In the bewildering days and weeks of the first lockdown in March 2020, I wished there was something tangible I could do to help. But I make wedding dresses. And weddings were cancelled. What help could I actually be?
I considered making facemasks but didn’t know the first thing about the antimicrobial properties of different fabrics. There was a call to make hospital scrubs from donated duvet covers, but my daughter was coughing and I was terrified garments from our home might infect entire hospitals.
Then at 8pm one Wednesday in my studio, I heard the town erupt in cheers. Guilt. I’d completely forgotten we were supposed to be at the end of the drive for the first weekly Clap for Carers. I realised that, just like my brides who’d had to postpone their weddings, there must be NHS staff doing the same AND doubling down on the front line against the virus.
Usually when (if) I have spare time, I’ll dream up some new designs and create experimental samples to put in photoshoots and display at wedding fairs. With my peak season cancelled, I’d committed to spending money on fabrics and time on making new dresses, so why not offer them to NHS brides instead, as a small way of saying thank you?
With no real expectation, I made my offer public. Suddenly, I was in The Guardian, the Observer, the Metro, the Telegraph and more, and the requests poured in. Boom. I was helpful.
I’d love to help everyone who contacted me (even the cheeky feckers who admitted they already had a wedding dress but could they have a going away outfit? Or a second dress for the evening?), but there were scores. I committed to three: one, a GP, for 2020, occupational therapist Immi in 2021, and nurse Sameen in 2022.
This year, it was Immi’s turn. She and Jai postponed their wedding last year to 2 September this year, at the beautiful Polhawn Fort on a cornish cliff top.
After poring over design inspiration together, Immi and I came up with her perfect boho-style wedding dress over a year ago. It included dropped flutter sleeves, a plunging neckline on a sheer backless bodice and a full, floaty tulle skirt embellished with lashings of lace.
Working remotely, all our consultations, including taking her measurements and fitting her toile (the mock-up dress I make to test the measurements). Despite first speaking in April 2020, we only finally met in person for the first time in February 2021.
I made the wildflower lace for her bodice myself and cut, arranged and stitched on the motifs by hand.
The skirt had multiple layers of tulle, satin crepe, and glitter net to represent the oceans this surfer loves.
The lace on her skirt had to be cut and pieced together by hand to create the peaks at the front and back.
Immi was an absolute joy to work with and there were plenty of hugs and tears at Immi’s final fitting (which included Immi’s mum and soon-to-be mother-in-law).
Most of all, I am so grateful to Immi not only for putting her trust in me to make her wedding dress but for making me feel useful in a pandemic.