As I mentioned in my last ‘makes’ post, aside from chalk buckets I have been mostly sewing scrubs for the charity Scrub Hub lately. This charity has been making scrubs to order for NHS staff who are struggling to get the supplies they needed during the Covid-19 crisis. I started volunteering for this charity when we came back to the UK from Spain in July last year and, I have to admit, I did not expect to still be making scrubs six months later. I’m still happy to do it as it feels like I’m playing a small role in the fight against Covid-19. Although, I can’t help but wonder if my small contribution would still be necessary if some people with far more influence had made some smarter decisions while I’ve been stitching sets of scrubs.
However, I am but a lowly seamstress and these kinds of discussions are well above my paygrade. So, I’m going to stick with a topic I know a little more about. For reasons unknown to me, my brain has been revisiting memories of my wedding lately. Maybe it’s because Husband’s birthday has just happened, and we got engaged on my birthday so there’s a tenuous link there. Maybe it’s because we got married in 2016, which, until 2020 reset the scales on how shit a year can be, was generally considered a shit year, so my brain is reflecting on shit years in general. I’m not really sure. What I do know is that this is something I know plenty about, unlike how to handle a pandemic, so I’m qualified to talk about it. A lot of people made some amazing things for our wedding. So, I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent and tell you about happy things that make me smile and you will hopefully find heartwarming and interesting.
Unsurprisingly, we’re going to start with my wedding dress. I actually had two wedding dresses. Extravagant, right? We decided to keep the ceremony small and do it the day before the reception, so I wore a different dress for each occasion. I hadn’t originally planned to buy a new dress for the ceremony. I was just going to wear something I already had. Then I just happened to be working in Manchester one week and the gothy teenager that will forever live inside of me walked the rest of my helpless body to Aflex Palace, where I stumbled across this beauty of a Vivienne Westwood rip off in my size and, well, the conclusion was inevitable. I absolutely love this tartan delight and have worn it several times since the wedding ceremony. Good work inner gothy teenager.
I decided to make the dresses that my best woman and I would be wearing for the reception because I knew I’d never find anything that ticked all the boxes that I wanted these dresses to tick. I wanted them to be a bit wedding-ish in style, sort of matching, and in keeping with the black and white theme we’d chosen for the whole look of the wedding. I had no intention of ever wearing a big white dress for my wedding. I’m far too clumsy and would spill something on it instantly. Husband and I had been living in sin for plenty of time before the wedding, so the symbolism was out the window. And I’m as pale as a sheet of standard A4 paper so I never wear white anyway. I was going to wear black for my wedding. The majority of my wardrobe is black. I’ve been a devout wearer of black since I was a teenager. And it just made sense to me to choose a wedding dress that aligned with my preferences rather than some tradition that didn’t align with any of my values. I threw in a bit of white to give a gentle nod to the fact that it was a wedding dress, but I’m very pleased that I went for a predominantly black dress. Anything else would have been far less fun and totally out of character.
For the majority of the time between the engagement and the wedding, I was working for a touring theatre company and found myself in a different location every week. This meant I had different spaces to work in every week and access to different shops and resources. This was both a help and a hindrance. The hindrances included having to travel my half-made dress around the country with me and also having a very varied selection of spaces to work in each week. These ranged from a glorified shoebox to a magical attic at the top of an intimidating flight of stairs. It was a challenging and unusual experience. On the plus side, I very handily toured to some of the best places to pick up wedding dress supplies in the country. I picked up all the beautiful buttons for my dress, jewelry and the cake topper at one of the best button shops in the world, Duttons for Buttons in Harrogate. I acquired the fabric for the dresses at the incredible wonderland that is Leon’s Fabric Store just outside of Manchester. And I had an absolute whale of a time exploring the best vintage stores the UK has to offer finding all the other bits and bobs we needed for our black and white wedding.
