no idea what that means. Except I do know that I’m 175cm tall, because I lived in metric-loving Japan once where I was asked my height so often that it remains one of the only things I can still say in Japanese (Hyaku nana-ju go).
However, heights of animals (including horses, because I’m not horsey and don’t understand hands), inanimate objects, buildings, ceilings, tables, DIY projects, etc are all metric. I can’t visualise a 20ft building.
For anything taller than a human, I am also fluent in the standard british unit of height: either Nelson’s Column or a double-decker bus.
Heel height on shoes must be inches. As luck would have it, the ring finger of my left hand is not only precisely 3″ high but bends in exactly 1″ sections, which tells me much about footwear before trying them on just by holding the heel to it. One knuckle and I’ll be taller than my husband, two and I’ll still be able to walk and three will be uncomfortable.
Body measurements must always be in inches. So too must dressmaking patterns, seam allowances and notes on how much I’m taking up/in/off or adding.
Two exceptions: the first is when I have to add a lot of measurements together, in which case I’ll use metric but then convert the final number back to imperial.
The second is that the distance of a bullet/knife to a human heart or artery is always in millimetres or “a whisker.”
Kilos for luggage and cats, grams for parcels and stone and pounds (never just pounds once over the age of one day) for humans.
Cup fraction for bras (half cup, whole cup, etc), square metres for rooms and gardens, number of bedrooms for a whole house, square miles for anything between that and Wales and multiples thereof for anything above that.
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:
“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.
I broke my wrist last Thursday. My right, and I’m right handed, at the start of what are typically my two busiest months of the year.
I was booked solid with alterations, bespoke creations and embroidered veil orders and one split-second stumble backwards rendered me on my arse in every sense. I have a Colles distal radial fracture, more technically known as A Proper Number.
By Friday lunchtime, I’d found that I could accomplish many routine tasks with my left hand, even if brushing my teeth was more like punching myself in the face. Crucially I could still sew, with the exception of some techniques, BUT I couldn’t cut fabric.
The largest scissors I could wield were my tiny stork-shaped embroidery scissors which barely nibble fabric, and I couldn’t exert enough pressure on my rotary cutter to get the blade through even the lightest tulle.
So, painstakingly (and painfully), I typed out a message with one thumb, dropping my phone on my foot a couple of times, to the A-Level student I’d told the previous week that I couldn’t take in for work experience.
Krishal came over almost immediately and I liked him even more quickly than that. Actually, everything was speedy. He’d said he was a fast learner and I threw him in at the deep end with techniques he’d never used; he swam with them all. Rotary cutter, narrow-hem machine foot, seam ripper: all nailed first time.
Get this: he’d never used a seam ripper (aka stitch unpicker, the Ctrl+Z of sewing) because he’d never needed to. He’d never sewn a thing wrong. Ever. Including on his first A-Level project, an ambitious cocktail mini-dress with crinoline underskirt in fabric he dyed himself.
Not only that, but he’s taught himself French and Japanese, because he wants to work in Paris and Tokyo. And he’s a gifted musician. And tennis player. And 5,000m runner. Oh, and he’s been approached by a modelling agency.
We’ve been geeking out about sewing AND linguistics AND Disney films (these are a few of my favourite things 🎶) and I think I want to adopt him.
A week on, I’m sustaining fewer facial injuries while cleaning my teeth and I can now cut fabric again. Far from simply shadowing and observing me on work experience and making cups of tea, Krishal has been doing skilled work for which I have paid him the rate I would receive for the same jobs.
He is clearly someone who will go far. Of his mum and dad refuse to surrender their parental rights to me, I at least hope that one day, while jetting between his Paris and Tokyo ateliers, Krishal remembers me and that he was once – literally – my right hand man.
“We recently attended a wedding and the bride wore THE DRESS I brought to you a few months ago. I could have screamed!!”
So began an email from one of my brides whose dress I’m altering later this year. Imagine. You’ve just spent more money than you’ve ever spent on one item of clothing that you’ll probably only wear once, on arguably the most significant day in your life with all eyes on you… and someone has beaten you to it.
I imagine the feeling must be similar to that felt by Captain Scott’s Antarctic party when it finally ended the near 900 mile expedition at the South Pole over a year after setting out, only to find a note from their rival Norwegians informing them they’d beaten them to it by 35 days. But without the prospect of imminent death from hypothermic exposure.
Shop closures reduce choice
The closure of many traditional bridal boutiques – all but one within three miles of me in the last few years – is limiting choice for brides so the chances of buying the same dress as a friend or relative has increased.
Brides usually come to me for bespoke dresses because they have a good idea of what they want but it doesn’t exist in boutiques. A secondary reason is that they want the peace of mind that no-one could possibly have the same dress (or whatever) as them. But I digress.
This bride is actually the third customer I’ve had in this predicament, although hers was all the more galling because the dress in question was already the third one she’d bought and had to return. The silver lining is that she now has a new dress, completely different, but absolutely stunning, and we’re working on incorporating some of the meaningful details she loved.
Each of my other brides handled the predicament differently. The first asked me to completely restyle the back of her dress, removing most of it and dropping the flare point of her fit-and-flare skirt section (below). That made it sufficiently different from the bride with the same dress, plus there wasn’t a lot of crossover of guests attending each wedding.
The other bride’s dress doppelganger was closer to home: her new sister-in-law. This meant that a lot of guests – my customer’s entire family – would attend both weddings.
However, she decided to wear her dress anyway. You know how people complain that wedding dresses look completely different on the model? My bride reasoned that their different body types, flowers and accessories would make enough of a change that not many people would notice, and she didn’t mind too much if they did.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🫖☕️
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 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 daysare 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.
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.