Mission Impossible in a Sofa Store

Strange as it sounds, furniture stores remind me of home. A Christmas at home in England wouldn’t be Christmas without watching the plethora of sofa ads, preferably with a glass of mulled wine in hand, and asking out loud who buys these terrible products. “There’s not one there, I would buy” is a frequent outburst in our house, often accompanied by “I wouldn’t give it house-room”—one of my late grandmother’s famed phrases.

When I first saw Jordan’s Furniture ads, I knew I had found the American equivalent. Jordan’s is a large New England furniture company that takes its local links seriously. The store’s owner is a dedicated Red Sox fan, and watching him promise free furniture if the Sox win the World Series is now part of the ritual of the New England Spring. An enthusiastic balding man with a silver ponytail, Jordan boasts about his stores’ current offers with great gusto in low budget local tv commercials. He is also not really called Jordan, I recently discovered his name is Eliot. However, to me, and I expect most of New England, he will always be Jordan.

The mysterious allure of Jordan’s Furniture deepened last Christmas when I heard Jordan (ok, Eliot) on the radio inviting people to come to the store to purchase the famous Jordan’s blueberry muffins! As I was driving at the time, I had to wait till I got home to investigate this properly. I suspect the powers that be at Jordan’s were inspired by Rowan Atkinson’s observation that “this is so much more that a bag” in Love Actually, as Jordan’s really appeared to be “so much more than a store.” In addition to the famed blueberry muffins, the store website promised an enchanted village for Christmas, and a light and water spectacular with over 9,000 water nozzles.

Having spent most of my childhood holidays in the Isle of Wight where we stoically eschewed Waltzing Waters as a matter of principle, my natural instinct was to avoid Jordan’s at all cost, however, a final attraction caught my attention: the IMAX cinema. I know this sounds like I made it up, but I swear it’s real. Our local furniture store contains an IMAX cinema!

Further investigation revealed that the 8 Story-high screen offered 12,000 watts of “mind boggling surround sound,” all brought to you while in the comfort of a memory foam Tempur-Pedic seat. I would love to have been in the marketing meetings when they dreamed this idea up. I can picture the conversation at which two executives said if we could get people to watch a movie in a memory foam chair then surely they will buy a memory foam mattress. The logic almost works, and yet somehow it doesn’t.

By this point, however, I was hooked; I had no choice but to experience this cinema for myself. Hearing that the new Mission Impossible film was playing, we decided that this would be suitably epic for the Jordan’s big screen. We drove to the store, parked in the ginormous car park and entered the revolving glass doors.

Nothing, not even my careful consultation of Jordan’s website, prepared me for the sight that met us. To our left was a Jelly Bean factory, to our right a trapeze school, and straight-ahead a giant mechanical moving statue of Wally, the Red Sox mascot (a cleaner version of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch). Alarmingly the green creature seemed to have taken a Yankees player hostage in his giant hand, rather like King Kong and Fay Wray.phdpiefillingjordans1With some understandable trepidation, we passed under the mascot’s giant arm and found ourselves in a very normal looking furniture store. We followed small signs for the IMAX through rooms of beds, patio furniture displays, living room set-ups, sofas, and vases. The walk seemed to go on forever, and we both really doubted whether the IMAX would ever materialize. However, eventually we passed our final settee and found ourselves at a popcorn stand. We purchased tickets and entered into the cinema.phdpiefillingjordans4Utterly bemused, we discussed what had just happened. Why was there a Jelly Bean factory in a furniture store? Had Michael Jackson designed this bizarre play land? How were people walking through rooms of furniture to get to a cinema like it was a perfectly normal thing to do?

Our discussion was interrupted as the room went dark and Eliot’s giant face appeared on the 8-Story screen and his 12,000-Watt voice boomed through the cinema. This was, we were promised, the most comfortable seat we would ever sit in and the most impressive sound we would ever hear. Eliot proudly explained that our seats were not merely seats; they were “Butt Kickers” with built in subwoofers. The thought of Eliot’s voice so close to me was quite unnerving.phdpiefillingjordans3The film, however, was excellent, and fully deserving of the supersized screen and subwoofers. The storyline was gripping, I only had to close my eyes a couple of times, and the shots of London and its skyline were all the better for the 8-Story projection. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, we made our way out of the cinema and into a display of grey-striped armchairs before eventually returning to the entrance and the giant green monster. We exited the store by passing underneath a statue of George Washington on his horse made entirely out of Jelly Beans….phdpiefillingjordans2Blinking in the bright Boston sunlight we struggled to make sense of what we had just experienced. Suffice to say we will not be buying a subwoofer or a Tempur-Pedic mattress, but we might just be back to this most bizarre of institutions. If DFS or Land of Leather were to offer similar such experiences in England, maybe I would move from mocking their ads to visiting their stores. In the mean time, I watch Eliot’s ads with new appreciation, armed with the knowledge that behind the unassuming black clothes and greying ponytail there is a real American eccentric. I’m not convinced this fantasy world helps to sell furniture, but thank you for the show….

