Blog

Category
  • In real life

    Sometimes, I just get so caught up enjoying what's going on in 'real life' that I forget to check in online. I'm not going to apologise for that - it's a good thing! 

    The two main things that have been occupying my world lately are two things that I have been looking forward to for years - we bought our first home, and adopted a dog. Yay! Life is good.

    Our place is a pretty typical 50s/60s era 2 bedroom apartment in a small brick building. They're very common in this part of Sydney. The point of difference that I love about our place is all the beautiful natural light. Our part of the building kind of sticks out from the stairwell so we have no common walls which means lots and lots of windows! It's beautiful. 

    My favourite room is the living room because it's also our library! We're total book collecting nerds so for this place, we gave away or repurposed all our old mismatched bookshelves and got matching low white shelves to line the walls in the living room and hallway. After lots of Pinterest research on how to make Billy bookshelves look like built-ins, nothing seemed quite like what I wanted so we came up with our own solution (keep in mind our shipment hasn't arrived from Manila yet, so the bookshelves are only half-full and there's a big space where the TV will go).

    Before:

    After:

    My dad and I made wooden countertops to fit to the tops of the shelves that wrapped around the front and sides. My mum stained them to make them fit in with our other wooden furniture. Everyone who comes over asks if they were already here when we bought the place, so I guess my goal of making the shelves look built in was achieved! Also visible in the above photo, we installed Artracks around the living room so that I can hang artwork and change things around as often as I like. I'm enjoying playing curator in my little private library gallery. 

    Another little DIY was this side table/magazine rack thing. It was a cheap impulse buy at an antiques centre a few years ago. It's always sat in the corner in various apartments because we've never really had a use for it. We started using it as a coffee table in this place and I fell in love with it all over again, but it just didn't go with the room. So, spray paint + leftover wood + leftover stain = new coffee table!

    I've also been planning to re-cover our old couch for a long time, and getting it out of storage really confirmed how old and faded the upholstry was. It's still a really comfy couch, so I bought some nice textured green fabric and made new covers. I love how it looks now. Our dog is a big fan too.

    Speaking of our dog, meet Teddy! He's a four year old mix of... something that we got from Sydney Animal Second Chance. Our best guesses at his breed so far have been Glen of Imaal Terrier/Silky Terrier, with maybe some Corgi or Shetland Sheepdog thrown in. Ok, clearly we have no idea what he is. But isn't he cute?!

    He follows me around all day and sleeps under the work table when I'm working. He's very well behaved and housetrained but we don't think anyone ever played with him as he doesnt seem to get the point of most games. So we've been having lots of fun trying to teach him how to play!

  • Pink, pleats and Peter Pan collars - Hannah's wedding dress

    Today I want to tell you a bit about the process behind my one of my favourite ever bridal projects - Hannah's pink dress.

    Hannah contacted me about a year ahead of her wedding wanting to talk about a custom wedding dress. She said the words I love to hear: "I don't know exactly what I want, but I know I don't want strapless". Yay! Nothing wrong with strapless. I just happen to specialise in non-strapless wedding dresses!

    I knew Hannah was a Pinterest fan so I suggested that we set up a secret Pinterest board where we could both pin ideas and photos.

    I quickly noticed some common themes - peter pan collars, short sleeves, flowy skirts, and the colour pink! I drew some ideas for her and shared them on our board so she could choose a final design. Her dress ended up being based on this idea:

    My first step in designing a new dress is to make a 'toile' - a mock-up dress out of cheap fabric. My toiles are usually pretty hastily constructed and far from what the end product will be, but that's ok. I just need something I can try on the customer to figure out any fitting and design issues.

    I was still living in the Philippines when I was working on this, but we were in Sydney over the Christmas break so I squeezed in a first fitting with Hannah on New Year's Day.

    I spent a lot of time getting the bodice fit right, and we talked about different design elements like collar size and sleeve length. 

    Then I headed back to the Philippines and made another toile based on what we'd talked about, using fabrics that were closer to the real thing, but still not expensive.

