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  1. This year I am hoping to interview lots of professionals to get their tips on getting ready for your wedding. From make up artists to florists, we'll have lots of advice and suggestions for you every month or so. This month to start, I am talking to the lovely Shona Tomkinson from Excel Training Studio in Nantwich, who tells us that there is more to exercising and fitness than just having a good looking body. I have been going to Shona's training sessions for a number of years now and she's a legend among the local mums!

    Shona, tell us about yourself and Excel

    Shona+18I'm a single mum of a fabulous and very energenic 7 year old and my ethos for fitness was to develop a training method that was both functional and time saving alongside providing confidence and strength of both body and mind. Excel is a family-friendly, small group personal training studio based in Nantwich, specialising in Hybrid/Fusion acceleration training.

    My client base is varied but definitely family oriented. So we may have mums with very small children looking to work out somewhere where their children can come along and be with them. We also have many partners coming in together to train for their big day, and families just looking to increase their fitness and wellbeing together.

    How do you see exercising and fitness fitting into the pre-wedding plans?

    For brides and grooms to be especially, the training isn't just about toning in order for them to look good in their outfits for the big day together. It is about gaining confidence and also enjoying a healthy mental state throughout all of the planning, which can be quite stressful! At the end of their training, they should not only feel confident and strong with bucket loads of self-esteem, but have had the mental strength to deal with the pressures of planning too.

    Have you got any general fitness advice for brides-to-be (and grooms-to-be)?

    In terms of fitness advice, it is important to keep your goals achievable and also make your fitness regime fun and manageable. You are more likely to keep on track and not lose momentum. Ensure you are keeping your mind healthy as well as the body, so consider looking into your daily eating habits and if lacking in areas, consider introducing lots of extra fresh fruit and veg to really get that body feeling lively, not to mention your complexion too!

    What should people consider in the run up to a big day?

    On the run up to the big day, brides-to-be need to be ensuring that they keep well hydrated to banish any bloating, plenty of sleep and also consider including some relaxing yoga moves in with their training to help with mental relaxation too.

    And finally, your top tips for toning up?

    Shona+8In terms of some little 'super moves' to help with that extra little toning, here are 4 moves that will help tone the arms, back, tummy and all those important areas for a wedding dress.

    - High knees

    - Standing crunch

    - Tricep dips

    - Plank

    Shona WorkOut

    And for a little bit more of a structured workout, try that 30 minutes beginner HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout illustrated on the image left. All of it without any equipment needed, and anyone can do it. Although I must admit, after a few rounds, this gets quite hard!

    Thank you Shona for your time and advice! If you want to find out more about Excel Training Studio and how Shona can help you, click here.


    Blue Lily Magnolia offers bespoke and alteration services for wedding dresses, bridesmaids dresses and other formal occasion wear. I also have a bridal accessories shop here and on Etsy. If you are a wedding related professional and would like to feature on this series of blog, don't hesitate to get in touch via [email protected] !

  2. Whether you have an off-the-shelf dress, or a bespoke one made to measure, getting your dress fitted is one step closer to the reality of the big day. Your dress is one of the most important elements of your wedding, but more than just being something that looks great, you must also be able to feel amazing in it. And that’s where fittings and alterations come in. In this blog, I share with you my top tips for making the most of your wedding dress fitting.


    1) The Very Least

    Once you have chosen your dress, you might have heard it many a times before, but there are three basic things that you need to make sure you have for your final fittings:

    • the underwear (essentially, your bra (if any) and shape-wear) you intend to wear on the day

    • your wedding shoes (or at least alternative shoes of the same height)

    • your petticoat or under skirt, if you’re wearing any.

    All of these affect your posture, the position of your curves, the length of your legs, the length of the skirt, and even your size. Bringing them along early ensures that there are no surprises on the big day.


    2) Invite the Helpers Along

    If you have a dress that you will need help to get in or fasten, it is nice to have someone accompany you on one of your fittings, so they become familiar with the best way of getting the dress on - bearing in mind that by the time you get in your dress, you will have full makeup on and hair done. There are little things that can make a difference, e.g. attaching the hook and eye fasteners first before the zip, how to make sure nothing gets caught in the zip, attaching the waist stays, ensuring all the layers of the skirt are pulled down properly, attaching a sash, making the perfect bow, etc. It is not a necessity to have someone along of course, but it does help alleviate the stresses of you, the bride-to-be, having to remember everything about the dress. In addition, if you have features at the back of your dress that need to be scrutinised during the fitting, it does help to have someone else look, rather than try to see yourself by twisting and turning in front of the mirror.


    3) Take a Good Look at the Features of your Dress

    When it’s on the hanger, have a good look at your dress, inside and outside and ask questions at the fitting. Are there features in there that you don’t know about? How do you make the most of the dress? For example, many strapless dresses will have an internal waistband to help hold the dress - have a look at how it is attached before you put it on. Are there loops and buttons to hold your train when you dance? Is any part of the dress detachable? Looking at the dress properly, you might also notice little imperfections that may be easily fixed before you pick the dress back up after your fitting.


    4) Take a Seat and a Walk

    It is easy to forget to sit down and have a little walk when you’re trying your dress on - mostly, we just want to stand still when we look in the mirror. If you can though, it is a good idea to try walk around a little bit - you will notice if any part of your dress  has a tendency to catch to your shoes or toes, or if there’s something that doesn’t feel quite right when you walk, or if you bend down to pick up something, put your shoes on, etc. Have a think of how you will be dancing in your dress, and ask the fitter for advice on how best to hold the dress then. Likewise, many brides-to-be have dresses that are quite snug when standing up (making them look great while standing up), but then find out that it’s impossible to breathe in when sitting down. And you will be sitting down at some point, especially in front of a meal, making everything even tighter!


    5) Plan when to Stop Losing or Gaining Weight (if you are)

    This final point is of course only for those who are actively planning to change their weight (or those who tend to lose or gain weight with stress). Losing a little bit of your curves towards the end may not make a huge difference to the fit of the dress, but it is better to try to achieve a stable size at least 4 weeks before the wedding, and ideally for your final fitting. Check with your designer / dressmaker when they would need all your measurements to be final, and plan your weight loss accordingly, focussing on toning and stabilising instead of losing weight in the final weeks.


    6) Take Photos

    And finally, before you step out of the dress, take some photos of you in the dress, front, back and side, so you can be sure that everything looks right even after you leave the studio. If there is anything that you are unsure of when you get home, don't hesitate to re-arrange an appointment sooner rather than later!


    That's it for today; hope that these tips are useful for you, and if you have additional tips based on your own experience, add your comments on!


    Wedding Dress Alterations


    A first version of this blog was first published on the Restart Coaching website. Blue Lily Magnolia does bridal, bridesmaids and other alterations, bespoke dresses and custom made accessories. To enquire or book an appointment, email [email protected] or call/text/whatsapp Sharon on 07766766573.

  3. 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.