Lovely dresses

At the weekend we decided to meet up with our friends Marios & Aysu for an afternoon in the sunshine at Charlecote park. It was a glorious sunny day, with temperatures in the Midlands hitting around 17°. And I had nothing to wear.

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I am still 2 dress sizes larger than I was pre-pregnancy, and the summer dresses I last wore two years ago just won’t fasten over my bust any more. So, I decided I would have to admit defeat and buy a couple of size 18 dresses.

My first stop was ASOS – a favourite because they make such a great range of midi dresses. When I’m bigger I find that I really need to hide my knees in order to feel confident. They had some beautiful dresses, but most were outside my price range.

Tiffany Midi Dress in Floral Jacquard, £85: Also available in green, Amber. I might splash out on this come summer, as I have a couple of weddings to attend this year.

ASOS Skater Dress in Check – available with 3/4 sleeves or sleeveless: £55

Just as an aside, what is with this model’s mouth? To quote one of my favourite childhood films, “Close your mouth… We are not a cod fish!”

So many pretties, so little cash! Especially since this month’s salary will be my last for a while! I needed something just a little cheaper.

On to Aspire, where the dresses are not only a little out of my price range just now, but also stock brands which stop, in many cases at a size 16, or even 14! Because we bigger gals don’t deserve to look pretty….

Emily and Fin Isobel dress – pre-order only just now, but Oh So Beautiful!

Yumi Daisy Denim Dress: £55.
Would look lovely with a white petticoat peeping from the hem!

Hell Bunny Claudia Dress: £59
LOVE LOVE LOVE

Enter the lovely Amber, and her birthday dress from Florence & Fred. I’m sorry, A, but once again, I am stealing your style! When I saw this £35 polka dot number I just had to have it. And it’s available in blue chevrons too?! Bonus!

F&F Limited Edition Chevron Print Prom Dress: £35

It is now winging its way to me. A bit of a flutter, yes, but I need at least one dress to see me through spring. I don’t think Dapper could take another morning of tears of the “I have NOTHING to wear!” variety like Sunday’s!

Oh, and for the record, this is what I did wear in the end – an old favourite, definitely a little too snug just now, but affectionately known as my Charlecote dress anyway, as it’s the one I wore on our first date there!

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New baby must-haves #2: feeding

Following on from my must-haves for the nursery post, here are my must-haves for feeding. Similar provisos apply: remember that these suggestions are just what worked for me personally, combi-feeding twins, largely breast-milk, but with a nightly formula top-up.

Feeding pillow: I could not have breast-fed my boys without this. As I’ve mentioned before, we bought a fantastic twin-feeding pillow from Jojo Maman Bebe, which supports each baby, is very slightly sloped towards the breast, AND offers back support for Mum. This allows me to feed both boys simultaneously and hands-free. It was amazing when the boys were really tiny too, as it gave me peace of mind that they weren’t going to sink or roll anywhere.

We also bought an everyday V-pillow, and I do sometimes use this for feeding, especially on the sofa, or if I am only feeding one of the twins. I ran up a wipe-clean cover using some PUL I bought to make nappies – definitely something I recommend too!

Steriliser: One if you have no plans to bottle feed at all, at least two if you’re planning on combi-feeding, more if you’re bottle feeding entirely. I load two sterlisers every morning, one with my breast-pumping kit, the other with bottles, ready to pop into the microwave when needed during the day. I also have an oyster style mini-sterliser for my nipple shields, which only takes 90 seconds and is great for quick-sterilising dummies, oral syringes, teats…

Nipple shields: The boys were born early enough that their tongues were too weak to draw the nipple into the mouth to feed. Nipple shields created a pseudo-teat for them to latch onto, allowing me to feed. They can be a bit of a faff, but nothing compared to sterilising bottles and mixing formula for each feed – and many come with their own little carry cases to keep them clean and handy. In collaboration with my trusty pot of lanolin (thanks for the tip, Adelle!), they also saved me the pain of sore cracked nipples, I’m certain!

There’s lots of advice available on the subject of weaning babies off nipple shields, but none of it worked for me. Suddenly an evening came when the boys were screaming for their food. I was in the nursery trying to soothe both lads, whilst Dapper warmed a bottle, and Conall did his usual job of screaming and nuzzling his way down to my breast. In desperation, I loosed a boob, just to see what would happen, and he latched on – and that was that! No more nipple shields, and an important lesson in parenting: children will come to things in their own time. You can’t force it!