    I also dyed some silk fabric in different shades of pink for Hannah to choose from. 

    I packaged up the second toile and the silk samples and sent them to my mum, who did a second fitting with Hannah in Sydney.


    Once Hannah had chosen the exact pink she wanted, it was time to buy the 'real fabric' and get it the right colour. Dumping ten metres of expensive, delicate silk into a hot dyebath takes a certain amount of confidence.

    Then there's the question of how to dry the thing and keep it clean...

    It took a few days of dyeing and drying before I had the colours exactly right. I had to get the lace, silk georgette and silk lining all to the same colour, and they all dye differently. 

    Once I was happy with the colours, I started playing with beads for the bodice.

    I sent a sample of different beading styles to Hannah, and worked on the skirt while I waited for her decision.

    I then spent many, many hours beading while watching Netflix.

    After the beading was finished, the rest of the dress was pretty quick to come together.

    One final fit with Hannah to cut the hem, and we're all done!

    A big congratulations to Hannah and Ben on their wedding, it looked like a beautiful day! I can't wait to see the rest of the photos.

    If you're interested in a custom dress, email me and tell me about your ideas!

  • The best illustrators on the internet

    As you may have noticed, I’ve recently got really into painting and illustration. It started out as a desire to improve my fashion illustrations, but in my quest to master the art of watercolour I’ve ended up drawing everything but wedding dresses. Oh well. It’s all about just trying to practice as often as I can and hoping that I will eventually develop my own style. These ladies all have lovely individual styles and for that I am slightly envious.

    Katie Rodgers

    A New York-based artist who uses all manner of media to create dreamy dancers and fashionable ladies. She also taught me how to paint shoes (through her skillshare course). Find more from Katie here.

    Megan McKean

    Megan and her husband Josh run McKean Studio in Sydney. They create unique souvenirs of cities around the world which often feature Megan's illustrations. Find more from McKean Studio here.

    Caitlin Shearer

    Caitlin draws a wide range of subjects but illustrates lovely ladies particularly well. She often has her artwork made into printed textiles. Find more from Caitlin here.

    Grace Lee

    I can't help but like everything Grace posts on instagram. Originally from Sydney, based in Japan, Grace illustrates little bits of life around Tokyo in clean, colourful style. Find more from Grace here.

    Dawn Tan

    Dawn paints food, houses, and all sorts of fun things. While we were in Manila we missed our favourite Australian snacks so much that we bought a Red Rock Deli chips print. I love it so much. Find more from Dawn here.

    Alexandra Nea

    Alexandra's work has a level of precision and detail that I will never achieve, but will always admire. She has a lovely vintage style and creates custom bridal portraits to order. Find more from Alexandra here.

    In real life

    We bought our first home and are getting the keys today. Yay! but you know what that means - no internet for awhile. I always have time for instagram, though.

  • 8 little things you can do to make sure your wedding photos look amazing

    The internet is full of advice on how to get great wedding photos - but most of that advice involves telling your photographer how to do their job. There are a few little things you can do yourself that will make a big difference to your final photos.

     

    1. Tidy up the space where you’ll be getting ready - hide any mess, clutter or distracting paintings and get some fresh flowers to put around the room (or use your wedding flowers!).

    2. Get a special ‘getting ready’ robe that matches your wedding colours. I’ll make one for you!

    3. If there's room, get your photographer to travel with you in the car. It's a good chance to get some bridal portraits while your make-up and hair still look fresh (and don't say "but we're not getting fancy wedding cars" - this photo was taken in the back of an ordinary Sydney taxi).

    4. Has anyone ever told you not to fidget? Forget that. When you're about to take a photo, check that your jewellery, hair and dress are all doing what they're supposed to be doing. Rings facing out, necklace clasps at the back, dress smoothed out, etc. It makes a difference.

    5. Remember to hold your bouquet at waist or hip level, not up in front of your chest. You’ll look less nervous and show more of the details on your dress.

    6. Stand with your feet together! My mum has to remind me this pretty much every time she takes a picture. Oh, and stand up straight.

