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Thank you, NHS (and sorry I forgot to clap)

Holly Winter Couture with NHS bride Immi Warren in her bespoke designed and made to measure wedding dress.
Me with Immi at her final fitting in July 2021

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.

NHS bride in Holly Winter Couture bespoke designed and made to measure wedding dress
My first NHS bride in her bespoke dress at her wedding in September 2020. πŸ“Έ Ross Holkham

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.

Real bride Immi Warren in bespoke designed and custom made to measure wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
Immi on her wedding day at Polhawn Fort

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.

Lace detail on bodice of custom bespoke wedding dress for NHS bride by Holly Winter Couture
Back lace detail of Immi’s gown

I made the wildflower lace for her bodice myself and cut, arranged and stitched on the motifs by hand.

Bespoke lace featuring wild flowers on custom wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
Bespoke wildflower lace adorned Immi’s sheer wedding dress bodice.

The skirt had multiple layers of tulle,Β  satin crepe, and glitter net to represent the oceans this surfer loves.

Creating the lace peak on Immi’s train

The lace on her skirt had to be cut and pieced together by hand to create the peaks at the front and back.

Lace chapel train of bespoke wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
The lace chapel train of Immi’s wedding dress

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).

Real bride and mother of the bride at final bespoke wedding dress fitting at Holly Winter Couture
Beautiful Immi and her lovely mum at her final fitting, July 2021

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.

Thank you NHS embroidered in bespoke wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
My thank you embroidered in Immi’s lining
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To Infinity and Beyond! πŸš€

To Infinity and Beyond Disney space shuttle Toy Story custom embroidered veil by Holly Winter Couture
Emma’s custom space shuttle veil

I’ve had to keep schtum about this custom creation since November and I’m so happy to be able to share it now, not least as it means that the bride has finally tied the knot after all the covid-related postponements and uncertainty.

Emma Haigh from Rotherham contacted me nearly a year ago with her idea of having a bespoke veil embroidered with a silver space shuttle and the phrase ‘To Infinity and Beyond’. We then had a chat via videocall and she told me that her fiancΓ© is a big fan of Toy Story and that they had visited Cape Canaveral together to watch a shuttle launch.

Bespoke veil embroidery design by Holly Winter Couture
3…2…1…Liftoff! Creating the embroidery design

I sketched some ideas and tried different fonts and we settled on having our silver shuttle lifting off from its launchpad in a whirl of smoke, into twinkling stars above. I added some metallic blue into the latter as a subtle ‘something blue’.

To Infinity and Beyond font samples for bespoke custom veil embroidered lettering by Holly Winter COUTURE
Experimenting with embroidery fonts

After postponing the wedding from 23 December 2020, Emma finally tied the knot on 10 August 2021.

Real bride Emma Haigh on her wedding day wearing custom embroidered veil featuring space shuttle launch and To Infinity and Beyond lettering by Holly Winter Couture
The beautiful bride in her bespoke embroidered veil
Real bride customer Holly Winter Couture
The bride and groom (plus their siblings and their partners)
Real bride customer Holly Winter Couture
Emma on her wedding day. Damian Jackson Photography
Real bride and groom with bespoke embroidered veil by Holly Winter Couture
The bride and groom
A glimpse behind the scenes

Infinite love to the bride and groom and their growing family. πŸ’• πŸš€

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What is Pelling Pink? πŸ’—

Forget Pantone, this is ‘Pelling Pink’. It’s not a single colour but shifts and changes shade and intensity with movement and glitters in the light.

Emma Pelling had always wanted a pink wedding dress but finding the perfect shade, not to mention style, proved problematic. The main problem was that we simply couldn’t settle on any one shade of pink. The solution then was to simply not settle for a single shade and create a dress that subtly changed shades as Emma moved.

I designed a bespoke princess-style dress with multiple layers of silk, tulle and glitter I’m shares ranging from ivory to lilac to a hot dusky rose. We experimented inside and outside with great swathes of fabrics a spectrum of variations until, five hours later, we had the perfect combination. When layered just so, they would shift and slink and gather and flare to reveal all the different shades. I’m calling this Pelling Pink.

