The Inspiration Behind My Business – A Tribute to my Mum

66460703_348838552408432_4512567149717356544_n (4)Any of you who follow my Facebook page or Instagram may have already seen that two weeks ago we lost my dear Mum to cancer. She had knowingly battled the disease for six and a half years, but over the last two years that fight had become harder as it spread. Complications and rare reactions to her treatment only helped to speed things up, and she lost her battle during the early morning of Thursday 11th July.

It was my Mum’s love of sewing, and her ability to turn her hand to any project that first inspired me to try it for myself…

My sister and I had been fortunate enough to grow up at a time when wearing handmade clothes hadn’t yet gone out of fashion- before the age of very cheap mass production meant that wearing anything homemade was frowned upon and belittled… and before it came round again full circle with this current era of sustainability, recycling and individuality…

Most of my very first dresses that I wore as a baby and toddler were lovingly handmade by my Mum- as were many of her own dresses back then. When my sister followed on three years later, our Mum simply made two of whatever dress she was making- one in each of our sizes…
It was the early seventies and popular high street shops were just beginning to take over the market place with ever cheaper clothes- that and, I suspect, less free time while bringing up two young daughters signalled an end to our handmade day to day clothes… though Mum did still manage to knock out several very super quick sundresses for our ‘pre-teen’ years- simple shirred elastic at the top of a simple ribbon tied dress. Many, many years before shirred dresses saw a re-emergence as one of the hottest trends in fashion! 😀

By the time our younger brother came along eight years later, Mum had moved on in her sewing. By then, my sister and I were into dancing- ballet mainly, but with some ‘character’ dances thrown in for competitions and shows. Again before the days of cheap and cheerful mass produced ballet dresses, our Mum spent many hours tirelessly producing our competition tutus, or other required costumes… she even had such a good reputation for making them so beautifully that she was asked by our ballet teacher to help with the costumes for one particular show.
My only regret from those days is that I didn’t realise the significance of how much effort she put into making them for us, and put more effort into trying to actually win the competitions for her! I certainly enjoyed taking part in them, but was too shy to really ‘put my all’ into the dances and so didn’t take the competitions as seriously as maybe I could have.

Christmas was the other time she shone with her sewing skills, and that also gave her a chance to make things for our younger brother too- with teddies for him and dolls for us, though again she didn’t make half as much during our later childhood years as she had when we were much younger, by then most definitely due to even less free time…
The spare room door would remain closed during the couple of weeks leading up to the big day, and the constant whirring of the sewing machine could be heard throughout the house. She’d come out to decorate the house some more- another paperchain strung up here, or a paper fold-out bell hung above the stairs… then she’d feed us… and retreat back to her hidey hole.

Christmas morning was always met in those days with extra anticipation and excitement- not only to see what Father Christmas had brought us, but to see what new toy or doll was sitting and smiling at us from the very top of our sack… knowing that that was what our dear Mum had been so furiously working on for hours on end from behind that closed door. 🙂

Several years later- by then married and with two children of my own, the first of many school letters arrived home with our eldest, declaring that ‘this year’s World Book Day will be celebrated by the children dressing up…’ It’s hard to remember that even back as recently as the mid-nineties there wasn’t such a market for cheap and cheerful costumes, dressing up days at school weren’t the regular occurrence that they are nowadays, eBay and easy internet access hadn’t yet found their way into homes…
That, together with my childhood memories meant it came naturally to me to come up with some sort of homemade costume for him. Okay, that very first year we cheated somewhat- blue shorts, a red t-shirt and a duster with red painted spots around his neck made for a nice easy ‘Noddy’ costume…  but I did sew a triangle of felt together and add a bell to the top for his hat!

‘Book Day’ caught on, and two years later- by then with three children, two of whom were in school, I ‘properly’ made their costumes… nothing fancy- I didn’t even have a sewing machine in those days, but I had been treated to a cheap little hand held sewing device. It somewhat resembled a stapler, and didn’t do anything fancier than plain stitches, but was far easier and quicker than hand sewing with a needle and thread!

Another couple of years on, and it was time for our eldest to take part in the annual Year 4’s school trip to a Tudor recreation day. This not only meant a very long day out for the children and teachers, but also required a full Tudor Peasant costume- breeches, tunic, waistcoat, hat… My poor little hand held sewing machine had never worked so hard in its life, nor did it ever again- as after that I decided it was maybe time to invest in a full sized electric machine!

That year’s school Christmas play provided the first chance to make a costume with my new machine, and I managed to make an angel costume for Knitting Pixie with no (still un-invented) You Tube tutorials, patterns or help from anyone- just simply by drawing out what I wanted to make, and thinking back to watching how my mum set things out around her when sewing… Though pretty basic, the dress turned out exactly how I’d imagined, and in the years that followed was used by at least two of our other daughters in their turn! 🙂

And so began my love of sewing… World Book Days, End of Topic dressing up days, School Christmas play costumes, or simply wanting to dress all our girls up in matching dresses- all these things provided the chance to get the machine out and create something unique for my children… even after the internet had taken over our lives, and any costume anyone could ever want became easily and cheaply available to all- just with the click of a button…

As my children started to grow older I could see that their need for constant costumes was going to lessen, and my sewing abilities weren’t ever going to extend to making ‘acceptable’ clothes for the girls as they began to grow into young women!
With this subconsciously at the back of my mind, I was casually observing a very small Little Blondie one day, playing with her sisters’ dolls and trying to dress them herself. She was getting increasingly frustrated at her own inability to force the dolls’ arms and heads through the stupidly tiny armholes and into the tight dresses- made cheaply and therefore with the least fabric possible… Then she found the Christening Dress my Mum had made for Knitting Pixie’s favourite doll when Apple was baptised. Though quickly put together in one night, the dress had a far wider neck opening and the flared design- made with substantially more fabric, made it easier for her to force the doll into… on her own, with no need of help from me.

