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Strictly Fairwarp WI

We went on a trip! What sort of trip, you might ask? A FAB-U-LOUS trip to the magical place where the costumes for Strictly Come Dancing are produced. Our President, the Fairwarp Sausage Roll Queen, Tracy Atchison asked us if we would like her to organise a trip to DSI in Purley (or should it be “pearly”) Way for a talk a tour, and a glass of Prosecco. “Yes, yes,’ we cried, “just tell us when and we will clear our diaries and bring our friends!”

So, there we were on a chilly Friday morning in April, climbing into our swishy charabanc. The journey was filled with chatter, with laughter and, of course, as we were being led by our President, with a tin of sausage rolls to sustain us! We arrived early but were still greeted with enthusiasm by the wonderful people of DSI. They hastily set up the chairs in the showroom and, surrounded be a kaleidoscope of dresses, we were given the history of the company before coming onto the all-important Strictly stories and the dresses.

The company was founded by Geoffrey Hearn and Peggy Spencer in 1982. They sent a monthly letter to dance teachers worldwide which subsequently developed into a monthly magazine and mail order service for books and LPs. The company then moved on to making instructional videos, selling shoes, accessories and jewellery before branching out into dresses in 2000. Originally, they employed a designer and four machinists, but they now have twelve in their team. The company have been supplying dresses to Strictly from its inception.

While only about 5% of their turnover can be attributed to Strictly (because they hire the dresses to the BBC), it certainly takes up way more of their time. As soon as the BBC have signed a star, and before the public is told, the designer Vicky Gill (of Strictly Take Two fame) meets and measures them. The identity of the stars is on a need-to-know basis, and DSI need only know the measurements so when a dummy is then created by team it is given a code name. These dummies are used to initially to fit a leotard – the foundation of all the dresses – then they are used to make up the dresses themselves ready for the stars to first try them on the Thursday of the Strictly week. As the show goes on the stars must be re-measured weekly as they tend to change shape: losing weight and gaining muscle – oh, I wish!

Once the show is running, Vicky and DSI get, if they are very lucky, an idea of what is needed on the Monday, but sometimes it is the Tuesday, if not the Wednesday. It is often an all-nighter for the DSI crew as the dresses leave the workshop to be with the stars by the Thursday morning. With the dresses go four of the DSI team including Sash who, free hand, individually glues the thousands of stones we see glimmering in the lights, to join four more at the BBC. Sometimes they are still sewing the stars into their costumes as they go on stage. Even the gussets are sewn rather than poppered – no one wants a malfunctioning gusset on live TV.

After the talk we were taken on a tour of the building. We were shown the stone-gluing with Sash, the couture machinists, the pattern cutters, and the material cutters; then downstairs to the materials store - what a cornucopia of colour with bolts of stretchy velvet, bolts of stretchy chiffon, bolts of stretchy net, all dyed to match one another. And then there were the tassels, the beads, the sequins, the feathers, and the bags of stones – again in the multitude of colours. It is a dress makers paradise! Could it get any better? Yes, our visit ended with a glass of Prosecco and the opportunity to try on any of the dresses in the showroom. Some of us did just that turning into Strictly contestants in a blink of the eye – without the DSI dresses, Strictly Come Dancing would be a far less magical affair.

And, as we returned to Fairwarp Village Hall for a late lunch one of our members was heard to say to our President, “next time you must arrange a holiday.”Yes, please!

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