I’m never up to date with fashion trends and a lot of my clothes come from vintage shops so I decided to go with vintage patterns for the two dresses. I chose these patterns because I liked the simple straight silhouette, thought they’d look good in black and white, and perhaps most importantly, didn’t think they’d be too hard to make. Luckily this proved to be the case for my dress. Aside from one colleague telling me my dress looked like something a nun would wear and having to coach another through the dress fitting process and praying they wouldn’t stab me with a safety pin, everything went pretty smoothly with my dress. Things were not quite as straightforward when it came to my best woman’s dress. I think we managed to have one fitting but I definitely remember thinking how much easier it would have been if I could have travelled her around with me and the duchess satin I was attempting to turn into a dress for her. Generally, she was in Edinburgh and I was everywhere from Exeter to Aberdeen. Luckily, I managed to make us both dresses that fit pretty well and the finished dresses looked basically how I’d imagined them to in my head. Combined with some white gloves, a pillbox hat, Victorian style boots, and some jewelry made of buttons, the outfits for me and my best woman looked pretty frickin’ great.
I certainly wasn’t the only person that made things for our wedding reception. Lots of extremely talented people put a lot of work into making the occasion look absolutely amazing. My Mum in particular made a massive contribution to the day. I can’t remember where the idea came from or how I managed to talk my Mum into making it but she, and a friend of Husband’s family, ended up making more black and white bunting than I ever imagined possible. It was the kind of thing that I’m sure I thought would be a nice little decorative touch and ended up being one of the most impressive achievements in the field of wedding prep ever. One of the questions in our wedding day quiz was “How many flags were made for the wedding bunting?” and the total we ended up coming to was 666. I must confess that we didn’t actually count them all individually, but some reasonably careful calculations were made, and this is the figure we came up with. I thought it was pleasingly spooky so that’s the number I’m sticking to. So much effort went into making the bunting that it seemed too great a shame to leave it in a cupboard somewhere after the wedding. Luckily, it lives on in various forms. Some of it is unchanged and was hung around our flat when we lived in Spain. Some of it has been turned into cushion covers. And some of it is in the middle of becoming a blanket bodged together by me and my Mother-in-Law. The Bunting Blanket has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
My Mum also made the bottom tier of our wedding cake. My Mum has provided a delicious fruitcake for almost all the birthdays (I let her off when I was in another country) and Christmas days of my life and I’d always intended on asking her to make my wedding cake. Apparently, I’d never mentioned this to her and she seemed mildly horrified when I actually asked her to do it. Despite her years of fruitcake making experience, Mum seemed a tad daunted by the task of making the biggest fruitcake of her life. I can only imagine the amount of fruitcake that she and my Dad ate in the months leading up to the wedding as Mum made numerous giant practice cakes. As I knew it would, the final cake turned out perfectly and made the perfect canvas for the work of another lovely lady in my life.
When I lived in Edinburgh, I was fortunate enough to share a flat with a professional pastry chef for one very delicious year of my life. This Canadian legend was (and still is) kind, funny, an amazing friend, and the perfect flatmate for someone with a pretty sickly-sweet tooth like me. She regularly blew my mind with her culinary creations and I couldn’t believe my luck when she agreed to be my best woman and decorate my wedding cake for free. I’m a fortunate fucker sometimes! She takes a very thorough and somewhat obsessive approach to everything she does so we had some pretty extensive conversations and brain storming sessions about the design for the cake. I’ve never been much of a designer and my best woman always had a far better eye for detail than I ever did. I think I ended up throwing out the words black, white, space, sewing, buttons, and stars, and just assumed she’d come up with something amazing. My faith was extremely well placed, and the finished product certainly didn’t disappoint.
