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Angy's Blog June - July 2008

The trials and tribulations of a fashion designer in the Lake District!


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FEBRUARY - MAY 2008


21 JULY 2008: HAUTE COUTURE

I am often asked what 'Haute Couture' actually means, or what the difference is between a fashion designer and a dressmaker, so I thought a few explanations might be appropriate. Fashion design is actually art, applied to clothing and accessories. It requires flair and imagination, and the ability or talent to apply that imagination to create a unique design or image. I regard myself as a fashion designer because this is exactly what I do. First of all, something inspires me. I make a few notes and a sketch. I consider the lines, the fabrics, and the colours. After numerous changes I make a pattern, and from this I ultimately create my final garment. Whether this is a skill you are born with or something you learn I cannot say for certain. I suspect it is a combination of both. In my case, my grandmother was a dressmaker. She certainly passed on the inspiration for me to want to follow in her footsteps, if not something more. I graduated through a rigorous apprenticeship of over ten years, followed by further years of practical experience. My training taught me to be a proficient dressmaker with the special skills of couture, i.e. to be able to design, and create, 'bespoke' garments by both hand and machine. Bespoke is a very different term to 'Made-to-Measure'. In fashion circles it is a term for tailored clothing made at a customer's request to their exact specification. There is no pre-existing pattern. Made-to-Measure, on the other hand, refers to garments based on a standard pattern which are merely fitted to the customer. The imagination which enables me to go beyond this, visualise, and actually create unique, eye-catching designs stems from somewhere else, somewhere deep inside me. This is the spark which makes me more of an artist than a technician, and takes my dressmaking into the realms of 'Haute Couture' - high sewing or high dressmaking, the creation of exclusive custom-fitted fashions. As a consequence I gain enormous satisfaction from my work, and pride that my creations are unique and not 'copycat' designs, or poor quality imitations.

Incidentally, the father of Haute Couture was British, and not French as might be expected. He was Charles Frederick Worth, born in Lincolnshire in 1825, and the first Courturier to use a label on a garment. Together with a wealthy Swede, Otto Bobergh, he opened a company called Worth and Bobergh in 1858. By 1871 his Couture House was well-known among the high society of Paris, and the first courturiers and dressmakers considered as artists rather than mere artisans.

Romantique Couture
1 Atkinson Court
Fell Foot
Newby Bridge
Ulverston
Cumbria
United Kingdom
LA12 8NW

T: +44 (0) 15395 30648
M: +44 (0) 7812 210880


Email:
angela@
romantiquecouture.com

Here are a couple of the designs that I am working on for my next collection. The first is still at a very early stage. At the moment I am trying to finalise the pattern which is made from cotton as you can see in the picture on the left. I envisage using a combination of silver and white but I often change the design several times between the initial sketch and the final garment. The process always depends on matching fabrics, and colours. If the design is striking or unusual enough from my point of view, then I will make fewer changes. I have to admit that I am extremely fussy when it comes to lines, cut and detail.

My second design uses a beautiful blue-grey taffeta shot with gold, combined with ivory jacquard silk, woven with a pretty floral design. The taffeta came from James Hare one of my favourite suppliers. They are well known in the fashion industry for their exclusive silks which combine the finest English design and quality and I regularly use their fabrics for my own exclusive creations.

This design should be rather spectacular. It comprises a sleeveless blouse made from the silk, beneath a panelled corset made from the taffeta. When it is finished the corset will have a large design, hand embroidered with pearls inspired by the William Morris print above. The skirt is taffeta with silk, gathered at one side. I have changed my design for this outfit several times, most recently after the Vivienne Westwood exhibition which gave me an idea for embellishing the skirt. I think that the time has now come to stick to the final pattern and complete the outfit once and for all!