The skirt section featured the softest ivory tulle layered over a pink glitter tulle and a lilac-pink silk satin. The latter I just happened to have picked up in an eco-sale of designer dead stock with no plan for it but it was just too beautiful to leave. I’m so happy I got to use it for Emma’s dress.

LAYERS of silk and tulle create the perfect wedding dress shade for real bride Emma in this bespoke pink wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
The many shades of the layers that made up the perfect Pelling Pink: lilac silk satin, dusky rose glitter tulle, two layers of ivory tulle, over several further layers of netting and lining. (Sidenote: the lace shown on the neckline here wasn’t used in the final version)

The bodice included an additional extra-sparkly pale pink tulle layer and I created custom lace to embellish the illusion panel. A keyhole back and a corset fastening provided interest on the back, and a closer look at the corset lace ends revealed that I’d personalised them with Emma and her fiancΓ© Sam’s names so they could literally tie the knot.

Personalised embroidery by Holly Winter Couture
Personalised embroidery on the corset ties meant Emma and Sam could literally tie the knot.

We made the front slightly shorter to show off Emma’s stunning pastel pink and blue shoes while the back dipped to a chapel train.

Emma’s layers and Cinderella shoes

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc on wedding plans, this dress has been over a year in the making. I am absolutely delighted that Emma and Sam finally figuratively tied the knot on Sunday 13 June 2021, followed by a celebration with friends and family on Sunday 11 July. Loads of love to you both, Mr & Mrs Sullivan!

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Gemma & Shai’s Big Fat Indo-Anglo Fusion Wedding

“This is the only part of our wedding that’s gone perfectly,” Gemma told me at her final fitting, and I don’t think I could get a higher accolade than that!



Gemma couldn’t find what she wanted ANYWHERE (and trust me, she’d looked!). For her Indo-Anglo fusion wedding to Shai, she wanted to mix the traditional Indian bridal three-piece lehenga (cropped top, skirt and dupatta/scarf) with contemporary Western embellishments and colourways. She was particularly smitten with the lace on a sleeve she’d found on Pinterest and also wanted to incorporate matching elements from her fiancΓ©’s ornate Indian outfit.



A self-confessed ungirly girl, she also wanted to avoid anything too blingy. However, when my super-sparkly glitter tulle came out, all bets on no bling were off. 😁



Gemma’s ivory top featured guipure lace over a boned satin bodice and an illusion panel over her shoulders creating a keyhole back. When we couldn’t find a lace that matched the Pinterest sleeves she loved, I embroidered the sleeves with a bespoke design I created just for her (I design and make lace too). Lined with silk, the top also included hidden, in-built support so we didn’t need to worry about bra straps.



The skirt was a serious lesson in go big or go home. Its nine layers included satin, netting, glitter tulle, the softest floatiest plain tulle, silk organza and custom-cut guipure lace to match the top. I included a channel in the lining for in-built, removable steel hooping so she wouldn’t have to wear a separate underskirt and risk it peeking out above her skirt – they’re not the prettiest of undies. I hemmed the stiff netting with red, ivory and gold ribbon to encase the scratchy edges (a couture detail neglected in mass produced wedding dresses, resulted in irritated feet).



I embroidered her something blue, two butterflies, on the lining of the skirt in an ornate red and gold heart bearing her married name.



And OF COURSE it has pockets, as all wedding dresses should. And, because it’s 2021, a matching silk-lined face mask.



Finally, that beautiful ornate dabka embroidery on the skirt waistband and hem of the top was a bespoke creation by the talented hand embroiderers of Sindy Saggar Couture (@sindysaggarcouture). Finding a supplier to create the design to match Shai’s outfit was a major challenge given the timescale, lockdown in India and a wild goose chase with the original supplier but Sindy came to the rescue (thanks again to Deep, @thewellheeledcoach for hooking us up via The Luxury Wedding Lounge group).



I also altered the bridesmaids’ outfits when they arrived from overseas in the wrong sizes (one was 10″ too short, another 15″ too small!) with no time to exchange them. I made the matching face masks for them too in matching colours and fabric.