I completely re-worked the dress, but kept the basics- large neck opening, wide armholes and a loose, flared design that could fit any doll. I only ever intended to make a couple for Little Blondie and Curly’s own dolls, but something had started whirring away in the back of my mind, that said this was something that other little girls (and their mums!) needed in their lives… and one day while gazing out to sea- on our first ever visit to our (now much loved) seaside holiday destination, something clicked into place and an idea was formed. 🙂

Little Dolly Clothes Shop was born… and it will always, in part, be thanks to my Mum. ❤

The Story Behind My Dolly School Dresses

Here’s the first of a little occasional series telling the background story behind some of my items, and how and why they began! 🙂

My Dolly School Summer Dresses were developed when Little Blondie started at primary school. She was more than ready for the experience, and very excited to be joining Curly at the school she already thought she belonged to after years of taking older siblings backwards and forwards to it, and of being dragged along to numerous PTA meetings, and mini concerts etc.! When she started to be more vocal at two years old, she always referred to it as ‘my school’, despite the fact that her ‘school’ was the local toddler group within the pre-school in the village!

DSCN0926 (6)However, independent as she always was she has a favourite little doll who always travelled everywhere with her (and still does for holidays and longer trips!) including each of her three days once she had started at the pre-school. Lolo and she were inseparable- whatever she was doing Lolo would be there by her side. She was never permanently attached to the doll- she would sit her down beside her for her to ‘join in’ with whatever activity she was taking part in. However, as she neared the end of her time there, the staff began to sit Lolo a bit further away- sitting her on the village hall stage where she could ‘watch’ what was going on in the room!

Little Blondie was fine with this generally, but being the baby of the household and (especially at that time) a little bit of a mummy’s girl she began to be a little more needy as she saw that her days in the pre-school really were coming to an end! So I decided to show her that even Lolo was growing up and was about to start school too, and made her a little mini gingham school dress in our primary school’s colour. Lolo wore this little dress on pre-school days, and Little Blondie happily left her alone on the stage at ‘school’!

Lolo, dressed once again in her uniform, accompanied Little Blondie on her first day of primary school, and seeing her clutching her little doll, the teacher said she was welcome to take her into the classroom for the first day. Once again Lolo spent the entire day sitting watching from the front of the classroom, and by the end of the week she came with us only for the walk to and from school 🙂

It occurred to me then that other little girls would probably find it helpful, as well as fun to have a favourite dolly dressed in matching uniform when they start school. Lolo certainly helped Little Blondie to make the transition between being a little girl at home all day and being a big school girl. Whilst not trying to suggest that actually taking a dolly into the classroom is right for every little girl, (nor indeed every school!), having a treasured toy matching her new school uniform MAY just help calm the nerves a little.

I’d already toyed with the idea of making a school dress, but more just to add a bit of variety to my outfits, rather than thinking through the usefulness of it! My first attempts were with a winter style dress- trying to emulate a pinafore and blouse whilst sticking to my simple one piece dress rule. My early attempts weren’t that successful, and looked more like I’d mistakenly sewn mismatching sleeves onto a grey dress! I did actually sell one quite early on, but I suspect it was bought more out of sympathy rather than for its authentic look! :/

However, it was the introduction of my summer style dress (thanks to Lolo and Little Blondie!) that really made the difference, and got my school dresses selling properly.

Although always popular, unfortunately I have also had one or two comments in the past criticising them- saying that it’s wrong to dress a baby doll in a school uniform as it’s inappropriate. Much as I agree in principal, many years of parenting little girls has taught me that dollies aren’t always played with in an appropriate way for the age they appear to be. For example, Lolo has always reached the same milestones at the same time as Little Blondie- starting school, learning to read etc. despite still appearing to be a baby!

The dresses still continue to be one of my most popular makes, especially in the summer term. Still basically the same design as Lolo’s little dress, the dresses have seen some improvements over the years- for example the removal of decorative buttons to enable me to CE label my designs, and the introduction of extra sizes site wide to cover most popular dolls. And my winter dress has also been re-worked and now looks a little more realistic, while still being a one-piece dress!

If my doll’s school dresses help even one other little girl through the ‘trauma’ of starting school, that would be nice. But even just the memories that are conjured up when seeing Lolo dressed in her little dress are enough to take me instantly back to the lovely, bittersweet and emotional time of my youngest baby starting school!
And yes, the photo above was taken a little more recently- on the day both Lolo and Little Blondie left primary school last year! 😀