Corset (blue-grey taffeta, shot with gold)
Blouse and corset

17 JULY 2008: CUMBRIA LIFE WOMAN EVENT - RHEGED 10-11 OCTOBER 2008

I have just signed up to participate at the popular Woman Event in associateion with Cumbria Life. Judging from reports on last year's festival, it promises to be an excellent show, a special celebration of women and what they want to get the most out of life. This year the show will include fashion and beauty, catwalk shows and exhibition stands from some of the county's best loved retailers, sharing a passion for design, style and luxury. There will be show stopping fashions incorporating luxurious fabrics, how to feel good with top tips from beauty experts, dress your home for Christmas, fabulous food, and the 'Looser Women' panel hosted by Border TV presenter Fiona Armstrong - in other words everything a woman could want! I will be exhibiting my latest designs on the catwalk on both days, and will also be available at my stand for consultation. Please watch out for features and adverts for the show in the October issue of Cumbria Life (available 9 September), in local press, and of course on this site.

REVISED DIARY DATES - AUTUMN CATWALK SHOWS

I will be exhibiting a selection from my NEW autumn collection on Catwalks at the following events in Cumbria. I will also have a stand at each of these events amd will be available for advice and to arrange appointments:

> DESIGNER WEDDING SHOW - 21 Sepember 2008: Abbey House, Barrow-in-Furness
>
LIVE THE DREAM WEDDING SHOW - 28 September 2008, Carlisle Racecourse
>
NEW: CUMBRIA LIFE WOMAN EVENT 2008 - 10-11 October 2008, Rheged, Penrith

I am also planning to have a presence during
ULVERSTON FASHION WEEK from 17 October 2008

Please keep checking my website or reading my Blog for additional events.
Alternatively,
Email me if you would like to be placed on my mailing list for future updates or brochures.


13 JULY 2008: VIVIENNE WESTWOOD - THE EXHIBITION
Museum Sheffield - Millenium Gallery

Vivienne Westwood was one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th Century, her career stretching from the days of her infamous shop on the Kings Road, during the punk era of the 1970s, through to her present day iconic status within the world of high fashion. She has always been non-conformist so her cutting edge creations have often been controversial in addition to being eye-catching. Despite the unconformity, her designs often encapsulate British tradition, including tailoring techniques and the use of fabrics such as tartans and tweeds, a long line of textile that were manufactured in the Britain in the days of Empire. And, at the same time, she paradies the English, because she is English!

A visit to the Millennium Gallery will be the last opportunity to see this blockbuster V&A exhibition in the UK before it closes. The exhibition explores Vivienne's adaptations of British traditions and includes separate sections devoted to talioring, tartans and accessories. The blue mock-croc platform shoes worn by Naomi Campbell when she fell on the catwalk are on display in addition to many other famous designs including corsets, the Mini-Crini collection and a selection of fashion photography.




Vivienne Westwood - The Exhibition
Museums Sheffield: Millenium Gallery
Arundel Gate, Sheffield S1 2PP

Until 21 September 2008; Monday - Saturday 10:00-17:00;
Sundays 11:00-17:00;
late nights until 21:00 on Wednesdays during the summer

Adults: £ 6.00; concessions available;
To book courses in advance: 0114 278 2655;
www.museums-sheffield.org.uk/viv


CLICK HERE for a Clip of Vivienne Westwood opening the Exhibition



I had been looking forward to this weekend from the moment I read about the Exhibition ... and I wasn't disappointed. I certainly came away inspired, having concluded that providing you have talent and the ability to communicate through art, and you know what you want, then a sophisticated education in that subject is not essential. For example, Vivienne was always artistically creative - this was not something she had to be formally taught - and she was able to open a very different 'door' onto the world of fashion. She was a free spirit, a breath of fresh air. Her designs are basically playing with colours and fabrics. The Exhibition opened my eyes as I realised that I can go as far as my imagination will take me to reach that 'unique' result, and that I shouldn't allow myself to always be hindered by the 'classic' dressmaking techniques that I have learned over many years. Watch this space!

My first course was rather disappointing becauae it was aimed at a very basic level. However, as a consequence, I was able to move across to an alternative course on creative pattern cutting. It was excellent because in just one afternoon I learned a completely different approach to creating a design, i.e. playing with tissue to come up with an initial pattern. This is followed by a second pattern then a final pattern. However, for every change made at the tissue stage you have to follow all the steps again to reach a final pattern and consequent design. It is more difficult than it sounds because it is also very time consuming. I usually transfer my sketched designs direct to a fabric pattern so it will be interesting trying out a new technique.


