Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Book reveiw: Alistair Sawday's The Natural Wedding Book

As I'm quite happy with the husband that I already have, it may seem an odd thing indeed to have agreed to review a book about weddings. However, the timing of the request was odd and so this review comes down to happenstance. A few months one of my dearest friends, Leanne, asked me if I'd make her wedding dress for her. I hadn't realised it would be until she'd uttered the words, but as a sewer this has to be one of the most lovely things to ever be asked. Heart-flutteringly, missing-a-breath sort of lovely.

However, after a few seconds of total delight, my mind turned to the possible uncomfortable eventualities:  how would Leanne tell me if she couldn't stand the dress that I made for her, or worse, would she be too polite to tell me and then embark on the most special day of her entire life wearing a dress that for no particular reason made her feel frumpy or just not very beautiful (because some dresses do...I'm no stranger to changing room miseries). Or what would happen if we invested hours of time planning the dress and then half way through (and with acres of white silk in my possession) I realised my dressmaking skills just weren't up to creating something so far removed from everyday wear? If no amount of refittings could make it fit perfectly. So I said no, and often I half wish that I hadn't, but ultimately I think it was probably the right answer.

Sam + Leanne: It's hard to express how great my love for this pair is...but it is huge. In fact, Sam was best man at our own wedding. 
But anyway, as I idly clicked on the link that the publisher had sent me I was instantly reminded of Leanne and Sam as I was greeted by pictures of wedding dresses made by friends, celebrations held under cover of tipi and favours made by hand. As the title suggests, this book has a strong environmental bent and is the antithesis of the Meringue Wedding (glossy and shiny on the outside, but somehow feeling a little empty on the inside). The Natural Wedding is all about the little details that can make the day feel truly special, but that don't cost the earth, literally or metaphorically. It's about understated, haphazard perfection - focusing on the small things, rather than the multi-million pound venue. It's about the candles on each table that have been poured into vintage teacups; the invitations printed from hand-carved woodblocks (what an amazing keepsake the woodblock would be); a pair of wellingtons holding open a door filled with flowers.

This book provides an ecological, budget-friendly alternative to virtually every aspect of wedding planning: alternative venues (from grand historical venues with environmental credentials to an arboretum or wildlife conservation centre); options for invitations using everything from banana paper to home-made seed paper; ideas for greener gift lists; sourcing silkworm-friendly silk for a wedding dress; or perhaps baking your own organic wedding cake.

It lists suppliers throughout and concludes with an exhaustive list of every environmentally friendly supply a bride and her bow could ever need (yes, that's including yurt-hire). All this could make the book sound a bit on the puritan, lentil-driven, holier-than-thou side. But it's not. This opening paragraph gives an idea of the spirit in which these natural options are provided:

"I always say to couples planning their wedding, 'if you can just do one thing...' and by this I mean one natural, eco-friendly or ethical thing. It could be choosing seasonal food, lighting the tables with plant-wax candles, or honeymooning at an eco boutique hotel. If every couple did this, it would make a real difference to the environmental effects of the wedding industry...The Natural Wedding book is here to dispel the myth that an eco-conscious wedding can't be stylish and look exactly like a 'regular' wedding, if that is what you wish for. Similarly, for couples wanting a unique, handmade day, then this is the book to show you how."

Either way it's something worth thinking about when you learn that a wedding puts 14.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is twice your personal yearly carbon footprint.

But really the environmental side of things feels incidental in this book when you look through it - none of the images suggest compromise, an embarrassingly amateur appearance (and by this I mean something akin to the time where I tried to make hedgehogs and it didn't quite come off) or hippies wearing their eco credentials on the sleeve of their wedding kaftan. It just all looks lovely, heartfelt and as though it was a party that was created with a real affection for the guests and themselves as a couple. Which is how it should be.

And so this book feels really worth reviewing: not only because I'd love to pass it on to Leanne afterwards, but because it seems such a reflection of the kind of wedding that writers or readers of a craft blog might hope to create: something understated but perfect in its details.

And for those that might be wondering...Sam and Leanne will be marrying in a field in Devon next summer. I can't wait. Other than a venue, so many of the other details are yet to be planned that I'm hoping Leanne will love looking through this lovely book as much as I have.

The book is written by Louise Moon who runs her own wedding planning company, EcoMoon (it really feels like she's opened up her entire book of contacts and happily shared every single one with you).You can purchase the book here on Amazon or you can go to the Alistair Sawday website to buy it directly.

What was your own wedding like? I'd love to hear. Mr Teacakes and I married when I was only 23. A chilly January day in the centre of London, cosy beneath the ground in the red brick vaults at the Royal Society of Arts. Almost entirely lit by candles, favours handmade by my mother, a menu planned by my sister, a cake commissioned locally by my father on the basis of my sketches and random descriptions (I still have some of the icing roses from it now), surrounded by so many of our lovelies. In retrospect it was vaguely eco-friendly, although I didn't have that in mind when we were planning it....and all that was undone by flying several thousand miles to go skiing in Lake Louise...but so many wonderful memories.