Bottles: Mine are all Tommee Tippee from the Closer to Nature range, but only because that’s the feeding system we chose to go with – and I cannot fault it. My boys have had no problems switching between breast and bottles, and no more wind than your average pre-term baby, if I’m honest.

Breast-pump: Having become accustomed to hospital grade pumps whilst my boys were in the NNU I was doubtful any would live up to the same standard when it came to buying within my budget. I gambled on a new model Lansinoh Affinity Pro Double Pump £107 from ebay, and have been really impressed. It has a timer, several different suction strengths, and a two -phase programme to stimulate let-down. No noisier than the one I borrowed from the NNU either. And no, I’m not on commission, just really impressed with a product! I’ve used it every day since we bought it and couldn’t be happier.

Muslin squares and/or terry cloth nappies: You cannot have too many muslin squares in my opinion – especially if you have very windy or acid reflux-prone babies like ours! I also made some burp cloths, but they’re just not as effective for catching/wiping up spew! We also have a decent stash of terry cloth nappy squares, which we regularly grab for clean-ups, lay under the boys in their cots to save nightly cot-sheet changes, and lay over the plastic change mats to catch the fountains our boys are so keen on sharing mid-nappy change! (I also ran up some weewee wigwams for this – highly recommended!) Both muslin squares and nappies are used at every single feed to protect cushions and clothing from milk spills!

Infacol/Gripe Water/Colief: whichever remedy works for your baby! We find a combination of remedies works best, but every single feed has to start with Infacol, or we risk facing very unhappy, uncomfortable babies!

New baby must-haves #1: the nursery*

*According to guidelines, a new baby should be sleeping in your room with you for the first six months, so really we’re talking about your bedroom here – or whichever room Mummy and Baby are cohabiting at this stage…

As a new mother we are inundated with ads for “must-buy” items, many of which we will never use. Heck, there’s even an ad on TV just now which takes the p*ss out of first time mothers, saying that at least by the second try we’ve sussed out what we actually need:

Of course, there are two provisos to all my advice as given here. One is that I am coming at this from my own experience, and my experience is TWINS! A singleton might be an entirely different matter. The second, is that this is what worked for me personally, living in a one-bedroom, detached bungalow, with very minimal free space, no spare room, no neighbours to speak of, and nowhere out of earshot of my babies’ cries. Every new mother will have different ideas and experiences, and every new mother will find different equipment useful to her situation. I’m just telling you what worked for me!

Ok, so, in the nursery, my must-haves were:

A rug: I didn’t buy a rug, I didn’t know I would need one, and frankly when Uncle Ben turned up with one I laid it down on the wooden floorboards thinking that its only function was to pretty the place up! But if your bedroom floor is anything less than seriously plush, you’ll need something in place to cushion your feet – because you’re going to be doing some serious night-time pacing, jiggling and bouncing, I promise you! This has been a godsend!

Something stimulating above the cot – for baby: For us, having something to distract Twin 1 whilst we clean/change/feed Twin 2 is an absolute necessity. But we also find this distraction useful when both are in their cots and just kicking about. I made a cot mobile from felt, based on this free tutorial and pattern, but there are ample available to buy.

Ballons

Along the same vein, we bought a Chicco Musical “Goodnight Moon” night light for the cot, which plays Beethoven’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which we switch on at bedtime. The boys have already started to make the association between the lights and music and sleep, making our lives much easier at night!

Something stimulating on the wall – for you! Not actually something we have in our nursery, but a brilliant idea I picked up from a contestant on Pointless! On reaching the final, this new mother chose Geography as her topic, because she had been studying a map of the world on her baby’s nursery wall every night for several months during nighttime winding sessions. What a great way to learn something new!

A mirror: For checking whether that limp baby over your shoulder is actually asleep. I recommend acryllic, for safety reasons, and because you can get hold of them in every shape and size to match the nursery decor, and stick them to the wall with adhesive pads – no need for DIY to hang the thing!