12 JULY 2008: IS YOUR JOURNEY REALLY NECESSARY?

We decided to leave the car at home this weekend. It wasn't just the cost of fuel, despite fuel increases being topical at the moment. We worked out that the cost by public transport would be the same, perhaps less if we took into account parking fees. However, it was more to do with the environmentally friendly credentials of public transport, and both of us wanting a weekend off, without the stress of a long drive. It is a course we often resort to - 'let the train take the strain' as the old slogan went. We rarely take the car on long journeys unless it is really necessary. Despite living in the countryside we have a very good bus service which I often use when I go to meetings or appointments in Windermere, Ulverston or Barrow, and the same buses connect with trains.

Pictures of the Supertram in Sheffield, and of the excellent railway station
and its attractive forecourt
The journey took just two hours with a quick change in Manchester. The trains were clean, comfortable and fast. They took us through city suburbs and deep into the Peak District. It was a scenic route so when we arrived we felt completely relaxed. We had just overnight bags and my sewing machine.

However, what really impressed me was the transport in Sheffield itself - the 'Supertrams'. What a fabulous public transport system. You can travel anywhere on the trams, and on many of the buses, with a £3 'Dayrider' ticket. I think it was £10 for a week. A girl on my course told me that she hadn't bothered to learn to drive because she didn't need to! The trams were fast, comfortable and frequent. There were no steps and plenty of room so they could easily be used for shopping. I must confess that I have a soft spot for trams - my home city, Timisoara has an excellent tramway system which I used for school, wok and shopping. However, excluding Blackpool, this weekend was the first time I really experienced trams in the UK. We made good use of them and travelled the routes out of curiosity. One line climbed steeply out of the town, through suburbs, past pubs and golfcourses, between parks and through open countryside to shopping centres and 'park and ride' schemes. In the evening we took the line out towards Meadowhall to an entertainmant complex - sports arena, cinema, ice skating and restaurants - and caught another tram back to our hotel after a meal and a couple of drinks. So why drive?

The other thing that impressed me during my brief sojourn in Sheffield was the greenery. I read that Sheffield has more green spaces than any other major European city. I can believe it too. Helen, a wood carving teacher, who was also on my course, told me that the council have been actively planting meadows and woodland wherever possible. There are school projects to create green areas and the kids are very proud of the results. We saw a beautiful meadow from the tram - a huge open space filled with poppies and cornflowers in the heart of a housing estate. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many of the people we met seemed so relaxed, cheerful and friendly?


14 June 2008: WILD DORSET

I always thought that the Lake District was the 'place' for wildlife. We loaded up the bird feeders before leaving as it is mayhem at this time of the year at home - we have young families of blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, nuthatches and greater spotted woodpeckers fighting for our peanuts and fat balls and seeds. There must have been two broods of blue tits as there were fluffy yellow chicks buzzing about like tennis balls at Wimbledon before we left. We counted eight at the feeders at one time!

Dorset is also bursting at the seams with wildlife. In just a few days we have seen water voles, hares, foxes and even badgers. Some of them much closer than we had anticipated.

Our Red Fox near Beaminster / Badger cub at Marshwood
One of our encounters was not such a happy experience. Leaning over a gate near Beaminster one morning we spotted a fox in a recently harvested field. It turned to look at us but didn't move. When we approached closely, it limped away, but only a few metres. It was obviously injured even though it was alert. The sun was rising in the sky and it was caught in the open. There were crows and buzzards around so we couldn't leave it to an unknown fate. I know that foxes can be a nuisance in some places, but you can't just leave an animal to suffer like that. We called a friend who lived nearby and helps out at a cat rescue. She contacted the RSPCA and they advised that somebody would be with us as quickly as possible but that it could be quite a wait. It was actually a long wait - nearly four hours - as it is a busy time in the animal world. We managed to give the fox, a young vixen, water as she was panting and clearly dehydrating in the afternoon sun, and stayed nearby to ensure she was safe. The RSPCA man arrived, bundled her into a cage and took her back to an animal sanctuary in Somerset where she could be x-rayed. We left a donation. Sadly, he called the next morning to advise that she had to be put to sleep because her pelvis was shattered. We can only assume that she had been hit by a car and had managed to drag herself across the field in great pain. At least she didn't die a cruel, slow death in the blazing sun.

