They are a bit like buses: no weddings for years and then they come along in droves. This autumn there are three weddings on my radar. Two I shall be experiencing first-hand – one as a sibling and one as a friend – and two I am witnessing as a supplier!
An invitee’s frivolous perspective
As a budding milliner it seems only appropriate that I top off my party outfits with handmade creations. So, on top of blocking and stitching sample hats for my capsule collection, I have also been fashioning hats that will make a discrete but stylish statement, without steeling the brides’ limelight of course.
For the early autumn wedding I have settled on a small cream and red design that shows off my Fifties-style combination of a cream skirt, red cardigan and lipstick-coloured heels. And for the wedding of the year – my younger brother’s big day in Tipperary (in November!) – I am working on a small percher beret, made on a block of my own design in a shade somewhere between midnight and bilberry.
As the nights draw in and the temperatures cool, I have really enjoyed retreating to my tiny studio in the evenings, with a warm cardigan and Radio 4 for company. Stitching sturdy natural fabrics is remarkably therapeutic. The rhythmic movement of the needle and the focussed concentration on simple manual work slow my breathing whilst the warm glow from the light and the smell of straw and felt between the fingers connect me with generations of women who have, down the centuries, whiled away their evening sewing by candlelight.
A perspective from the studio
Over the past few weeks, however, a sense of excitement and slight trepidation has crept into this general feeling of calm and connectedness, as I have also been involved in a wedding as a supplier of a hat.
My delightful Croatian friend I. mentioned to a colleague that I was setting up a millinery business and before I knew it I had received a request to make a hat for a wedding. The commission was for a cocktail hat with a twist. Literally and figuratively! The customer had seen a twist of sinamay on one of my sample hats and wanted a cocktail hat that incorporated this type of element as well as a small veil. My excitement knew no end!
One of the challenges and pleasures of millinery is showing women that everybody can wear hats; it is just a matter of discovering the “right one”. Although there are guidelines about shapes and sizes, personality is a big factor in determining which hat will suit which woman. So knowing your customer is a great help when designing bespoke hats! The way a woman holds her head high with modest authority or fills a room with her vivacity inform the design and the finish.
I may not have known my new customer but her desire for a veil spoke volumes. Although merry widow veiling is not everybody’s cup of tea, it can be extremely attractive in a restrained way. It intrigues and creates a sense mystery. And it also allows me to add depth, movement and texture, all in the one material so I can keep the overall design very simple to add to the sense of understated alluring elegance.
The perspective from the pantry
My wedding supplier status has not been limited to hats this autumn. I am also supplying the cake for the “wedding of the year”! My brother and his fiancée want a traditional rich fruit cake for their wedding breakfast and as I have been making and decorating family cakes since I was 15, I was happy to oblige.
This weekend the best part of nine pounds of dried fruit, three pounds of butter and 16 eggs have been combined with brandy, all spice, nutmeg and black treacle into a heady mix of traditional fruit cake. With serious elbow grease I have worked currants, raisins, sultanas and glacé fruit into the thick cake batter before transferring the mixture into parchment lined tins. And as an autumn chill creeps in, the house has been warmed by the residual heat of the low oven and filled with the smell of Christmas.
Just as with the hats, baking an intense rich fruit cake for a winter occasion connects me with me the past. As I pack the dark, spicy cake mix into a tin, I feel part of generations of women who used their ingredients wisely to see them through the long winter months. The ancient memories and soothing balm of mixed spice are of course not enough to calm the “supplier’s” nerves. The 3-tiered cake does not only need to taste super; it needs to look stunning. The second task, however, can be deferred for a month. During the next four weeks, I shall feed the three tiers with brandy before covering them in icing, stacking them and finishing them off with ribbons and flowers. For now, however, I can soak up the smells from the kitchen and reflect on the delights, and challenges, of being a wedding supplier.
* Please check back in early October for an update on the launch of my new millinery venture.