Changing mats (plural): I would recommend two changing stations, if remotely possible, one in the nursery, and one in another room. As a new mother you will be seriously sleep-deprived, and should be taking advantage of any trustworthy visitor who offers to watch baby whilst you catch 40 winks. Every precious “wink” counts here, so the more time you can spend in bed and not getting changing things together for the “babysitter”, the better! Also, great for those occasions that Daddy whisks baby out of the room to allow you to sleep longer – because I’m sure Dapper’s not the only one who’s thoughtful like that…

Room thermometer: This needn’t be fancy – our most oft-consulted is a cardboard number that came free with a pair of secondhand, pirate-themed gro bags purchased from ebay. I know you can also purchase them online for a couple of ££s (try The Lullaby Trust, formerly FSID) and some Health Visitors hand them out for free. We splashed out some of the vouchers various friends had given us on a monitor system with in-built thermometer, which we consulted for accuracy those first few precious weeks, but rarely any longer.Which brings me neatly onto…

Baby monitor: NOT a must for us, as it turns out. We went overboard on this, buying one with sensors to alert you if baby stops breathing, a common mistake made by parents whose babies have been in IC, and are used to the reassuring blip of heart rate monitors. (I heard that bloody blip in my sleep for weeks after we left the NNU behind us!) We only ever used it for two functions: 1) as a room thermometer (see above) and 2) as an alarm when I wanted to wake Dapper, sleeping on the sofa bed, to come and help me out! (We bought Angelcare, which has a “panic button” for this purpose). But as I said before, we have the luxury (?) of living in a teeny tiny bungalow in which there is no escape from the cries of our babies – so a traditional audio monitor really would have been wasted on us!

A V pillow: As well as a feeding must, this has been great for visiting small people who wanted to hold babies, and a must for propping up Mummy’s arms when babies have dozed off unexpectedly in the most surprising and usually uncomfortable of holds, and offered me a few precious snatched moments of peace! In fact, I usually ensure I’ve a variety of different shaped and sized cushions within grabbing distance, to shove under aching arms and legs to help me hold a positition whenever the need arises!

Blankets: cellular blankets, micro-fleeces, crocheted lap blankets, knitted shawls – these have all proven invaluable, for wrapping up baby, laying over otherwise unfriendly surfaces, providing padding for outfit changes and floor play, and draping over Mummy’s exposed bits too!

Going Downton style

Blouse: Karen Millen; Jacket, skirt & shoes: charity shop; cami: M&S.

I have just had the most marvellous weekend. Following a week of OfSTED stress, followed by post-OfSTED exhaustion, we wanted to do something fun and relaxing. So, we got all dolled up to go to the reeenactor’s fair in Ryton-on-Dunsmore! Always a fun day out…

I wanted to check out the fabric stalls, as well as being on the lookout for a pair of brown, not-too-high boots for winter, to replace the beautiful 12-year-old knee boots I had to throw out at the start of this year. Dapper was looking for a new training sword to use when he sets up his gentleman’s fight club next year, as well as a bowler hat, which we’ve been trying to find for him for over a year already.  Plus, we were out for the fun of the fair – to coo over the beautiful hand-carved, viking-inspired wooden furniture, the medieval tunics and Victorian corsetry, the horn goblets and blown glass tableware, and the earthenware jars, jugs and casserole dishes.

I was unlucky in my quest for fabric, but did find a very lovely pair of ox-blood coloured Victorian leather ankle boots. These warmed to my feet almost as soon as I put them on, and were such a comfortable fit, not too high – in short, perfect. Dapper insisted we take them, and bought them for me as a belated birthday present. (He had been waiting to buy me something really special, so these fit the bill!) At the same stall we found him a bowler hat, which I bought towards his Christmas gift, and I found a perfect berry-red Victorian riding hat, which just completed my outfit, so I naturally wore for the rest of the day!

I stumbled across the most marvellous period costume stall, White Rabbit Lynens, where a lass by the name of Alice was selling the most stunning hand-stitched linen wares, and handmade lace. I would have liked to talk to her longer had she not been very busy – she looked fabulous in a vintages 50s dress – but either way, she renewed my interest in lace-making, and made me think about the finish of my items, and my tendency to go for faster finishes rather than time-consuming detail. She was also the person responsible for the title of this post, informing me that I looked very Downton Abbey!

