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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. 📸 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,  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! 🚀

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 fiancé 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. 💕 🚀

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What is Pelling Pink? 💗

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 fiancé 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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From “Help!” To 🔥Hot🔥- an alterations story

“I need help,” began Catherine’s first message to me. “I got swept up into buying a wedding dress. I love it on the hanger but on me, I just don’t feel right.”

Worse was to come: “I wonder whether it’s more me that is the issue rather than the dress. I’m just so worried I haven’t found the right dress and have wasted my grandmother’s money. Please can you help?”

That’s a lot of pressure for a bride, especially the belief that the reason your dress isn’t fitting is somehow your own fault (it’s really not).

I hear what Catherine said very often. It can be utterly overwhelming to be planning a wedding, making big (expensive) decisions and feeling anxious about being the centre of attention.

It’s a very common concern to second-guess your dress, especially before you’ve had it altered to fit you properly. It can feel like it’s not your dress and that you’re playing dress-up in someone else’s clothes! Of the hundreds of brides I’ve worked with, I’ve only known one actually change her mind and buy another dress (and she was already on her second when we met!).

It can make a world of difference just to have it fit you properly so that it feels like it’s your dress, it flatters you and it moves properly as you move rather than dragging on the floor under your feet, slipping off your shoulders, digging in in some places and gaping in others. 

It’s MY job to make your dress fit and work for you so delegate that pressure to me.

Today, I received the loveliest message from Catherine, who married last month wearing her dress after I’d altered it to fit her. She ended it: Thank you. You really did make me feel like the bride I wanted to be.”

Real bride Catherine Carini in her wedding dress with alterations by Holly Winter Couture. 2021 wedding. Real customer.
Catherine before I altered her dress and on her wedding day, 15 June 2021. 📸 Pippa Carvell Photography

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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 fiancé’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.
❤💛❤🤍❤💛❤

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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? 🧵🪡) in my studio, December 2019. 🤶

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

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Weddings can resume but wedding dress fittings can’t 🤦‍♀️

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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The Troll Didn’t Like What She Asked For

And she’s back. (If you missed the first two blog posts on my first troll experience, I have deeply upset a bride to be by charging more than $100 for my veils.) Below is her return volley to my explanation of how I arrive at the prices for my work.

Indeed, I hope I never forget this one. 😉

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The Troll Asked For It

Literally. My post yesterday saw the final missive from my troll asking me to justify my prices but doubting I would be so transparent.

Challenge accepted. Here’s how I responded and she can’t say she didn’t ask for it.

👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹

You ask a very good question, because it’s almost impossible to say precisely what each item costs to make – the “cost of sale” in accountancy terms. There are a lot of costs that have to be averaged out between all the things I make in, say, a year, and this number changes all the time (especially at the moment). What I can say for sure is that the cost of sale is more than just the cost of the fabric, thread and a comb. Below is a, I think, hypothetical illustration which I first saw as being about a builder being asked to quote for a project but I’ve adapted it to make it more relevant to us:

A CONVERSATION ABOUT PERCEIVED VALUE
Next time someone asks me why I charge what I do 
A customer asked me to create my This Is Not A Phase veil.
I gave them a quote of $280.
The customer responded: “That’s seems really high.”
I asked: “What do you think is a reasonable price for this veil?”
The customer answered: “$100 maximum.”
I responded: “OK, then I invite you to do it yourself.”
The customer answered: “I don’t know how to.”
I responded: “All right then, for $100 I’ll teach you how to. In addition to saving some money, you’ll learn valuable skills that will benefit you in the future.”
The customer answered: “Sounds good! Let’s do it!”
I responded: “Great! To get started, you are going to need some tools. You will need at least one embroidery machine ($1,300; annual maintenance $100, although the one I REEEEAAALLY want is $11k), an overlocker ($300, annual maintenance $50), embroidery software ($900), a large cutting mat (mine is 97″ x 50″, $350), a rotary cutter ($30), a tape measure, scissors, pins, needles, an iron and ironing board.”
The customer answered: “But I don’t have any of those tools and I can’t justify buying all of these for one veil.”
I responded: “OK. Well, for an additional $20 I can rent my tools to you to use for this project.”
The customer answered: “OK. That’s fair.”
I responded: “Great! We will start teaching you on Monday after we buy the $30’s worth of fabric, thread and water-soluble stabiliser.”
The customer answered: “I work Monday through Friday. I’m only available on the weekends.”
I responded: “If you want to learn from me, it will have to be during my working hours. I spend my weekends working on commissions, paperwork, admin, marketing and exhibiting at wedding fairs (when we’re not in  a pandemic of course) in between looking after my two children. I work seven days a week.”
I continued: “To create this veil from start to finish will take about two days, so you will need to take two days off work.”
The customer answered: “That means I’m going to have to sacrifice my pay for two days or use my vacation time!”
I responded: “That’s true. Remember, when you do a job yourself you need to account for all factors. It isn’t just fabric and thread.”
The customer answered: “What do you mean by that?”
I responded: “Making a veil or wedding dress completely from start to finish includes time spent to plan the design, source fabrics, threads and embellishments, travel time, electricity, time for cutting, pattern making, sewing, embroidering, soaking (to dissolve the stabiliser), embellishing, edging, packaging, storage space for rolls of fabric, clean up and waste disposal amongst other things. So, we will start learning how to use the embroidery machine on Monday at 8am.”
The customer answered: “But that is so soon, surely that won’t take more than an hour or two.”
I responded: “It took me a year of practising to learn how to make them and several hours in paid classes. I estimate it will a full day to to embroider the seven moons on your veil – once you have the knack. Then we’ll add the comb and embellishments. They are going to cost you approx. $20. In addition to this you will have to get a public liability insurance ($400) and professional indemnity insurance ($400) and pay the Information Commissioner’s office $20 to stay registered, which is a legal requirement.”
The customer answered: “You know, I’m realising that a lot more goes in to a veil than what a customer sees in the finished product. Your quote of $280 is very reasonable. I would like to book you to create my veil.