    7. When getting photos with other people, if they're standing on your right, hold the bouquet in your left hand (and vice versa). Your body language will look ‘closed’ if you hold it in the other hand.

    8. Think of something fun to do at the beginning of the photo session. If you're lucky, you'll get some great candid shots. At the very least, it'll loosen you up for the rest of the session.

    Most importantly, don't worry too much about The Photos. The invention of wedding blogs and Pinterest has made wedding photos seem far more important than they actually are - after all, what's the point of getting married if the internet doesnt see it? (um... being married. That's the point).

    Take the time to get some nice pictures, but don't let it disrupt your day. Do what you want and enjoy your party! In a couple of weeks I'm going to post a story about a very special wedding that'll make you see why photos aren't so important. Stick around!

  • A dressmaker's tool kit DIY

    I mostly work from home, but sometimes I need to do customer fittings at a different location. Right before a fitting I’m always running around trying to think about what I need and finding something I can use to carry everything safely. So, the inspiration for this project came partly from recognising a need, and partly from wanting to play with my brother’s laser cutter.

    We used sheets of regular craft foam and traced around the edges of my tools, then scanned and created a vector file from the outlines. The laser cutter followed those lines to cut out the shapes (you could use a Stanley knife if you wanted to do something similar). We glued the layers together with superglue, making a rainbow pattern with the different coloured foam.  

    I like how the 'pin tin' can be opened and used without taking it out of its space.

    I also requested a slot for my shiny new business cards so I always have enough to give out.

    We left room at the top for my notebook and any fabric samples I need to take to the fitting.

    I’m really happy with my custom box! The shapes mean I won’t forget any essentials and I love that the tools won’t be clattering against each other and scratching or shredding everything in my handbag. 

  • Sketchbook catch up

    It's been far too long since my last blog post. As you may know, I have now left Manila and am back in Australia, living with my parents until James gets back in October. I haven't found a lot of time to work on the blog but I have been doing lots of painting, so I can show you that. The picture above is my sketch of the view from our balcony in Manila. It's a bit of a contrast to the small town I'm staying in now!

    I bought this sketchbook shortly before leaving Manila, and this picture of my scissors is the first thing I did in it. I like how the metal blades worked out.

    Immediately after arriving in Sydney, I turned around and went straight to Fiji with my mum and cousins. On the first morning, some horses appeared on the beach near us while mum and I were painting. I quickly discovered that I can't draw horses but the other side of the page looks nice.

    We found lots of lovely flowers to paint!

    Found some shells too (much prefer painting flowers).

    This was one of the pools at our resort in Fiji. I spent a lot of time sitting here, reading and painting.

    I read this funny Swedish book and relied on my giant scarf and sunscreen to protect me from the sun (I'm really not a beachy-tropical-holiday type person... but I still loved Fiji).

    Before we knew it, it was time to head home. Mum has been trying to teach me how to paint sky.

    The weather was a bit different when we got home! My parents live in the Snowy Mountains and August is the end of the ski season. This was the view from our house one cold foggy morning.

    Given that it has been pretty cold outside, I've mostly been painting things I find around the house.

    This is a tiny kiddie-sized chair that we now use for sitting and warming up by the heater.

    I got some new paints for my birthday and made a quick colour chart to try them out.

    Then I went to Sydney and found an apartment for us to buy! This isn't it, obviously. This is a cute little library nearby.

    When I got home from Sydney, the weather had warmed up and there were Spring flowers and blossoms all over the place. I picked some wattle to try painting.

    Not a painting, but still on the artsy theme - I found my old flower press from when I was little. I used to love collecting flowers to see what they would look like squished flat and dried out. I then lost interest at some point and these flowers have sat in between layers of paper for twenty years! I arranged them behind a frame as artwork for our new apartment.

  • Our Makati

    My mum suggested this project, and I thought it was a good idea: a hand drawn, hand painted map of our neighbourhood (Makati) with our favourite spots marked. I decided to do a bit of an informal Manila guide while I'm at it.

