The Big Fat Gypsy Wedding dressmaker has seen business boom since the airing of the TV show, which attracts eight million viewers.
Thelma Madine told the Mirror: “We’ve had loads of orders since it started, a lot from outside the gypsy community.”
“We’ve always been busy but now get orders from the US, Portugal and Italy. It’s great,” the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding dressmaker added.
The heaviest bridal dress Thelma has ever made was 25st and was for bride Carly O’Brien in 2006.
Knockout dresses that have been shown in Big Fat Gypsy Wedding include Sam Skye Lee’s illuminated frock and teen bride Bridget’s puffball creation.
Thelma says: “When the girls come in and say, ‘I want it bigger’, I always tell them they are only standing for an hour now – they’ll be walking around all day. They say, ‘I don’t care, I want it bigger!’”
Thelma started the business when she was going through a divorce.
“I was left with nothing. I knew the only thing I could do was the only thing I have ever been able to do well – sew. I had three kids to look after and had to claim benefits while my aunt got me a roll of fabric and a roll of silk.”
“I started making christening dresses, the old-fashioned ones with the bonnet, and sold them at Paddy’s market in Liverpool. Things really took off…”
Thelma started to earn money but she also claimed benefits. She was caught out and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Thelma says: “I ended up doing four months but it was the making of me. I’m not proud of what I did but I learned when I was inside not to judge. That is why I’m supportive of the travellers. They get knocked from pillar to post. Yes, there are a few bad ones, like any group in society, but most of them are decent people.”
When she was released in 2002, Thelma made children’s clothes for a market stall.
“One day a girl asked, ‘Do you do Gone With The Wind dresses?’ and I thought, ‘They’re just velvet and sticking-out dresses. I can do that’. So I said yeah.
“She wanted three for her girls and said she would be back next week to pick them up but, in true traveller-style, she didn’t turn up that week. So I put them up on the stall and every five minutes someone was asking, ‘How much are they?’ I thought, ‘My God, I have cracked it!’
“It was all the travellers who were asking me. So for the next few years I was making kids’ outfits for gypsy children, getting more and more extravagant.”
When someone asked Thelma to make a wedding dress – and 18 bridesmaids’ dresses, she agreed and it all took off from there.
“I did that wedding and never looked back. Then I got a shop and started to work all week and it grew from there.”
3 Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Channel 4, Tuesdays, 9pm.