We also purchased a few gifts for other people, and towards the end, Dapper spotted the perfect sword. It being rather costly, we agreed to go halves on the sword, my half being an early birthday present for him. We came home feeling pleased as punch with our purchases and excited to play with our new toys!

Out of fashion

Dress & belt: both vintage via ebay (bought separately); cardi: Matalan; shoes: M&S; opaque hold-ups: Charnos; brooch: vintage via Cabaret Antiques & Curios, Edinburgh

Over on Tea and Feathers last week, Cat was talking about the trials and tribulations of clothes shopping. About the lengthy process of trying things on, only to find they just don’t sit right, the waist is in the wrong place, there’s no allowance made for the fact that women have bosoms… For me, the waist problem is a major one – finding clothes that acknowledge the fact that some women actually have a waist at all can be a challenge and a half. And despite not having the largest of bosoms myself, finding clothes that emphasise my curves without making me look just a little bit common can be like the quest for the holy grail… There’s a reason I have a collection of black and nude camis – or “modesty tops” as I call them – in my drawers!

But the other problem I have lies in the fact that I quite often get an idea in my mind of what I want, only to find it impossible to recreate via the high street. Take the last two years, for example, spent in searching high and low for red cardigans – any red cardigans – with zero success. This year, they’re two-a-penny, but when I needed one? Oh hell no!

And what of navy? Finally, as I commented last week, hosiery vendors seem to have caught on to this marvellous neutral. But for years now I have been questing for blue opaques to no avail.

And then there are the last three weeks, spent searching EVERY high street store, EVERY department store concession and EVERY online shop I can think of, trying to find a navy blue bolero or shrug appropraite for a wedding. With no luck. In desperation, I have even ventured into dress agencies, only to be met with blank stares and, in one store, the statement that navy simply “isn’t fashionable this season”.

I have never really considered myself “fashionable”: I’m not “edgy” enough, not brave enough, to be “on trend”. I tend to wear what I like because I like it and can afford it. Sometimes I recreate looks I have seen in magazines, sometime those from television or film, and most often I’m influenced by period-specific costuming. But even so, I could swear that blue is a base I have been noticing everywhere this year! Am I really so out of touch?

There is nothing quite as depressing as spending so much time looking for just one thing and failing miserably in finding it. It is even more depressing when it appears in all the shops the following year. So think of me, when the high street is awash with dark and royal blues next summer. I’ll be quietly seething, and probably desperately seeking something else entirely!

Wishlist: Looking forward…

…to autumn! I know, the summer hasn’t even actually hit us properly yet, but a girl’s gotta sort her wardrobe out ahead of time!

Red rib & cable dress, £34, Dorothy Perkins

I can see a lot of red featuring in my wardrobe this autumn. I love red, and always garner compliments when I wear it. And knowing how much wear I still get from the two Dotty P’s jumper dresses I bought last autumn, I think another can only be considered an investment!

I’ve yet to spot a pair of boots I like as much as either the Duo OTKs or the Moda in Peles I saw last year – but it is early days yet! Still, these shoes have to go on the wishlist.

Red patent trim bar shoes, £32, Dorothy Perkins

I know – yet more red shoes for my collection, but I don’t have any in this particular tone of red…

Teal bow platform shoes, £38, Dorothy Perkins

These look like a tricky shade to wear, but I actually have a lot of teal with which they would match. And lookit – there are bows!

Topshop Heritage dress coat, £255 via ebay

And finally, what autumn wishlist would be complete without a coat? This autumn I’d like something in navy to compliment my “one for every colour of the rainbow” approach to coat buying… But I wouldn’t say no to this Topshop Heritage charcoal number along the way!

Vintage spotlight: she dresses green

she dresses green is a small venture which runs from the top floor of  The Wear House. I was first drawn to the goods on show thanks to the combination of great repurposed fabrics and the fact that she sells proper bloomers with vintage lace trims, and net-edged cotton petticoats!

she dresses green is self described as “Anti-fashion fashion designed to be flatteringly whacky!”. As well as repurposed vintage fabric, off-cuts and linens, Theresa uses fair trade cottons to design dresses and skirts with ties, allowing you to alter the length and volume to suit your look.

Next time you’re in the Welsh Marches she dresses green at The Wear House is well-worth a visit, or check her out on facebook for more information.