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The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
Author: Jennifer Ryan


Clothes Rations, Britain 1942



40 coupons per person per year

        Women’s skirt suit or long coat—18 points

    Dress—11 points for wool, 7 if not wool

    Skirt—7 points

    Blouse or sweater—5 points

    Women’s underwear or apron—3 points each

    Stockings, if available—2 points per pair

    Shoes—7 points

    Men’s suit or coat—20 points

    Trousers—8 points

    Shirt—5 points

    Men’s underwear—4 points each

    Men’s socks—2 points per pair

    A yard of fabric—2–3 points

    Brides are expected to wear their best dress or skirt suit for their wedding, unless they are in the military, in which case they are to wear their uniform.

    Source: Ministry of Trade materials






   The Vicarage, Aldhurst Village, England

   January 1942

   “I found it!” the Reverend Ben Carlisle’s voice called from the attic. Grace felt her breath catch as she dashed across the vicarage landing to see him come down, a long, flat box held ceremoniously in his arms, a bittersweet smile on his face.

   “Where was it?” she breathed.

   “It was hidden in a corner behind some boxes of books.” Her father’s black trousers and shirt were flecked with dust, the edge of his white vicar’s collar smeared with dirt, but he still looked good for almost fifty, Grace thought, with his tall frame and his dark hair silvering at the sides.

   “Bring it into my bedroom,” Grace said as she raced ahead of him, tidying the small bed in the corner, smoothing down the quilt her mother had made for her. “I can’t believe you found it after all these years.”

   He put the box onto the bed. “She always hoped you’d wear her wedding dress.”

   Even ten years after her death, his eyes still betrayed his grief. Grace worried about him, sitting alone in his study, distancing himself from not just his parish but the world. Already battling shell shock from the last war, her father had been brought so low in his grief after her mother’s death that Grace had had to take on much of his parish work, organizing weddings and funerals, baking loaves at harvest, and setting up the nativity for Christmas. She’d also taken on his parish visits, looking after the sick or bereaved, helping the poor, fitting them around her job with Mrs. Bisgood at the village shop. The villagers were sympathetic about his seclusion, but Grace fretted over what would happen to the parish once she left for her marital home.

   “Open it, then,” he urged.

   As she pulled off the box lid, the gleam of ivory satin shone brightly from beneath. “Oh, it’s beautiful!”

   “Take it out,” her father said. “Let’s have a look at it.”

   As Grace pulled the length of shining fabric from the box, a cloud of dust and particles cascaded into the air, a flurry of soft wings bursting out as a dozen moths swept around her bedroom in the shaft of late afternoon sunlight.

   She let out a gasp, her gaze shifting from the whirlwind back to the dress, beholding the fitted bodice decorated with glistening pearls. “Oh goodness, it must be pure satin.”

   While he budged open the window in the eaves to let the moths out, her father said, “I hope they haven’t eaten the whole thing.”

   Grace brought the dress up to hold against her tall, willowy form, walking over to see herself in the mirror.

   She was speechless.

   The dress was truly magnificent. A length of ivory satin swept to the floor, decorated with intricate embroidery of trailing, entwined roses, carefully stitched with tiny pearl beads, giving it the shimmering, polished look of a top couturier’s design. The part above the satin bodice was covered with lace, allowing the breast bones and shoulders to be delicately visible beneath. The long sleeves too were lace, showing the color and contours of the skin beneath.

   “But do I live up to it?” Grace’s hand went to her thin, lank hair. With all her parish work, she never had time to set it properly, not that she could ever get it to hold a curl. “I hope Lawrence will like it.”

   At twenty-four, she’d almost given up hope of marriage, especially since she had such a small circle of friends and rarely left the village. She was plain, her slight, boyish frame only emphasized by her taller than average height, and she had a habit of hunching her back, of trying to make herself smaller, less conspicuous. She’d always felt that no one would ever want someone like her, and so, with every passing year, she’d plowed ever more of her energy into her work in the parish.

   Until the former curate, Lawrence Fairgrave, proposed.

   “He’ll think you look mesmerizing; that’s what I thought when I saw your mother wearing it.” Her father stood back, watching her. “I never did find out how your mother came to have such a lovely gown. I suppose I was too busy in those first days of married life, and then it was packed away in the attic and I forgot all about it.”

   “How wonderful to be married in the same dress as her! It’ll be as if she’s here with me every step up the aisle.” Grace brought the fabric to her face, smelling it for her mother’s perfume, any semblance of her soft warmth. It was there, even if Grace only imagined it.

   In the delight of the moment, neither of them mentioned the obvious.

   The moths had eaten through large swaths of the delicate lace across the shoulders, leaving it hanging from the seams. One of the sleeves was held together only by threads, and parts of the bodice were puckered with holes, as was the back of the long skirt.

   “It’s not in perfect shape, but I’m sure you can mend it.” A trace of doubt couldn’t be hidden behind her father’s optimism. “All it’ll take is some new lace and a bit of time and skill.”

   Grace sighed. “Three things I haven’t got.”

   “Why don’t you take it to the Sewing Circle, see if they can help?”

   “They’re busy with a second-hand clothes sale to raise money for the village hall. It’s in desperate need of repairs now that it’s a nursery school, a training room for the Home Guard, and a meeting place for every other village group.”

   Determined to salvage his daughter’s excitement, her father inspected one of the sleeves. “I’m sure they’ll find a way to patch it up.” His eyes shined at Grace. “You need to stop letting your doubts get in the way. Go on, try it on. Let’s see how it looks. I’ll pop downstairs and put the kettle on while you change.”

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