Our badger experience was happier. We moved on to West Dorset and stayed at a delightful, thatched farmhouse overlooking Marshwood Vale called Harmshay Farm. We mentioned our experience with the fox to the farmer and were pleasantly surprised to learn that they also loved wildlife. They even had their own resident fox which would call into the farm every afternoon and snooze in the sun with the cats. There was also a set of badgers which had lived on the farmland for decades without being disturbed, The farmer showed us where to go that evening if wanted to see them. Of couse I was sceptical - all I really wanted was to relax and read a book after a long day, but I couldn't risk my husband coming back and gloating so, reluctantly, I trudged after him through the copse into a field, I can hardly believe that within a few minutes we had observed a family of badgers emerging from their set, one by one, washing themselves, then trundling off into the undergrowth. They had been about thirty yards away, half hidden in the evening shadows under the trees, but I was happy. Then, just as we were contemplating leaving, they reappeared, this time emerging into the open field from the nettles, rooting about and ambling closer and closer to where we were standing, glued to the spot. The first, came within just a couple of metres of us before picking up our scent and diving for cover. The last wandered off into the middle of the field and was so preoccupied with grubbing for worms that we were able to watch him until it was almost dark!

It was nice to see farmers respecting wildlife, and in particular seeing so many hedgerows and areas of fields set aside for wildlife and flowers. I lived in East Yorkshire for a short while. It couldn't have been more different - fields were often cut and sprayed right to their very edges, even under hedges where they still existed, as if to squeeze a profit from every square centimetre. Consequently there were actually some places where you heard no birdsong and there were few wildflowers along the verges. Dorset is paradise for wildflowers - from the rich headgerows to the water meadows, the orchids on the downs and the beautiful swathes of valerian and vipers bugloss on the cliff tops,

Foxgloves on Pilsdon Pen /
Meadow Buttercups on Cranborne Chase (Melbury Hill)
Flowers on the East Dorset Coast: Vipers' Bugloss and Stinking Iris, Durdle Door

I feel I should congratulate the farmers of Dorset for respecting the countryside, and striving for a balance with nature. Not all of them have the same tolerance for badgers or foxes, and perhaps with good reason, but while there are farmers like Tina at Harmshay Farm, Dorset will be a richer place.


If you are ever in West Dorset or East Devon, you would struggle to find a better location than Harmshay Farmhouse for your sojourn - fantastic hospitality in a real thatched farmhouse where you will really feel at home - providing you don't mind badgers snuffling along the flower borders and crunching snails beneath your bedroom window in the dead of night. In some respects Harmshay could be one of Dorset's best kept secrets - peace and tranqullity far from the beaten track, views over the beautiful Marshwood Vale, yet in reality just minutes from Lyme Regis or Charmouth, providing you can navigate through the usual maze of lanes!


14 June 2008: THATCH AND CREAM TEAS

Cottages in Dorset are often thatched. Some of them are centuries old, others are modern and have been thatched to blend in. I had always thought that thatching was a dying craft, like basketmaking or even dressmaking! However, there must be a high demand for thatchers in Dorset even though I read somewhere that most of the sedges used for roofing are imported from countries like Turkey. It seems crazy when you think that the reason these houses were thatched in the first place, was that there was a ready supply of thatching material available in the neighbourhood. I assume the sedges for the thatch came from water meadows like those we saw a few days ago. In the Lake District the roofs are tiled with slate - it is quarried throughout the region. It makes sense. They are now beginning to harvest the sedges again in the Norfolk Broads, mainly to maintain the unique landscape of the broads, so perhaps there is still hope.

I love tradition, and one tradition I love in Dorset is an afternoon 'cream tea'. I don't care if the tea houses are only there because of the tourists! My first Dorset Cream Tea was in a lovely tea shop in Abbottsbury in December. We ducked in to avoid a torrential downpur and could have stayed all day, slowly steaming by the fire and topping up the teapot from the hot water jug.