    Greenbelt

    Let's start at Greenbelt, because everyone starts there. It's a big shopping centre with beautiful gardens and lots of great places to eat.

    Simply Thai is good for... simple Thai food (funny that) and People's Palace is the place to go for fancy Thai food and cocktails. Mr Jones is a 50s style American diner. Cyma has nice Greek food, and Burger Bar serves up infinite combinations of deliciously messy burgers. Draft has a great menu (lots of different options, all good) and plenty of good beer to choose from.

    Cerveseria is the usual after work bar when it's not too hot outside, and Dillingers is where we head in the warmer months (they have really good air conditioning!). Sala has a lovely dinner menu and a great value brunch, and we like going to Motorino's for pizza, Nanbantei for Japanese and Gilak for anything mediterranean. 

    We do our bookshopping at Fully Booked, our groceries at Landmark (hating every minute of it) and get our dentist-ing done at GAOC dental. I forgot to put it on the map but I get my hair cut at Piandre.

    Glorietta

    Glorietta is right next to Greenbelt. I go here for sewing stuff - Fabric Warehouse for most fabrics, Carolina's for lace and trims, Buttons 'n' Wrap for notions. I often stop at Army Navy for some quick tacos for lunch, then maybe a detour to Uniqlo for fun.

    Ayala Triangle

    The biggest park in Makati and site of the original airport. They have an amazing Christmas Lights show during November & December, and a strip of restaurants and cafes. Our favourite is Poco Deli for the sausage and cheese platters and German beer.

    Legaspi Village

    Our 'hood. The Curator is probably our favourite place in Manila, for coffee in the mornings and cocktails at night. Mondo has great sandwiches and juice and Swagat is our regular Indian restaurant... we have eaten a lot of delicious chicken korma at that place! Balcony and Plantation are both good pub-like options.

    Legaspi Market is our regular Sunday market, just at the end of our street. We go there every week for fruit, vegetables, bread and yummy pulled pork tacos.

    Salcedo Village

    We stayed here when we first arrived and didn't have a kitchen so we explored the restaurant options pretty thoroughly back then! Chocolate Fire is a chocolate shop owned by an Australian where they also have nice sandwiches and pastas and things. Apartment 1B has good breakfasts, and 'comfort food' for lunch and dinner. Bugsy's, Bowler and Rue Bourbon are all fun themed bars (1940s gangsters, London pub and New Orleans respectively). Wildflour, Toby's Estate and Hooch have all opened up recently - head to Wildflour for a great bakery breakfast, Toby's for Australian coffee and cafe food, and Hooch for drinks and Charlie Chaplin movies. Salcedo Markets on a Saturday has food, produce, plants and souvenirs.

    Burgos

    The area around Burgos St is sort of a red light district so it can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers but there are some fun places to go around here. A big favourite with our friends is El Chupacabra, usually just referred to as just 'tacoooooos!'. Street tacos with a bit of a Filipino twist, served in plastic baskets out on the street. It's great. We go to Howzat sports bar for trivia on the first Tuesday of each month.

    We also discovered two more great places in the area in the last week (after I finished the map) - Farfalla for lovely Italian food and handmade pasta, and Beers Paradise for a huge selection of beers, comfy armchairs and dead quiet 'atmosphere'. 

    I'm all finished with Manila now, I'm writing this from my friend's apartment in Sydney and will be going to Fiji next week with my mum and some cousins. Follow along on instagram!

  • 200th Post

    In my last post I reflected on my bridal business journey, now it's time to reflect on this blog. Funny that two milestones ended up so close together, huh? Would've been much more convenient if they actually coincided. Still, it's a good time to be looking back as I'm NINE DAYS away from leaving Manila and moving back to Australia. Scary! but good. As you'd expect I've got a lot to do before I go so just in case I don't get a chance to check in here much, why not entertain yourself with my archives?

    Start with my first post, if you're interested. You'll learn that this blog actually started out as an assignment for a uni subject (I got a really good mark!).

    I explain a bit More about my final year work here.

