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  1. Dressmaking lessons with Blue Lily Magnolia Nantwich

    Has the Great British Sewing Bee inspired you to learn something new this year? Or encouraged you to pick up a long lost creative hobby? You are not alone! Being able to make your own creations and manipulate fabrics to your heart's desires can be extremely rewarding - we all need to feel a little bit creative in life, no matter how small the project.

    In this blog, I want to pick out a handful of my must-have 'tools' for learning to sew. There are tons of accessories and tools out there for beginners and professionals alike, and generally, I find them very useful because they've actually been developed to help us do things better. But, let's be honest, as much as I would love to have everything, like a kid in a toy shop, the reality is that 1) my house is not big enough for everything, 2) unfortunately I don't have an endless supply of cash and 3) if I can get by without, do I really need it?

    My first must-have would have to be a good pair of fabric scissors. Ask any dressmaker, professional or not, and they will tell you the horror of seeing someone use their fabric scissors to cut paper or other things. Your fabric scissors should be for a single use only - to cut fabric and threads!! It should have a blade of a decent size that enables you to cut large pieces of fabrics with ease, but not too big and heavy that you can't control it.

    Pins and needles (not the physiological variety) are next on my must-have list. I use pins to hold things into position, as well as to mark the position of folds, seam lines and the like. The floor of my house often has the odd pins and for this reason, I recommend the pins with round coloured heads - much easier to spot when they fall or they find themselves in a place they shouldn't be! As far as needles are concerned, a small range is great - thin ones for delicate fabrics, and sturdier ones for heavier weight fabrics.

    Sometimes I use a ruler (I have various types, various lengths, shapes and materials!) to measure things up and when I'm marking fabric, but most of the time, it's a tape measure. So that's my next must-have. You can actually take a measurement of any circular part of your body (waist, hips, bust, etc.) with a piece of string and a ruler, but it's a bit tedious and prone to mistakes, so forget that idea and grab yourself a tape measure. It will not break the bank...

    A sewing machine.... As someone getting back into sewing, or starting to learn, a standard size machine will be your biggest investment early on in this adventure. I would not recommend buying a mini machine simply because they're so limited. Any other regular machine that's able to do at least basic lockstitch, zigzags and buttonholes is a great start. Of course if you want more advanced features such as embroidery and other stitching styles, go for it.

    The final thing that is needed, but that hopefully you should already have is an iron. A steam iron would be better (and an ironing board is always handy of course). Pressing and ironing are often underestimated in dressmaking and sewing but it is amazing how much it can transform the finish of your creation, as well as make things easier to handle.

    Finally, two little things that are technically not must-haves, but for me are absolutely essential. A thimble and an unpicker. The first is because my fingers are so sensitive that  if I use a needle without a thimble, I literally get needle holes in my skin! The second is that as an alteration lady, I often need to unpick seams. Small pointy scissors do the job too, but an unpicker is just the best. Not to mention that for cutting out buttonholes, they're really useful too.

    So here we are, my must-haves to get started with sewing! What are yours? Have I missed anything?


    Blue Lily Magnolia - for bespoke dresses and alterations, based in Nantwich, Cheshire. I also offer private sewing classes to cover topics of your choice, from the very basics to get yourself started, to more advanced techniques such as corsetry. Get in touch for more information by calling Sharon on 07766766573 or email me at [email protected] or check out this page here.

  2. Sewing 1Today, I want to share with you a little insight on a day in my work life as a designer, dressmaker, accessories maker, and alterations master! I want to do this now, early in the year, because it's a reasonably quieter time for me, and I actually get to have a little bit of variety in my day! Such as the luxury of writing a blog for example! During the busy pre-wedding seasons, it is often all dominated by a rotation of meeting clients / alterations / accessories making / trips to the post office, but at this time of the year, I actually get to do other things like some 'thinking'!! So today, my blog will actually be about my day yesterday!

    8:55am: My work day always start after I drop my daughter to school. Thankfully, it's only a short trip to school and back home, and generally I am ready to start by 9am with cup of coffee. My first stop is always a look at my diary. Actually, this starts on the evening before, or first thing when I wake up.

    I genuinely cannot function without my paper diary. Sometimes I use Google calendar and other online calendars, but I find myself having to duplicate everything and write things down again, so for the good old fashioned me, a paper diary is an absolute essential! So on my diary yesterday was a reminder to work on my website, working on Lizzy's dress, and meeting with new client Poppy at 10am for a wedding dress alterations. 

    Between 9 and 10, as it's not worth me starting to work on Lizzy's intricate back detailed dress, I work on my website, while listening the news on TV (dominated by the Brexit debates at the moment). At the moment I am trying to populate my shop with some of the accessories that I sell on Etsy. It is a little bit of an experiment to see whether I do get sales direct, or whether Etsy is the best source of online sale for me.

    10:00am: Poppy arrives with her mum, carrying her gorgeous long train dress delicately decorated with laces. She needs the dress taking in and the hems shorten. With 8 layers of fabrics at the hem, the appointment takes over 1 hour. Thankfully mum and daughter are happily chatting away during the fitting, and Poppy's stilettos are not too painful to stand in! I always think that it's lovely when brides come in with their maid of honour, sister, mum, grandma, best friend, or anyone else who can give their views and keep them company in the process. Also, as sometimes some of the alterations affect the back, it's always helpful to have someone you trust give their opinion on what's going on at the back from close up. 