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The Dress

phdpfwedding4Last month I thought I might drown in tulle. Having got engaged the month before, we were now preparing for our civil ceremony in Boston. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted my dress to be like, and as my vision was unavailable in stores I took it upon myself to make my wedding dress. For the duration of late June our apartment looked somewhat akin to Miss Havisham’s dining room, but instead spider webs, blush tulle draped every surface. Crossing the floor became a dangerous assault course of pin-dodging, and I even pulled tulle remnants out of the bathroom drain.

The project took 3 seasons of Madmen to complete. Whole days were lost to hemming and the high temperatures outside meant that I kept the curtains closed to try and keep the apartment cool. And there, alone in the darkened room, I sewed and cut, and pinned and unpicked, and wondered if I was in fact in danger of becoming Miss Havisham.

Thankfully, these fears were unwarranted: opening the curtains and vacuuming quickly removed all traces of the Dickensian spinster, and instead a happy bride with a fabulously fifties-inspired outfit emerged from the piles of tulle, thread, and pattern paper.

For the skirt I used Simplicity 1427 View C. I have never made a skirt before and this one was an ambitious start as it calls for nearly 14 yards of gathered tulle. The reviews I read online were not generally very complimentary about the pattern design and instructions, and it is certainly a complicated and time-consuming procedure. I actually think the design is rather clever as the skirt waistband is constructed of two separate yolk pieces each with approximately 7 yards of gathered tulle to ensure that there is not too much bulk around the waistline.phdpfwedding6

The tulle is sewn onto a circular underskirt requiring nearly 5 yards of fabric. The woman at the fabric store balked when I told her it was all for a skirt, and I should have responded to her hesitancy. After sewing 5 yards of rolled hem, (a process that took nearly 4 episodes of Madmen) I constructed the skirt and tried it on. You could easily have fitted 3 of me in the skirt. Foolishly I persevered, telling myself that once the elastic was added this three-person skirt would shrink to my size. However, elastic does not have magical powers. I tried on the skirt complete with the first seven yards of tulle and was horrified. There was extra fabric everywhere and it was clear that that my hips did not need another 7 yards of padding, as they already had quite enough.

After a rather tense day of wondering how I would ever get this skirt to work, I realized deconstruction was the key. I carefully unpicked all the tulle from the skirt so that I could attack the underskirt with scissors. I removed about 2 yards of the underskirt and felt a stab of pain as I cut apart my carefully rolled hem. I also abandoned the duel-yoke construction and opted instead for a mere 7 yards of tulle on my skirt. To those of you brave enough to tackle this skirt yourself, I would suggest ignoring the underskirt pattern and instead constructing a circular skirt based on your actual waist measurements- no one needs 5 yards of fabric on an underskirt.

With nearly half the underskirt removed, I once again sewed the tulle to the skirt and added the elastic to the waistband. With bated breath I looked in the mirror and felt much relief to see that I no longer looked liked the Michelin Man, and instead had achieved the Fifties silhouette I was seeking.

For the top I chose to make the bodice of one of my favorite dresses to make, the Emery Dress by Christine Haynes. As I have made this dress several times I knew it would fit, however, I had to add a couple of inches to the bodice so that I could tuck into the skirt. I also chose to shorten the sleeves by several inches to make cap sleeves. For the top I used Michael Miller’s Confetti Border in Confection, which is from the Glitz collection. Michael Miller is a dream to sew with, and every time I use his fabric I swear I will never sew with cheap cotton again. To accommodate the print, I had to cut on the cross grain even though the Emery pattern is supposed to be on the grain. It did not seem to effect the fit too much, it was just a smidgen tighter than if cut on the grain.

The Emery dress has an invisible zipper and I included this in my bodice. As invisible zippers are joined together at the bottom this did mean that the top had to go on over my head. I plan to add a skirt to this Emery bodice after the wedding so that I can continue to wear it.

phdpfwedding5For the dress sash, I went to M&J Trimmings in NYC. The store is a mecca of ribbon with floor to ceiling ribbon displays in every color and texture imaginable. I could happily have stayed there for hours. Exercising some restraint, I purchased three yards of blush and gold ribbon. I wore the gold during the day and the blush sash when we went for dinner the night of our wedding.

phdpfwedding1Unlike the hapless Miss Havisham, I was not left alone on my wedding day. Instead my groom cried when he first saw me in my dress. My sister sent me a beautiful gold and blush tote bag from England, and my husband bought me a blush Kate Spade handbag as a wedding gift, so I was well accessorized. The dress was a big undertaking, but when a little girl in our hotel ran towards her Mum and told her she had seen a princess, every pinprick was worth it. For one day, I was Jackie O, and Belle, and every cover girl of Life magazine rolled into one, and I absolutely loved it.phdpfwedding3