    I shared a few of my Journal pages from that year (also here: Never ending fences)

    A quick, silly filler post that still applies: How to Write a Dissertation in 4 easy steps.

    I shared lots of sixties inspiration that first year but this one is probably my favourite: Movie inspiration: Quadrophenia

    I'm glad I took the time to go to Paris with my Mum

    I'm also glad I got some photos of Gould's Bookshop in Newtown before Gould passed away... it's still pretty similar but it was a special kind of messy when Gould was running the place.

    At the end of 2010, I finally finished my degree and we had our Graduate Show

    Then I was selected to show at iD Dunedin Fashion Week!

    After that I spent the next two years not really sure what to do... I worked for a fashion designer, got a job at IKEA, and did a teaching degree. I just barely kept the blog going with occasional updates.

    This Duffel Coat Makeover was very popular, and my quick, badly-drawn-on-my-iPod post on How to Dress for Skiing in Japan was not so popular. Eh, I thought it was funny.

    Before we moved to Manila, I shared some of my favourite Sydney photos.

    I thought I'd share a lot more photos of the Philippines on the blog, but I've just never been as inspired by this city as I have by others. I took these photos when I first arrived in Manila.

    Let's compare my workrooms: Sydney and Manila

    About a year ago I re-launched Bell Street as a bridal business. I wrote in my last post about what a good decision that was for the business, but it was also a good refresher for the blog. It allowed me to indulge in all kinds of fun wedding content, including sharing photos of our wedding and how I made my own wedding dress.

    I loved making the bright, mod bridesmaid dresses for Abra & George's Sixties Wedding and putting together quick guides on how to start thinking about what kind of wedding dress you want and the top 5 products you'll need if you go with a short wedding dress.

    I got into some meatier content with my Bridal Fabrics series and started a new series on classic wedding stories

    In the 'non-wedding stuff' category, I wrote about the time I drove an old broken-down car around Berlin, how to create your own opportunities to get dressed up and what I do on a typical day at Bell Street. I'm forever practicing my painting skills and was pretty pleased with my Sydney Pubs and Girls of the 60s posts. 

    It took me a long time (over four years!) to get to 200 posts, but I think I'm doing better with being consistent and creating quality content, and I've always got more to learn. Thanks so much for reading - especially if you've been with me this whole time! Apologies in advance if things get a bit quiet around here for the next few weeks, but you can always find me on instagram or twitter if you want to say hi!

  • One Year in (Bridal) Business

    Sometimes it's hard to pin down the exact date you started something, especially when it comes to starting a business. I started selling vintage on eBay in 2007, and added handmade and reconstructed items soon after. I started my Etsy store in 2008, selling handmade clothes from vintage fabrics. I had my first bridal customer in 2009. In 2010 I finished my degree and entered a business competition with my pretzel bags, which I started producing and selling in 2011. In 2012 I moved to Manila and started working for myself full time, producing daywear from handmade fabrics. I had big ideas for the label but hardly had any time to get anything done because I was always working on custom orders - mostly bridesmaid dresses.

    On July 23rd, 2013, I bought a new pink notebook and wrote on the first page:

    If you can't read my 'I just had an idea!' scrawl, it says "I'm going to stop producing daywear collections for Bell Street and focus entirely on BRIDAL".

    It felt so good to write that! I immediately felt relieved and spent the next few months filling that notebook with plans and ideas. I thought I'd spent the first year madly producing bridal samples, but luckily I've had quite alot of 'real' customers already so my time has been dedicated to their projects. 

    So, if I think of myself as having been in business for several years, it can get a bit depressing thinking about how many times I've changed direction and how little money I've made.

    But if I think of the bridal label as a new, separate business, it's encouraging to think of how many customers I've had this year and that I managed to not only break even, but double my (very small) investment! What's most encouraging is the solid feeling I've had from the start that THIS is what I want to do. It feels right.

