Monday, July 6, 2015

Dyeing for love

This is a story that has nothing to do with my books.

I don't think of myself as a person who is particularly sentimental about objects. We've moved around a lot over the years - Spain, Germany, Belgium, now Scotland - and it was never practical to take too many unnecessary belongings with us. When we left Britain in 2001, I gave away a lot of our baby stuff including the rocking cradle both our children slept in for their first few months, and when we moved from Germany to Belgium I gave away the rest. In a fit of throw-it-all-overboard I threw out my university matriculation photograph. I even gave away my treasured collection of Asian outfits (salwar kamiz, saris etc) because it really wasn't sensible to cart everything from country to country with us. The one thing I could never bear to part with was my wedding dress.

You can see me in the dress in the photo above. I bought it from Chanticleer in Cheltenham. It had a skirt made of ivory wild silk and a jacket made of dark red velvet. I had a headdress made of artificial flowers and raspberries in red, gold and green, and carried a bouquet of red roses with green and gold foliage.

I nearly did give it away, once. A charity was appealing for wedding dresses in good condition to resell to raise funds. I got as far as telephoning them and agreeing to donate the dress, and then at the last minute I just couldn't do it. I had to ring back and apologise. I don't know why I couldn't part with it. It's not as though we were planning a Hollywood-style renewal of vows at any point! Anyway, I kept it, and it travelled round with us over the years, inconveniently taking up far too much of my wardrobe space (the skirt was enormous).

Last year, though, I finally gave my dress away.

My daughter is now a teenager, and a passionate fan of manga and anime (Japanese style cartoons). I've taken her to the anime convention at Dundee University a few times, where we have rubbed shoulders with people cosplaying as Alucard out of Hellsing, L from Death Note, etc. She fancied cosplaying herself, but buying an entire costume including wig can be quite expensive, particularly if you are trying to budget for it on a teen allowance. I asked her what character she wanted to dress as, and she said Lacie Baskerville from the popular series Pandora Hearts. You can see Lacie on the Pandora Hearts Wiki site. Her costume is usually shown as purple, or sometimes a deep red colour.

I looked at the costume and wondered how on earth we could possibly get together a cosplay outfit based on it. The skirts alone are huge and voluminous, not the sort of thing you have lying around at the back of your wardrobe. Except...I did have something exactly like that.

I thought about it for a while before we did anything with the dress. Ruffles can be unpicked, but ivory silk, once dyed, is going to stay that colour forever. In the end, though, I decided to go ahead. I'm not saying it didn't give me a pang, because it did. But I liked the idea of using the dress for something new, instead of keeping it like a museum piece. Here's what happened.

First, we had to wet the silk overskirt. The best place was the kitchen sink, since it was metal and wouldn't stain.

Then my husband mixed up the red dye. This was definitely a family project! 

This was the point of No Return. The silk part of the dress went into the red dye. 

Afterwards, the skirt had to be rinsed in cold water, squeezed gently and left to dry. 

When the skirt was dry, we sewed on the white ruffles. My husband is much better with the sewing machine than I am, so he did the skirt, which seemed to need miles and miles of ruffles. I hand sewed the ruffles onto the velvet jacket myself; the material was thick and the job was quite fiddly. I ran out of ruffle ribbon at one point and had to go and buy some more! 

Finally, the costume was finished. The only thing my daughter actually had to buy was the wig to go with it, which was black and red. And here she is, wearing the whole outfit:

I said at the beginning that I'm not particularly sentimental about objects. I'm sentimental about people, though. I think she looks lovely in it. 


  1. Wow, Helen! Thank you for sharing that beautiful story. Both you and your daughter look wonderful in the dress - the old and the new version. Thank you also for being sentimental about people just the way you are. Love being sent to all four of you from Germany. Ilka, the big and the little man!

    1. Thanks Ilka! Love to you three too! xxx

  2. She does look lovely. And it's so nice of you to give her your wedding dress for cosplay. I was a cosplayer when I was younger and it's so cool :D I always wanted to have my mom's wedding dress, but I guess she throw it away (she was not sentimental about it).

    1. Thanks! When I was a teenager cosplay wasn't so much of a "thing" but I would have dressed up anyway if there had been the opportunity - it's such fun! x