The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan is a brand new book due to be published at the end of May (eBook and Audio versions) and the printed version a week or so later.
I was expecting this to be very much about the sewing circle members working on various projects and sharing their life stories; following the usual format of these types of books.
But, there is not much of that, instead this book is so much more; it’s about strong, independent women, breaking the norms and expectations of society, and creating their own independent lives during the second world war.
Cressida, a famous fashion designer supplying the rich and famous in London, has her whole world turned upside down when both her home and work buildings are bombed in the same raid. After spending a night in a shelter with other survivors she contacts Hugh, her nephew, who’s in charge of the old ancestral home in Aldhurst, Kent. He offers her to come and stay, so she catches the train with only the clothes she’s wearing and a tiny handbag which she managed to grab when running from her home in the middle of the night.
When Cressida arrives at the old manor, she gets to know her niece Violet who’s set on finding herself a titled husband so she can continue the lifestyle she’s used to and ensure the family name remains at the top of society; as drummed into her by her late father. Violet helps Cressida out with some clothes, takes her shopping and also introduces her to the local Sewing Circle.
At the Sewing Circle are a real mixture of personalities, as is often the case, and after a brief introduction of each the focus is moved to how the group can ensure best use of second hand clothes, and supporting the war effort. Cressida’s skills as a fashion designer is much appreciated and strong bonds are formed especially with Grace, the vicar’s daughter.
Grace is typically too busy pleasing everyone else, including her father and most of the parish. She’s also in the final weeks leading up to her wedding. She’s found her mother’s old wedding dress and is looking forward to wearing. Unfortunately the dress is well moth eaten. With the help from the others in the Sewing Circle she starts to mend and alter it for her big day. Realising her luck to have access to a white dress in a time of rationing, she offers it to anyone else who may need it. The word quickly spreads and this starts the hunt for more wedding dresses to lend to brides to be; thus the Sewing Circle becomes the Wedding Dress Sewing Circle.
Throughout the story, Jennifer Ryan sensitively allows her characters to grow, to be more self conscious, stronger and more independent. The language is beautifully engaging and it feels like one is back during the horrors of the second world war, but with lovely friendships and strong support from the other women in the Sewing Circle. I thoroughly recommend this book.
Disclaimer: I was given an eARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review, hence being able to share this UKQU book club recommendation ahead of publication.