    I still sometimes feel like I don't have a lot to show for it (notice the lack of pictures in this post?), but it's taken time for me to get used to the fact that custom bridal is a much slower process than whipping up a few skirts and listing them on Etsy in an afternoon. It can take months to finish a project, then more time waiting for the wedding to actually happen and for the photos to come back. That's ok. The fact that I've had steady work for a whole year and I'm still enjoying it is reason to celebrate. 

    This is an artistic representation of my celebratory dancing made using the Party Party app, which I am now addicted to.

  • Classic Wedding Stories: Robyn & Paul, 1981

    I've been wanting to start this feature for awhile. With the internet so full of modern wedding blogs, I thought it'd be nice to revisit some weddings that happened long before Pinterest came into our lives. The first classic wedding I'm going to feature is my own mum & dad's wedding in 1981. I've already mentioned their wedding in these posts about how I made my own wedding dress, which was partly inspired by my Mum's dress. Here's Mum to tell us more about their wedding.

    When did you get married?

    29th August, 1981 - exactly one month after Charles and Diana!

    Tell us about how you met and got engaged...

    We met as teachers at the same primary school on the 9th March 1981. As I was new to the school, the principal asked Paul to "take me under his wing and look after me!"  We were engaged 6 weeks later. Yes, we just knew we had found our soul mate. We began planning our wedding for the end of August, followed by a road trip to Tasmania for our honeymoon.

    What kind of wedding did you have?

    Our wedding was just what we wanted, a quiet ceremony performed at home, followed by a beautiful dinner of seafood and fabulous desserts at a nearby restaurant. We then all returned home for a few speeches and Black Forest cake.

    Do you remember any wedding trends that were around at the time?

    Fashion wise, 1981 was an interesting time. The informality of the 1970s was morphing into the more tailored corporate look that swept through the 80s, sometimes with disasterous results! Being married the same year as Princess Diana meant that I escaped the 'meringue' trend that was soon to dominate 80s wedding fashion!

    What did you wear?

    I made my own dress. Due to the informality of our wedding, I did not want a long dress. I wanted fullness in a circle soft georgette skirt, so the ballerina length was perfect. The full shape of the skirt was helped by a hail spot tulle petticoat. This fullness needed to be balanced with a more fitted bodice.

    Being a winter wedding, I needed sleeves too. To keep the top of the dress soft and bridal, I decided on haille spot tulle for the sleeves and yoke which met the georgette with a piped edge. A new trend appearing was the slightly blouses shape cinched with a belt. I loved the blousing and continued the romantic feel with a rouched belt highlighted by a soft fabric flower made from the hail spot and piped on the edge. I chose covered buttons to feature on the  back.

    Paul and I had a day in Sydney to buy my shoes. we arrived by train at Wynyard Station. A shoe shop on the station arcade had high strappy shoes without a platform sole..a new trend after the more clunky platform shoes of the 1970s! After many more shops, I eventually returned to buy the first pair of shoes I had seen in the morning. Pierre Fontaine... I still have them! My outfit was completed with a blue garter my mother made, and a pendant made from my nana's wedding ring... both were worn by Ali at her wedding 32 years later.

    What kind of flowers did you have?

    My aunt offered to make my bouquet and hair piece. I wanted pastel colours of hyacinths, frescias, baby carnations and a special addition of a cream wild orchid which grew on my parents' property. Dad made the trip to cut the orchids ready for the bouquet.

    Did you have any bridesmaids?

    I didn't have any bridesmaids as I wanted to keep things low-key, but my flower girl was was my god daughter, Jen. She wore a pale blue dress and a halo of flowers to match my bouquet. She gave all the female guests long pink carnations.

    Any advice for new brides?

    Advice....my family know that Fun is the Glue! (translation: having fun keeps people together - Ali) My advice when building a loving family, is to remember that love is the foundation, communication is the framework, hugs and kisses are the electricity and adventures are the soft furnishings...you think you can do without them...but you can't really!

    I'd love to make this into a regular feature but it all depends on how many people I find to interview! If you or anyone you know has been married for more than 20 years and would like to reminisce about their wedding, email me at ali.dibley@gmail.com.