And to finish off with some sewn goodness from last summer: here's Sam....he always uses a napkin (we never use them, so just seeing them actually being used was a novelty that delighted me for the entire evening). He has tucked nothing less than some Amy Butler in Coriander from the Belle collection into his t-shirt. 

Florence x


  1. Beautiful post, Florence. I must say that we all know you, if anyone, could make a beautiful wedding dress. But I also completely understand your reluctance. It's hard to imagine living up to the hopes and dreams behind such an important dress. Also, welcome to the people-who-have-blogged-about-yurts club. I think you and I are the founding members :)

  2. ahhhh... I do understand about the dress, but even if it had minor faults (which I'm sure it wouldn't) the dress would be made all the more special because a loved friend had made it ..

    Mr Marmalade and I had as green a wedding as you can get 14 years ago .. it was a druid/pagan ceremony, out of doors, all in one location (no cars). We had wild flower bouquets, handmade dresses, a pig roast (local) hedgerow wines, a home made 'cake' which was actually a giant meringue decorated with leaves and fruits of the season. Our wedding circle was decorated with foliage and flowers from the surroundings, and our rings were hand made by a local jeweller (who later, as it turned out,bought our first house when we sold it!). Our invitations were also hand made by a cornish calligropher (cant spell!). All in all, it was a perfect day, and people are still talking about it even now. Sigh ... Lovely memories.. xx

  3. I bet you'd make a beautiful wedding dress, but I understand why you'd be hesitant.
    That's such a beautiful book! I think my favorite has to be the wellies vase :)

  4. A crafterhours Yurt Search has been carried out: Adrianna's contains a secret though...which makes her yurt mention all the more thrilling.

    Julia - that sounds amazing - I'm guessing you didn't make your own dress at that point, or did you?

    Yes, the welly flowers was my favourite too...I think I'd want them just for doorstop purposes and would have to have a second pair for actual mud tramping. x

  5. Goodness. I take my (wedding) hat off to anyone who has organised a wedding. I've never been married, and that is in huge part because the idea of organising a wedding seems so terrifyingly exhausting. If I could just rock up somewhere nice and get married one morning, with no audience, no fuss, no family, no shopping and no hoo-ha, I'd probably have done it by now. But that doesn't seem to be how it works.

    All the best weddings I've been to have so perfectly expressed the essence of the couple getting married (venues ranged from a Cambridge College chapel, to a glamorous glasshouse in Liverpool, to a chic Georgian townhouse in Hampstead) that actually I'd love to know what our wedding WOULD be like.

    Where is the place that is the essence of G and me? We haven't found it yet!

  6. What a lovely post - I really enjoyed reading it. I also got married in central London in a very simple long red evening gown. I absolutely loved wearing it and it fitted me like a glove. Your wedding dress should make you feel perfect, which is a LOT of pressure on the person making it - I completely understand your decision. x

  7. What a delightful book, I'm sure your friend will love it.

    Our wedding was in Trinity College Chapel in Cambridge and then we were punted back to a very relaxed, 'homemade' reception in our back garden. My lovely friend made the exquisite cake, I made favours and some friends from a gorgeous local shop decorated the garden.

    Here's a link to some pictures...

    The embroidered panel was hand stitched for me afterwards using the colours, scraps and buttons from the wedding. It still takes my breath away every time I look at it. I thought you would enjoy the wonderful stitchery.

    The watercolour at the end was painted by my auntie and it captures the atmosphere perfectly.

    Oh and to follow on with the wellies theme, I should point out that the bridesmaids were not sporting those pink wellies for the actual service, cute as they might be, but my little girl did pop them on for playing in the garden as soon as she got home!

    Sorry, that seems a rather lengthy, self-indulgent comment but as someone else remarked, lovely memories indeed! Kx

  8. Lake Louise! What a lovely place to honeymoon - it's about 2 hours from here and one of the nicest views on earth, I think.

    We had a small wedding in rural Canada in a tiny church. I wore a silver peau de soie dress with silver filigree trim. My brother (who was 18 at the time) did an awesome job of his first fondant cake. We didn't have a dance after dinner, as is usual here, but we did have fireworks and sparklers on the lawn!

  9. the book looks inspiring and your post has me remembering our wedding day. as a costume maker i was lucky to have costume making friends and 5 of us created my dress. it was a burnt orange/red colour... really! our do was a small diy affair and was such fun. my jeweller sister made our rings too which was extra special.
    it would be fun to get married again don't you think? but to the same man though.

  10. lovely book, I wish it had been around when I got married... gulp... 16 years ago. My best friend made my wedding dress for me, and I loved it! We designed it together and I watched as she poured all her love and good wishes into it. I wouldnt have cared if it was a little off it was the ultimate personalised gift.

