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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. ๐Ÿ“ธ 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,ย  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! ๐Ÿš€

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 fiancรฉ 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. ๐Ÿ’• ๐Ÿš€

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Weddings can resume but wedding dress fittings can’t ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ

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.