CONCLUSION:
When you pay for a job, especially a custom job, (whether it’s a physical project or digital project) you pay not only for the material and the work to be completed. You also pay for:
✔️Knowledge
✔️Experience
✔️Custom skills
✔️Tools
✔️Time to plan
✔️Time to prepare
✔️Professionalism
✔️Work ethic
✔️Excellence
✔️Discipline
✔️Commitment
✔️Integrity
✔️Taxes
✔️Licences
✔️Sacrifices
✔️Liabilities
✔️Insurance
Please don’t disrespect a service provider by trying to get them to lower their prices.
If their proposal exceeds your budget, there’s nothing wrong with getting other proposals.
Just remember, you get what you pay for.

SERVICE PROVIDERS: Know your worth and be confident in it.
CONSUMERS: Recognize their worth and be respectful of it.
Sharing this to support all my friends, family and clients who are entrepreneurs, business owners and radesman.

… and I’m back. I appreciate that was rather long. In addition to the extra costs in that example, Etsy takes 15% ($42 in this case) of every sale I make on its platform and PayPal takes a further cut (there are fees and hosting costs for sales through my own website too), I also include the packaging and international shipping in the price ($20). There’s also the cost of marketing: my regular magazine ads vary from $60-$350 per month, wedding fair exhibiting fees ($250-$4,500 per event) sponsored posts on social media (around $100 per month) plus the time and expertise that goes into creating the content (arranging styled shoots in collaboration with other wedding professionals – for no payment), writing blog posts and other social content (I spent nearly 20 years as a professional PR writer and consultant before starting my dressmaking business six years ago).

So. If you still insist on looking no further than the cost of the materials, I could send you three metres of ivory tulle, some lengths of thread (five kinds), a pack of embellishments and a comb. Then maybe you could tell me what you think my work is worth. 😊

Holly xx

👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹

Something she wouldn’t need, but still comes in rather handy for me in my business sometimes, is that I have learned to speak semi-fluent German and Japanese (most of the latter sadly now forgotten after a couple of fallow decades), functional French and a smattering of Spanish and Russian.

So yes, I absolutely and unapologetically will target my work to those who can afford it. If I don’t value myself, I can’t expect others to.

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I Get Tickled by a Troll

I have MADE IT. Two very exciting, seminal, touchstone moments happened yesterday, both sparked by my moon-phase veil (This Is Not A Phase, pictured):
1. I received my first order through my brand new online shop;
2. I encountered my first troll.

This Is Not A Phase moon veil by Holly Winter Couture in ivory and silver Chapel length
Trip-trap, trip trap, over the bridge 🐐

This veil has received a lot of love, for which I am very grateful. But one person’s love for it quickly descended into something else. This is the message I received, in full:

I KNOW you shouldn’t feed the trolls. But I had obviously made someone very angry so I compulsively sent her a little love:

Now I know WHY you shouldn’t feed the trolls; I received this:

Troll

And this:

Do not feed the trolls

Continuing in a new screengrab:

Troll

And another:

Troll

Thank you for making it this far. I admit that this subsequent essay rattled me. I have mentally drafted several responses and justifications for how I set my prices and they all involve fundamental economics, detailed accountancy, my latest tax return and a spreadsheet so I will spare you all of them. You’re welcome.

Instead, while anyone involved in planning a wedding (actually, anyone generally) is having a tough time riding out the pandemic, I will take a small measure of success wherever I find it. 👹💕

Edited to add, for the record, payment methods I accept are cash, credit/debit cards, bank transfer, PayPal and, if you really have to, cheque, but not severed limbs (they stain my lovely fabrics) and DEFINITELY not babies.