    After the pair leaves, I write down all the client details and alterations required in my work book and in a sheet which goes in with the dress. At the moment I have 4 wedding dresses upstairs, so it would be a bit of a disaster if I mixed them up! Between them leaving and lunch time, again I find that it's not worth me pulling Lizzy's dress out, so I keep on updating the website, and make myself some lunch. 

    12:00pm: Lunch is a good opportunity to catch up on more news on TV (which I stop when my clients are in, or when I need to concentrate on writing something), and to check social media, which I do both for personal and business reasons. For work, I post or share a few things on Pinterest, and check out some groups on Facebook. On other days I might add a photo on Instagram or a post my Facebook page, but I have found that in the last year or so, I have been less active on social media as a business.

    01:20pm: I finally pull out Lizzy's dress, which requires some delicate work on the lace and net part of the gorgeous back. I spend a couple of hours working on this, with the odd breaks on my phone or tablet. I find out that one of the queries I had on Etsy is not leading to an order as the colours that I have in stock do not match the dress. (Last week I had sent small samples of fabrics to this lady, so that she could compare the material I have with her dress colours.) This is a shame, but as this would have resulted in a custom order made to a specific size, it is practically non-refundable, so I much prefer the client to take this approach than purchase and then be disappointed.

    2:50pm: I find that when I'm working, whether I am doing some work on a computer or physically making or altering something, time does go really fast. It almost feels like working between 9am to 3pm is not enough to do everything that needs to be done. I normally stop at 3pm to have a general tidy up, since I work from home, and get ready to pick up my daughter back from school.

    3:30pm: We are back from the school run and my daughter always has something to eat when she's back. We have a little natter then, and I often have a little snack with her too. Children often don't want to talk about their day at school when questioned. So I have learned to not specifically ask. I find that sometimes she'll just tell me things without prompting and I can probe more into it, more naturally, than if I try to question. I try to use the snack time to also cover her reading or spelling homework from school. Even though she's only 5, I find that there is always homework to do, even 5-10minutes at a time!

    For the rest of the day, I'm on and off checking emails and social media, responding where needed. Sometimes I have clients who come after school or after work, but generally I tend to limit these.

    5:50pm: Time to make dinner, and for today, nothing else is planned. Except the occasional email and social media check!

    This was a really tiny little insight on one of the day in the life of a designer / maker / dressmaker in Nantwich! Today will probably be quite a different day and tomorrow will be different too. As with most jobs, no two days are the same. The best thing that I love about my job (other than the ability to work flexibly around my family life), is that I get to meet so many interesting people. I find that everyone has a story, no matter how ordinary they think their life is, they almost always have interesting bits to talk about. For me, it is always lovely to hear these stories - they make me appreciate the variety and richness of life, and let's face it, most people love a good love story!


    Sharon is the designer and maker for Blue Lily Magnolia dresses and accessories, and also does alterations for wedding dresses, other formal dresses and even everyday clothes. She is based in Stapeley in Nantwich. For a quick chat, call 07766766573.

  3. Wedding Dress Alterations

    If you've bought your dress from a wedding dress retailer, and even if it's been made to order, chances are that you might need some form of alterations before you're able to walk in it comfortably down the aisle. But, before you book yourself an appointment with a dressmaker, here are a few things you need to do, just to be sure:

    Firstly, buy your wedding shoes. Whether or not the hem of the dress needs taking up really depends on the height of your heels. Things get a little tricky if you are thinking of killer heels for part of the day and flat shoes (or removing your shoes altogether) in the evening. When you do remove the heels, your dress will drop to the floor and will need lifting up to walk and possibly to dance too. This may be a little price to pay for comfort, as fitting the hem to a flat shoe length is a no-go if you intend to wear heels when walking down the aisle and taking the official photos.

    Secondly, make a decision on your underwear. If your bust needs a bit of filling up with a push-up bra, or if your waistline needs a bit of re-shaping with shapewear, make sure you get these bad boys and try them on with your dress - the need for alterations on the bust or waist area may disappear completely. Or vice versa. Underwear shopping for your wedding dress is actually quite a challenging task, especially if you do want to wear a bra, and have a fairly low back or backless dress. Ideally you want to be able to wear the bra under the dress to make a decision, but most of us think that we can't bring a wedding dress into the underwear shop. Can you? Perhaps a call to the shop prior to your visit may help solve this dilemna.

    Thirdly, consider whether you are likely to fluctuate in size between now and the wedding date. If you are dieting for example, and think that you may lose more weight, it might be worth waiting a little bit longer before booking yourself in.

    If, after considering all three points above, you put on your beautiful dress and find it too long or gapey in some places, then it's time to give a call to your dressmaker. Many will need several weeks before being able to complete the work, especially if your wedding happens in the peak seasons (spring and summer), so allow yourself plenty of time. In doubt, especially regarding point 3 above, give them a ring in advance to ask for their lead times. Most will be able to tell you if and when they can accommodate you and when might be the best time to visit them.

    And for your visit, don't forget your underwear (especially bra if you are wearing one) and your shoes!


    Blue Lily Magnolia alterations: for wedding dresses, bridesmaids, and other formal occasion alterations for clients in the Nantwich and surrounding Cheshire areas.