A big part of the design ended up being over one hundred sugarpaste (icing to us lay people) buttons. I picked a few buttons that I liked the shape and design of then the cake decorator in chief used them to make silicon moulds. She didn’t just make the sugarpaste buttons. She made the bloody moulds as well! To make the buttons she dusted the moulds with cornflour and pressed the sugarpaste into them before immediately removing them to dry and set. Once they were ready, each button was brushed to remove the excess cornflour and brushed again, with alcohol this time to leave a semi-matte finish. Any little sharp edges then got sliced off and they were declared ready to go on the cake. Over. One. Hundred. Times. That woman has the patience of a saint. All these painstakingly crafted buttons then had to be carefully transported from Edinburgh to the wedding venue in Cumbria where my pastry chef pal made the top chocolate tier of the cake and decorated the whole shebang. The very final touches were applied on the morning of the reception.
A lot of that day is a total blur, but I vividly remember Husband, my best woman and myself putting the finishing touches to the cake. After painstakingly painting the planet Neptune and the crab nebula on the space sections of the cake tiers, the final step was to add the buttons that had been painted to look like the eight (yes, eight, sorry Pluto) planets of the solar system. As the wedding was to be attended by many astrophysicists, the cake decorator in chief was worried that she would be ridiculed if the distances between the planet buttons were not to scale. Husband reassured her that this was physically impossible given the size of the cake. I added extra reassurance by declaring that if I heard anyone complaining about something so trivial when the cake was obviously an epic masterpiece, I would whack them over the head with a croquet mallet. The planet buttons were eventually put in place and the cake was suitably appreciated for the triumph it was by all our guests. No need for the croquet mallet.
The suppliers of the croquet mallets also provided many other things for the wedding reception, including the venue. I am still stunned by the ridiculously generous offer made by my soon-to-be-in-laws when they suggested we hold the reception on their small holding. I personally can’t think of many things worse than having a hundred people roaming all over my house and garden, but they were surprisingly up for the idea. This saved us a small fortune, gave us more control over the day than we ever would have had at any other venue and made the whole day even more special.
Aside from providing the venue and the lawn games, my Mother and Father-in-Law took care of something that I had been dreading dealing with. The flowers. I know absolutely jackshit about flowers. I’m an unenthusiastic and therefore terrible gardener. The idea of talking to a professional florist about wedding bouquets brought me out in cold sweats. In another remarkable stroke of luck, my Mother-in-Law is a professional gardener, so she was more than qualified to fill this rather sizeable gap in my knowledge and gently hold my hand through this alien world. I’m sure I drove her crazy when she showed me several seed packets and I smiled and said ‘yes, they are pretty’ to basically all of them. Fortunately, this just meant she got to pick whatever she thought was best and that turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s a good job my Mother-in-Law has impeccable taste.
The black and white colour scheme made the job a little tricky. Turns out there’s not many black flowers that can easily be grown in the inclement climate of Northern England. Who’d have thought? But a few dark purple beauties made their way into the arrangements and the splashes of colour were lovely against the otherwise monochrome backdrop. Apparently, getting them to bloom at just the right moment was the main difficulty. Some of them emerged a bit early. Some of them waited a bit too long for their time to shine and missed the limelight completely. Luckily the majority of my in-law's flower-based calculations were accurate and plenty of flowers arrived bang on time. A few of our wedding guests were kind enough to put the arrangements together on the morning of the reception, under careful instruction from the chief florist and voile, a potential wedding headache had been completely taken out of my hands and successful handled by some far greener and wiser fingers. Job done.
As a seamstress and a maker of things in general, I’m delighted by how many of the things that featured in our wedding were homemade or homegrown by some exceptionally talented and generous people. And if people couldn’t make something for the wedding, they helped in many other ways. People made cake, bunting, signs, and hats. They grew flowers. They put up a marquee, played ukuleles, gave people lifts, poured drinks, carried heavy things, hung up decorations, traveled from all over the country to a small village in the northwest of England and tidied up the mess once it was all over. It was a great few days and I’m very pleased with my brain for randomly reminding of the wonderful occasion every now and again for no apparent reason.