The most interesting cream tea I discovered this time wasn't really a cream tea at all because there was no clotted cream. But that didn't matter to me! What a fabulous place! The award-winning
Town Mill Bakery in the middle of Lyme Regis. They tell you that it's different than eating in most places, that it's a bit more like eating at a friends house than eating at a restaurant. The instructions for dining are simple - 'help yourself, pass things to other people eating, generally be a bit more sociable and self sufficient. Call out for drinks (local apple juice, tea or coffee). Grab a book to read ... make yourself at home but whatever you do, don't ask for the music to be turned down." We called in for tea and sat at a scrubbed wooden table, ate beautiful scones with big dollops of apricot jam, and supped organic apple juice and tea. They bake everything freshly on the premises using local, organic flour and ingredients - bread, buns, cakes, apple turnovers, scones ,,, and in the evening they serve pizzas with fresh tomatoes and locally produced buffalo mozarella cheese!




West Dorset Countryside /
The village of Evershot -
one of the nicest un Dorset


Harmshay farmhouse, Marshwood


13 June 2008: JURASSIC COAST

The Dorset Coast is more often called the 'Jurassic Coast', or at least that part of the coast which extends from Poole Harbour westwards beyond the border with Devon. It was Englands first UNESCO listed Natural World Heritage Site due to its geology which represents 185 millions years along its length. This coastline is world famous due to the number of fossils and dinosaurs that have been discovered over the centuries, most notably the discoveries of Mary Anning, who first discovered an Icthyosaur near Lyme Regis in the early 19th century. The strata in the cliffs date not only from the Jurassic Period, but also from the Triassic and Cretaceous periods. You can't escape it - from the 'Jurassic Coast' branded buses to the ornate lamp posts styled as ammonites.

The Jurassic Coast is also an extremely beautiful coastline of tremedous variety. I first discovered it last winter, when I spent a week in a lighthouse on windswept Portland Bill to celebrate my wedding anniversary! I should explain that I adore wild landscapes and you don't get much wilder than Portland Bill with the waves crashing over the rocks and a gale force wind roaring relentlessly all night, causing you to fear that the lighthouse is going to be wrenched from foundations.

I also feared for my life as I scrambled over the cliffs near Lulworth Cove back in December. The contrast with the serene, spectacle that faced me yesterday couldn't have been greater - the gentlest of sea breezes, and a crystal clear, blue bay with waves gently lapping a white sand beach. I couldn't resist taking a swim.

The photographs here iwere taken in roughly the same locations, six months apart:

East Dorset Coast - comparisons between June 2008 and December 2007:
Durdle Door / Man 'O War Cove towards Lulworth / Man O' War Cove
We returned to the beach today, but this time to Charmouth in the west of the county, where we strolled along the foot of the cliffs casually looking for fossils. After counting every stone along over a mile of beach we concluded that (1) the sea is wet, and (2) there are no fossils on Charmouth beach! Actually, that's not true because we found a few belemites, rather strange needle like fossils, but none of the ammonites we had seen in every gift shop from Lulworth Cove to Lyme Regis. I soon gave up and sat down to watch the waves instead.

There were fossil hunters chipping away at rocks or turning over pebbles all around me. A little girl casually lifting pieces of shale, that had crumbled from the cliffs, began shouting excitedly. She had found a huge impression of an ammonite. Half the people on the beach crowded around for peek. She hadn't even been trying! I had to smile.

I sat on the beach staring at the land slips, and the multi-coloured strata in the cliffs; the grey, mud-like shale which almost seemed to flow into the sea, the white chalk, and the the darker strata of the cliffs, which towered over the beach. I began to sketch and came up with a few designs including the dress on the right.

I was particularly inspired by the spiral shapes of the ammonites, and their living relative, the nautilus. There had been a fabulous display of hand-crafted jewellery in the heritage centre. Of particular note were the beautifully polished pendants made from whole, or sectioned, nautilus shells, filled with resin and set in silver mounts. The black shells were particularly impressive as the different chambers were clearly highlighted. There were also examples of bluish Abalone shell including the piece which beautifully finishes off the example at the bottom right. Other shell jewellery such as necklaces and rings was displayed, but it was the shape of the nautilus that really inspired me - I used the idea of one of these shells as a brooch at the centre of my dress. Once, again it is the sensuous curves of nature that form the basis to this design. I am contemplating developing it for my autumn collection.

