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Kettlewell May Festival of Wool and Ale in the Dales

13.06.14 | What's not to love?

Fashion shows are terrifying, at least for those involved. Whilst composed models glide out onto the catwalk, choreographed to the second to ensure every piece is walked past the admiring audience at the correct tempo, they leave a scene of silent frenzy in the fitting room.

What the audience doesn't see is that they're being dressed, tweeked and titivated until the very nanosecond they come into view. Pokerfaced and without a backward glance, noone would guess that they've just stepped out of a chaotic explosion of designer clothing, limbs and underwear; scurrying dressers purposefully working in stifled tones to create a presentable model and set her on her course.

This was no less true than usual at the Kettlewell May Fest fashion show - just the serenity of the venue; the two hundred year old Kettlewell church, served to highlight the dissonance.

We'd been invited, along with Izzy Lane and Joan Murray, to put together a fashion show entirely made out of wool. With our three very different styles we made a great case for the many creative uses of wool in clothing.

The day started early, with me driving our trusty Doblo from Todmorden to Kettlewell to arrive before 9am. I did keep wondering what I was doing missing my Bank Holiday lie-in!

Time pressures meant that we'd not found a day to rehearse, so we'd be doing fittings, setting the running order and rehearsing the show. All by the start time of 1pm. 

We set up our rails as models arrived in dribs and drabs. Less than 4 hours to put together a 40 piece fashion show then. Not daunting at all. Honestly.

We had to set up a production line of sorts, fitting models to garments, getting them into make-up and hair whilst walking the others through their routines.

And just to throw in an extra factor, the (fortunately cheery) photographer from the Yorkshire Post - James Hardisty - arrived at 10.30.

A sub-production line of girls who would be photographed had to be arranged. With 10 girls and make-up taking 20 minutes to half an hour, I was scribbling flow charts and making lists like a crazy person. 

Luckily the church had been set up beautifully, with a large screen to show our brand videos (here's the one I put together) and a sound system just ready to press play.

The lists started to come together, we had a running order and each designer had fitted outfits to models. We'd even started to walk through bits of the show.

James the photographer borrowed models for photos and posed them around the church and grounds. It was a sunny day, and the church yard was lush and green. We could see that there were going to be some stunning shots.

A glance at the watch said that there was no time to lose. We might feel organised but there was just an hour to go! We managed to walk through the show with music just once before the audience turned up. It overran. Massively.

But people were filling the pews and we just had to talk to the models about a slight pick up in tempo, starting their walks a little  earlier so that two would be out on the catwalk at once. And cross our fingers.


It was hushed as the video started, Izzy Lane introduced first by a little film. Then the music started and models set out. Just a fraction faster, just a little tighter. It's hard to monitor progress though, as each returning girl must be silently undressed and reclad into their next outfit ready to set out again.

There are flurries of fabric and whispered questions as panicked fingers feel for buttons, arms wriggle and shoulders almost dislocate to get into garments that suddenly seem to have been made for aliens, and the tension is like a force field in the fitting room.

We hear the video start introducing Joan, realise that the last girl is back home and there are only a couple to dress. A third in and the show begins to seem possible!

Time is at once slowed down and zooming. There are maybe a whole forty seconds between model returns and each one is occupied. We fit so much in as walk after walk is going on. There's almost a rhythm to it. But as the rhythm develops, we realise that we're half way through, the show is heading to its conclusion.




We are the last out, and I can feel tears pricking my eyes as the first chords of Zadok the Priest sound. It seemed like the right thing to play - for a show of our wedding dresses, in a church.

The glorious music carries the models down the aisle in their shifting gowns, raising and raising in repeated crescendos.


We try to peer out but mustn't step beyond the magic line and be seen by the audience. Luckily I had set up a camera and tripod, and one of the model's mums agreed to take shots of the show.


Even just the returning models and the music is enough. A tear splashes out. Everything I love about our little company gets condensed into these five minutes; into an intense emotion that combines pride and feeling connected to a whole creative community trying to make things in a better way.

It went perfectly! We filed out for the finale to great applause, feeling both desperately proud of our achievements and deeply, happily, relieved that it had gone well.

Many thanks to the Kettlewell May Fest committee, whose fine idea it was and who organised the venue and the audience, and to fellow designers Izzy Lane and Joan Murray, make up artist Gracie, and to our models from Morton Gledhill (as well as friends who were roped in).

There's an article and video in the Yorkshire Post, with more of James Hardisty's pictures.

Makepiece wedding dresses are here!