  11. lovely post. As a wife of one-month-and-a-week, this obviously struck a big chord with me! i was lucky enough to have a best friend who'd already made two wedding dresses, plus my bridesmaid's dress and who insisted (as she's been doing since we were 11) that she was making mine. i ended up with a beautiful and unique dress that i'd never have been able to buy. and i will always treasure the afternoon she and I spent watching audrey hepburn movies while we did 5 hours (each!) handsewing the vintage lace trim around my hem! Ian and I got married in a wonderful open air church in Sicily, with 20 of our nearest and dearest. No cake, but instead we all went to the village gelateria, and walked back to the villa eating icecream. so many wonderful memories.

  12. thought you might like to see what 10 (wo)man hours worth of handsewn vintage trim looks like...


  13. My wedding? more than 30 years ago. I made my cream satin dress, stitching in a 100 year old bead encrusted panel into the under skirt that showed from beneath the 'coat' medaeval style. A reception in my parents' garden with food made by my mother helped by many of her friends. Flowers arranged by girlfriends who had stayed the night before and wine served by the wedding ushers with the landlord of the village pub acting as Maitre D'. Now I am thinking of my daughters' weddings and planning making their dresses (and many bridesmaids'!) This book looks wonderful Florence and your review a joy to read. I am determined to buy a copy before we get any further with the planning!

  14. SNAP! We too got married at the RSA, a little candle lit haven in the midst of the big smoke... and that was 6 years and 2 babies ago. I just love your updates, it's my escape in between freelancing & the girls to log on & be inspired. X

  15. Lake Louise is such a great place to ski.

    I guess that my wedding was pretty eco-friendly and certainly was cheap: it was just my husband and I, with his brother and sister-in-law there as witnesses / photographers. We married on one of the local cliffs at sunset. Then told everyone afterwards. My mother-in-law was the only one a little peeved at having missed it...

  16. List Writer, it really can work like that! My boyfriend and I aren't married, but my parents got married at their local registry office with their two best friends from university there as witnesses. Then they went home, ate Marks & Spencer's black forest gateau (this was 1980) - in fact they had two of those because my mum and her friend both bought one - and then phoned their families to tell them. No fuss, no audience, no family and very little shopping (just the cakes and their suits - my mum wore a bright pink skirt suit and pale pink silky blouse, 1980 like I said). There are a few photos of them on the steps of the registry office and they look gorgeous and so happy!

  17. Nina, that sounds like just the sort of wedding I could do. Including the black forest gateau, which I LOVE!

  18. Jane, your dress sounds stunning.

    Keely, that's amazing - thank you so much for sharing the link. What an incredibly talented family you have.

    FP Wear - isn't there something so magical about sparklers - that sounds lovely. And lucky you being so close to Lake Louise.

    Ginny, I'm so with you there - I would love to do it all over again. Lucky you having so many eager dressmakers around you.

    What I Made Today - how wonderful! I'd so love to see the lace too, but Flickr won't let me see it as it says the image is private.

    Catherine - breathtaking - it sounds so special. I do hope you have as much fun creating the loveliness with your daughter's wedding.

    Olivia - what a lovely co-incidence - mine was 10 years and two babies can feel a lifetime ago can't it - things change so much once there are small ones around, as well as now being away from London for us.

    I haven't had Black Forest Gataux for about twenty years either - it was something that my grandmother always served at her parties...I think I'd forgotten it existed. It's so odd how desserts go in and out of fashion...

    Nancy, I'm not sure that we knew where was 'us' at all. There was no place that we'd been that felt like us (although actually Fredericks in Islington was a regular haunt and that would have felt quite special). But once we'd decided to actually have the celebration we went out hunting for the venue and the moment we saw the vaults it felt very much like us...from deciding we wanted to finally get married to the wedding day took less than 4 months and so it didn't feel like the planning of it took over years of our lives either...but I'd agree with Nina, I think very low-key would feel just as special.

  19. just gorgeous. those wellies are fantastic. it snowed on our wedding day. a lot. we lost some of the guests becuase of it, but it made it all truly magical xxx

  20. I was asked to alter a wedding dress that scared me enough!

    Our wedding was held at my husband's church with a reception at Coombe Abbey where he once worked. Most things that could go wrong did, but it makes more of a story to tell! My nan made my dress and 2 bridesmaid dresses, I made the other 3 bridesmaids dresses including our daughters who was not quite 2 at the time, my husbands godfather took our photos (he is an experienced photographer), my aunt made our cake and I made all of the invitations, place cards, menus, table plan, favours (which were hand tied paper cones with strawberries and cream flavoured boiled sweets) and even confetti boxes which we filled with dried petals. My husband designed our wedding rings and had them made at his workplace. We even had partially handmade thank you gifts.

    My husband is now a wedding photographer and I love seeing the pictures of what other people choose for their special day :)

  21. Funny coincidences everywhere - my parents, having had such an un-fancy wedding, certainly spent an anniversary or two at Fredericks I guess around the time you were hanging out there, Florence! (That's not meant to make you feel old, btw - you're barely older than me, i.e. very young.)


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Florence x

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