The jewellery was made by a lady called Bronwen Lound who works from her studio in Charmouth. She can also take commissions and I am considering asking her to make me a brooch from one of the nautilus shells for my dress design.

If you are passing through Charmouth look her up as her designs are truly unique, and spectacular. The examples of pendants on this page are rather large and range in price from £ 16.00 to over £ 30.00. If anybody would like more information about this jewellery you can call Bronwen on 01297 661121 or 07855 261745. She doesn't have a website yet so I will try to post some more pictures on my own pages in the near future. All of the shells come from approved dealers and sustainable or farmed sources.


11 June 2008: THOMAS HARDY'S WATER MEADOWS

You can't travel anywhere in Dorset without stumbling over Thomas Hardy. As I wrote earlier, you come across history in every corner of this land. Hardy's novels were set in Wessex, a region which stretched over Dorset west into Devon and Somerset, and east as far as Oxford and Reading. However, most of his famous works are set in and around the villages of Dorset, and in particular round Dorchester.

We picked up the trail at Oxford, the 'Christminster' of 'Jude the Obscure', and since then more and more of the places we have passed through have featured in his novels. Stonehenge provided the dramatic setting for the capture of Tess in 'Tess D'Urbevilles'. Indeed, Hardy's descriptions of rural Dorset in the nineteenth century are particular pertinent to that particular novel since the action moves right round Dorset, from 'Shaston (Shaftesbury) and the 'Vale of the Little Dairies' (Blackmore Vale) to Cranborne Chase, then to 'Talbothays' dairy in the 'Valley of the Great Dairies' (Frome Valley).

We took a stroll through the water meadows of the Frome Valley today, starting at Lower Bockhampton, not far from Hardy's Birthplace and the setting for 'Under the Greenwood Tree' and passing the farm that formed the inspiration for Talbothays near West Stafford. This is a fascinating, landscape, one which is sadly rare these days, a landscape rather alien to somebody used to the rugged valleys of the Lake District. However, it is also a very beautiful, landscape overflowing with wildlife and wild flowers. Many of the old sluice gates are rusted and abandoned and ditches overgrown but some areas appear to flood from time to time, absorbing excess rainwater and preventing flooding to villages downstream, and fertisliing the land with rich, silt and nutrients.


Frome Valley and Water Meadows: At Lower Bockhampton / Below Dorchester
Water Crowfoot / River Frome near Woodsford
Older settlements were always built above and around the natural flood plain of valleys just like the Frome. But nowadays, hardly a year goes by without TV pictures of flooded homes being transmitted into our homes, scenes of devastation in entire modern estates that have been built in the path of these natural annual floods. Not only does all that expanse of concrete and tarmac prevent the ground from absorbing the water, but it exacerbates the problem as the water seeks the lowest ground and then begins to back up. Yet, whenever I take a train down to London I cannot fail to wonder at all of those new housing developments encroaching on the rivers and valleys which were probably once just like the Frome. Maps were recently published which showed flood risk areas and, not surprising, the places in risk were invariably modern developments built on flood plains. In our rush to modernise we all too often ignore the lessons of the past. We could learn an awful lot from our forefathers if only we took the time to read. Hardy's descriptions of places may seem dated, but between the lines there is plenty of practical advice!

11 June 2008: DORSET BUTTONS

It is surprising what you can find in local museums. Today we visited Shaftesbury, famous for 'Gold Hill', the steep cobbled street immortalised in the 'Hovis' advert. At the top of the hill is the town museum. Several exhibits caught my attention, the first being a mummified cat, from the roof of an old cottage. Apparently this was a common practice at one time, the cat supposedly protecting the building against vermin! I always take special note of old costumes, Singer sewing machines and anything else to do with needlework or textiles. This time I wasn't disappointed since I discovered the fascinating story and craft of Dorset Buttons.

