Demand soars for Holy Communion dresses with bling in Northern Ireland and Republic
Big Fat Gypsy Wedding dressmaker Thelma Madine has revealed she has already closed her 2017 books for First Communion dresses because she's been flooded with orders from Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Thelma, who shot to fame on the hit Channel 4 series, said demand for her trademark extravagant creations from clients in Ireland had been so high in recent weeks, she will have to turn down any future orders for Holy Communion outfits for the rest of the year.
The veteran dressmaker, who employs 22 staff at her busy 'Nico' factory in central Liverpool, was speaking ahead of a new six-part documentary series - Thelma's Big Irish Communions - which kicks off tomorrow night on TV3.
The series, which was made by Belfast-based Stirling Film and Television Productions, will follow Thelma and her team as they race against tight deadlines and demands from six different families to create blingtastic Communion dresses for their children.
Viewers of the series, which was shot in Ireland and Liverpool, will discover that when it comes to the billowing First Communion outfits and celebrations, money is no object for some families.
Splashing out more than £10,000 for a dazzling gown is not uncommon, while one Belfast family, who are featured in a future episode, end up spending £5,000 on their daughter's Communion - double their original £2,500 budget.
Liverpool-born Thelma, whose services are popular with both the Travelling and settled community, said: "Communion dresses make up the biggest part of my business and I would say customers from Ireland and Northern Ireland make up about 80% of my client base.
"We were extremely busy last year.
"It was probably the busiest year I've had in 20 years of doing this, but it's looking like it'll be the same this year, because I've had to close my books to future orders. I just can't take any more for 2017.
"Communions are a massive part of a child's life in Ireland, and the same is true here in Liverpool, which has a large Catholic population.
"Even when the recession took hold a few years ago I was still very busy, and I think the reason for that is that however bad things get, people will always put money aside for Communions, often as soon as their daughter is born.
Belfast-based series producer Marie-Therese Mackle admitted she was surprised at how extravagant modern-day Communion celebrations have become.
She said: "For me it was an eye-opener in the beginning, as my own Communion was a simple affair with a cousin's hand-me-down dress and a meal in the local country hotel, with the grand total of €75 in my second-hand white purse if I was lucky.
"But these kids are getting gifts totalling close to a grand for the big day and trips to Disneyland. And the dresses are huge.
"Although, after working with Thelma for a year, the dresses seem pretty normal to me now."
She added: "Usually, if one child has had a Communion outfit made by Thelma, then the whole family will carry on the tradition with a new dress or outfit every time. There's no hand-me-downs with this lot.
"Thelma is a tour de force. There's nothing she can't put her hand to and her energy is boundless.
"She really loves her customers and goes that extra mile for them with her extravagant creations. She lives for it."
- Thelma's Big Irish Communions begins tomorrow on TV3 at 8pm
Why not shop around
Despite the spiralling costs of Communion dresses, there are still lots of budget-friendly frocks available on the high street and online.
While some parents are landing themselves in debt after forking out hundreds and often thousands of pounds on the dress, bargain-hunting mums and dads are keeping costs down for the big day.
The cheapest Holy Communion dresses can be snapped up for less than a fiver — if you don’t mind buying them second-hand.
If parents need to keep costs to a minimum, there are plenty of options out there, particularly online.
Websites including Gumtree, eBay and Facebook pages often have some great offers.
On the high street, stores like Debenhams and Marks & Spencer are selling frocks for as little as £40.
You can avoid splashing out too much cash by shopping around.