Gemma and Shai’s wedding on Saturday 12 June 2021 was a celebration of their love and commitment, a fusion of traditions from around the world and also marked the first time the wider family had been able to get together in two years. Even with a lockdown limit of 30 people and no dancing, THAT is worth celebrating in style.
β€πŸ’›β€πŸ€β€πŸ’›β€

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The UK’s First Wedding of 2021

Microwedding 2021 in lockdown. Wedding dress alterations by Holly Winter Couture
Microweddings: When daffodils replace guests

Just look at the love and joy! These beautiful pictures are of, I believe, the very first wedding to take place in the UK this year, and I am so thrilled to have had a (small!) hand in it. Featured on BBC News, Jess and Jonny finally tied the knot on Monday 29 March, the first day that weddings were allowed in 2021, as lockdown restrictions started to ease.

Microwedding 2021 BBC News Jonny and Jess. Wedding dress alterations by Holly Winter Couture seamstress dressmaker Surrey Hampshire Berkshire
Guest list reduced from 180 to four but Jess and Jonny tied the knot anyway.

Coronavirus had forced them to postpone their original 2020 summer wedding and cut their guest list from 180 to just four (plus the bride and groom themselves) to comply with the latest regulations but they leapt at the first opportunity to tie the knot they had.

Microwedding 2021. Wedding dress alterations by seamstress dressmaker Holly Winter Couture Farnborough Hampshire
They did it!

Jessica’s beautiful beaded mermaid dress had been under wraps for over a year and I last saw her for her final fitting in December 2019 (she arrived in full Mrs Christmas costume on her way to work with children!). Jess came to me for wedding dress alterations when the dress she had bought turned out to be a classic case of expectations vs reality.

Wedding dress expectations vs reality saved by couture finishing by Holly Winter Couture alterations
Expectations vs reality vs couture finish

Jess fell in love with the dramatic waves around the hem of the dress when she saw it online. Trying it on in the shop however left her feeling a little flat, just like the waves which fell over into a messy heap when she walked. I reassured her there was a solution (there is ALWAYS a solution 😊) and gave her glorious waves some extra staying power with a little couture magic. We also added some sparkly straps and shortened the length at the front.

Wed2b Osiris dress alterations Camberley Holly Winter Couture
The glorious waves of Jess’s hem.

I am over the moon for Jonny and Jess and love their style of staring down the restrictions and doing it anyway. They are planning a celebration with friends and family in 2022 and, oh my goodness, I cannot wait to show you the dress we have in store for that! 😍

Holly Winter Couture studio with bride customer Surrey Hampshire Berkshire wedding dress alterations
Mrs Christmas and me (an elf? 🧡πŸͺ‘) in my studio, December 2019. 🀢

Wedding photos by the very talented Rob Burress at Shooting Hip.

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Pretty, not plastic

Lockdown has meant that I’ve been mailing a lot of orders and it was starting to bother me how much plastic packaging I was getting through. I’ve now made the switch to compostable mail bags (they’re still waterproof and protective for all the precious pretty things).

I always welcome a reason to feel smug. πŸ˜„

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Weddings can resume but wedding dress fittings can’t πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ

Weddings in the UK are officially back ON, from 8 March with maximum six people. Hurrah for my bride planning to elope with her intended!

Unfortunately, I can’t reopen for in-person appointments – including fittings – until 12 April. So how’s she supposed to get her dress altered.

She even suggested doing her fitting outdoors, hoping we’d be within the rules when two people can meet outdoors for food or drinks. Sadly not the case and besides, my two children will be back at school and exposed to 180 people daily by then so I’m not as isolated as I could be. It’s just not worth the risk.

But we’ve struck upon a solution. We’ll do her fitting via videocall, with me guiding her mum (whom she lives with) on where to stick the pins and which bits to measure. Then we can exchange the dress contact-free and I’ll alter it for her.

Adapt, adapt, adapt.

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Shooting cats

πŸ’œ Amethyst Moon πŸ’œ

Opportunities for photoshoots are scant during lockdown so I endeavour to do the best I can on my own. At least I thought I was on my own.

Silky just reminded me why I usually hang things on a wall to take product shots rather than lay them out on the floor. She waited until I was teetering on the edge of a chair of course.