Shaftesbury was once the centre of the flourishing cottage industry in Buttons. The first 'Dorset Buttons' were made from sheeps' horn and covered by linen and delicate threadwork in the early 17th century. Shaftesbury was an appropriate place to establish this new industry since the area had turned to sheep farming after the plague, there was a plentiful supply of labour in farm workers' wives and children, and flax was being grown for linen and thread in the west of the county. Over time this became a lucrative business with exports to Canada, America and Australia. Dorset buttons were used on the waistcoat of Charles 1 at his execution in 1649 and on a gown worn by Queen Victoria. The business peaked in the early 19th century then collapsed suddenly in the middle of the 19th century with the mass production of cheap metal buttons. Familes in Dorset faced poverty and starvation as a consequence with 350 families leaving Shaftesbury for Canada alone! I found this story fascinating, in particular how starkly it illustrates how quickly a craft or industry can die. We take buttons for granted these days - insignificant, plastic objects!

Metal rings quickly took over from the original horn discs and the typical Dorset 'Crosswheel' buttons are woven around these with great skill abd dexterity, something akin to lacemaking. The craft is kept alive today by a few dedicated individuals and and you can find out more from the following website:

www.dorsetbuttons.co.uk

I bought a few packs and instructions for making traditional Dorset Crosswheel Buttons (see above for my first attempt). I am used to macrame so I didn't find them difficult. These are a simple design but there are also many complex patterns, and other types such as Dorset Knobs, High Tops, Bird's Eyes and Singletons. There was a nice display of them in the museum at Shaftesbury. With a little practice I should be able to produce a nice set of buttons for a future costume, perhaps even for a bridal gown.

I have been staying at Woodville Farm (left), a family run guesthouse, just on the edge of the little village of Stour Row in the Blackmore Vale. It is a delightful, peaceful place set between fields with only the blackbirds and the geese to break the silence. My room is large and very comfortable. The bathroom has a bath and shower and is enormous. The farmhouse itself is very old, although it has been carefully refurbished and modernised. It is surrounded by a pretty garden and overlooks a duck pond with a resident flock of geese. There are masses of cottage garden flowers including love-in-a-mist which I find very inspirational. Breakfast is delicious - I highly recommend the scrambled egg - and the hosts are kind and friendly. There is also a lounge with plenty of reading material, ideal for planning your walks or days.

The location is also ideal, being in easy reach of Shaftesbury, the attractions of the Blackmore Vale and Cranborne Chase, and even Syonehenge, Salisbury and the Est Dorset Coast.


Woodville Farm Tel. 01747 838241

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury Woodville Farm, Stour Row

10 June 2008: COUNTRY LANES

After the wedding we headed West for a welcome break from computers and telephone calls and sewing machines. An opportunity to recharge my batteries and seek inspiration before the pressure really begins to prepare the autumn collection. We are staying in a delightful farm in the heart of the Dorset countryside. Peace and tranquillity at its best.

Dorset doesn't have any really big roads. There are no motorways and I have only seen one stretch of dual carriageway. Instead it has lanes. Hundreds or even thousands of them. Sunken lanes, winding beneath high hedgerows and clouds of wild flowers. Twisting, narrow lanes plunging down steep escarpments into a pastoral patchwork of woods and meadows, punctuated by clusters of thatched cottages and medieval churches; sleepy villages with strange sounding names: Fontmell Magna, Ryme Intrinseca, Okeford Fitzpaine, Piddletrenthide and so on.

Dorset Landscapes: West Dorset from Pilsdon Pen; Melbury Abbas and the Blackmore Vale

You can drive for miles but never seem to get very far. It is an ideal place for pottering and I would imagine even better for cycling - I was never very good on a bike but this place could inspire me to persevere! However, you need to be pretty good with a map as the road signs are rather hit and miss. My navigational skills are certainly coming on a treat. I wouldn't even consider using a sat-nav - it would ruin the fun. Some signs are informative - I liked the one that informed me of a 'very steep hill', and the old warnings on bridges threatening deportation to the 'colonies'. However, the real problem is the lack of road signs. Yesterday, we drove nearly ten miles, crossing main roads, T-junctions and crossroads and didn't see a single road sign! Woebetide anybody who tries to invade Dorset! But at least the people here are friendly, even the farmers wave as they squeeze past in their giant tractors.


