Hats, corsets and bridal gowns, flowers and cakes for special occasions all on offer at Grandey's Place Heritage & Craft Centre near Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire
Many of us will be looking forward to special events such as weddings, anniversaries or dressy summer occasions this year. In the third of an occasional series showcasing the talented craftspeople of Grandey's Place Heritage & Craft Centre near Bishop's Stortford, Helen Miller went along to find out how they could make your big day even more special…
Meet Rose Collins. A milliner by trade, she works from a ground-floor studio in a complex of smart, converted farm buildings that make up Grandey's Place. Her spacious workshop is festooned with colourful samples of her creative headwear, including columns of trilbies, fedoras and boaters trailing up one wall like a modern art installation.
"I just love colour," she says with a giggle. "It's vibrant, it makes you come alive. I love mixing different colours. I love clashing colours. I don't like playing it safe!"
Rose became a milliner by accident about 10 years ago whilst researching ways to revive hats that had been damaged in transit to her then overseas bridal boutique in Zimbabwe. Back in the UK she sought advice from Rose Cory, the late Queen Mother's milliner, and was invited to stay on to create a fascinator, which turned out to be every bit as impressive as the headwear she sold at the boutique.
"Doing the fascinator for me was so joyful, it didn't seem like work," says Rose. "It was just playing around and before you knew it, I'd made a few, family and friends bought, and then I thought to myself well this may actually be something I can do."
Now Rose creates special occasion headwear for individual clients such as mothers of the bride, grooms and ladies going to Ascot or other summer events. She also specialises in men's and women's fedoras, trilbies and Panamas. Her career highlights include creating hats for the West End musical Pretty Woman and having her work featured in fashion magazine Vogue.
Years ago, millinery was very safe, typically using mesh-like sinamay fabrics and felts. These days milliners like Rose also have the freedom to experiment with contemporary materials such as fish leather, latex or eye-catching fabrics from other parts of the world in order to create something fresh, stylish and, of course, made-to-measure.
"The thing about buying a hat from a general store is that it's not going to fit you. It's very rare that you find it does," says Rose.
So, who buys her bespoke hats?
"People who want to be unique, somebody who wants something different, to stand out from the crowd," says Rose. "You know, for me, hats say a lot about you without you having to say a word."
Pin-point attention to detail, precision sewing skills and an unrivalled knowledge of fabrics and how to source them are key to Nadia Dunne's success. Nadia is a corsetière and bridal gown specialist who makes handmade occasion dresses, not just for weddings but for special events, parties and anniversaries.
"The structure and the work that goes into making a corset goes hand in hand with the structure of a wedding dress or an evening gown," she says. "When I make a wedding dress, there will be aspects of corsetry built into the bodice and how you put it together."
With a long family history of tailoring - she remembers being surrounded by rolls of fabric when she was little - it's unsurprising Nadia was drawn to garment making. After studying costume design at De Montfort University she worked for Angels the Costumiers, making ladies' costumes for TV series Downton Abbey and for films like Effie Gray, set in the Victorian era of corsets and crinolines.
Today's corsets are made of up to 100 pieces including at least 10 panels, four layers of fabric, boning (made of flexible, spiral metal), front fastenings and multiple eyelets for ribbons. The ribbons are used to lace up the back of the corset from the top and the bottom to the middle, where they are securely tied to cinch in the waist and create the perfect silhouette.
"Once you're in you feel quite powerful. It's not an uncomfortable garment, it's just a very structured, secure garment," Nadia says.
Although corsets are increasingly popular as outerwear, many women prefer a less structured look and Nadia offers a full design service, working entirely from scratch or from her portfolio of existing patterns that can be adjusted to taste. A key element of commissioning a bespoke gown, especially for a wedding, is the whole joyful process which Nadia clearly loves.
"You can come with your mum and your bridesmaids and we go fabric shopping and we go for coffees, we talk about swatches, we do the sketches and it's lovely. It's a really amazing process," she says.
However, if you prefer to buy off the peg, Nadia can help you with any alterations or add additional features to lift your gown from nearly fabulous to absolutely fabulous.
A short walk from Nadia's workshop is a double-height mezzanine studio where bespoke floral designer Milos Hynek works his magic. Cut flowers arrive in flat boxes and leave, transformed, as stunning arrangements.
A passion for flowers has always featured in Milos' life, from his early years in Slovakia watching his grandparents gardening to the present day when he runs his own one-man business where client satisfaction is key.
"You try to make their celebration, their wedding, their Christmas or whatever they need their flowers for just that extra bit special and memorable," he says.
"The job is a lot of hard work, it's not as glamorous as most people think… it's dirty, it's tiring, but once it's all done and the client is happy and you stand back and you look at it and you think 'That actually is fantastic' and then you leave happy. And that's what it's all about."
His main inspiration is the beauty of the English garden and he believes very strongly in respecting the seasons, despite the availability on the global markets of almost any flower all year round.
"You can buy sunflowers in January but why would you?" he says. "I mean, you don't wear a scarf in the summer just because it sits in the wardrobe. You are dictated by the seasons if you understand floristry."
You also won't find him on Interflora; he handles and delivers his flowers himself without exception. In fact, an incredible amount of thought goes into a Milos Hynek arrangement from understanding the customer to where the arrangement is to be placed and who is going to be admiring it.
Timing is key; weddings and on-the-day events require flowers in full bloom, but arrangements designed to last a whole week demand a touch of "theatre".
"You have to think about how the flowers open up and how the flowers behave," he says. "Some flowers last longer and will arrive fully open and you know they will last seven days, some will have a shorter lifespan so they will be closed but then will open up… You want to come down the stairs in the morning and see 'this' opening up, 'this' changing, because it's all about a week of entertaining."
Flowers are also on the menu for Katie Guest, who runs her one-woman craft bakery and cake studio, The Hadham Rolling Pin, from Grandey's Place.
Edible English meadow flowers from Ivy Primrose Flowers just outside Stortford, plus a signature sliver of edible real gold leaf or a puff of gold dust are the decorative ingredients that make Katie's cakes unique.
"Generally, whether it's dried flowers, pressed flowers, wild flowers, fresh flowers, people come to me because they know that's my style," says Katie. "I put gold leaf on most of my products because it gives a really classy finish, it's something different. The romantic, rustic vibe, that's what I do."
Her decorations are the finishing touches to a delicious range of flavoured sponges and buttercreams underneath, everything freshly baked and additive-free with vegan, non-dairy and gluten-free options available.
Before becoming a baker, Katie spent a decade in the skies as a Virgin cabin crew member. However, when Covid struck and the planes were grounded it "really put a spanner in the works". She decided to turn her passion for baking into a thriving business, outgrowing her home kitchen after 18 months.
Now she doesn't just produce bespoke wedding cakes, celebration cakes, cookies and mini cheesecakes, but also show-stopper grazing tables, a jaw-dropping spread of cheeses, meats and antipasti which are popular locally.
So, what's her biggest motivation?
"Making people smile, seeing them happy and being a part of that day whether it's a baby shower, a birthday celebration or a wedding, being part of that," says Katie. "And then when they send that email two or three days later and it's, oh my gosh, amazing!"
Katie will be running a takeaway service, Bake and Brew to Go, in spring and summer. If you're visiting Grandey's Place by appointment or happen to be cycling past or walking the dog nearby, you might just fancy popping in to pick up a treat.
To enquire about commissions, book appointments with the featured craftspeople or to reserve your place on a monthly tour, visit www.grandeysplace.co.uk. For Katie's craft bakery, see www.thehadhamrollingpin.com.