8 June 2008: MAGNA CARTA

We were invited to the wedding of two close friends in Oxfordshire yesterday. It was delightful - a perfect sunny day. The reception was in an excellent, traditional village pub, The Bear at Home, in North Moreton. We rounded off the day relaxing in a country garden with only the cries of red kites, and the growl of a Hurricane rolling around a cloudless sky to disturb the peace. Apparently the plane belonged to a neighbour who brought it back from India, and now spends his leisure time taking joyrides over the English countryside. It set me thinking about how much history is crammed into this small island, and how it is preserved with so much passion. We had passed the dreaming spires of Oxford and Churchill's home at Blenheim Palace that morning. There were thatched cottages in the village, and a Saxon church at the end of the lane, and later we drove into the setting sun, towards Stonehenge, the most famous of the neolithic sites littering Salisbury Plain. This afternoon, we wandered through ancient water meadows to reach the majestic spire of Salisbury Cathedral, straight into a view that has barely changed since Constable painted it.
Stonehenge!
However, the single thing that really struck me this weekend was seeing a copy of the 'Magna Carta' and contemplating its significance to world history with regards to human rights and individual freedom. That such things were not only considered, but were actually written down nearly eight centuries ago, long before the US constitution, or the UN Declaration of Human Rights impressed me deeply. My childhood was endured under the cloud of one of the most repressive regimes in the twentieth century, in Romania, under the thumb of the Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. There was no freedom of speech then, no choice, and certainly no justice. You didn't know what or who to believe from one day to the next. You questioned nothing. But, when I joined the crowds that finally stood up to the regime, to the tanks and the bullets, just before Christmas 1989 in the main square of my home city of Timisoara, I was no longer afraid of them. Then, when I returned to school after the Revolution my history teacher confessed to the class that everything we had previously been taught was a lie! My country's freedom was earned recently, with blood, tears and courage. It is something I can never forget. I think the same is true of my parent-in-law's generation. They remember how they struggled through the last war to protect their freedom. But nowadays, I cannot help feeling that too many people in Britain take that hard earned freedom for granted. I recommend they go to Salisbury and reflect on the Magna Carta.

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SalisburyCathedral

2 June 2008: Ulverston Fashion Week 11-18 OCTOBER 2008

Every Autumn, a Fashion Week is held in Ulverston, our nearest market town. It is a commendable idea because it involves the local community. Ulverston has many boutiques which cater for a range of different tastes and all of them participate with special events during Fashion Week, culminating in a catwalk show in the Coronation Hall. I have just attended a meeting to discuss events for 2008 as I am keen to become involved as a designer. It would be nice to organise an exhibition of my autumn collection, or perhaps something in conjunction with the students at the local school which offers excellent textile courses.

I am not suggesting that Ulverston is Bond Street, but it does have some decent boutiques, there are good textile and dressmaking courses, and it was home to another successful fashion designer - Julia Geere. And of course the Fashion Week attracts attention to the town. Wouldn't it be nice if a focus on fashion would attract more talented young people to stay in the area and set up their own businesses rather than leave for the bright lights because there is no alternative for jobs? The rest of the county already attracts artists, poets, chefs, and many other skilled craftsmen and craftswomen, so why not fashion designers?

The Fashion Week meeting was in 'Gillams Tea Rooms', one of many excellent tea rooms and coffee houses in Ulverston, some of which are really quite trendy. They cover the spectrum from traditional to unusual or innovative. There is 'Sticky Fingers' where you can enjoy a genuine English cream tea in an antique shop, or the 'World Peace Cafe' run by the Buddhist Monks of Conishead Priory, or 'Sting in the Tail', a chill out zone and cafe serving a selection of cakes and sandwiches in the midst of a contemporary gift and toy shop, the aptly named 'Hot Mango', and many more. Indeed for a small town, Ulverston has quite an avant garde streak. Many town houses have been painted in bright, even lurid, colours in recent years, there is an active theatre, and spectacular events throughout the year - the Flag Market in May, the Carnival in July, and the Dickensian Christmas Festival to name just a few. But then again, you should expect a few surprises from a town overshadowed by a hilltop replica of the Eddystone Lighthouse, or more pertinent, the town that gave the world Stan Laurel. Surely such a place deserves a Fashion Week to put it on the map!

PS. the Laurel & Hardy Museum is currently moving to a larger premises which will be open later this year.


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Angy's Blog is written by Angela Morton, Fashion Designer & Dressmaker
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