Holly Winter Couture bespoke dress

You might remember in March I offered to design and make a free bespoke couture wedding dress for NHS brides who had to postpone their weddings because of Covid-19. I had no idea what to expect and received around 50 responses (and a nomination for a Pride of Britain Award!). I’d love to be able to help everyone but with just me doing the work, I can only commit to helping four brides over the next two years.

I am delighted to share with you pictures of my first NHS bride is married! She tied the knot on 28 August at The Old Manor House in Enfield wearing the dress I designed and made for her. I’ve attached some pictures of her wedding day (credit: Ross Holkham Photography) and others showing more dress details and the story behind it.

Dress details – my biggest ever pattern pieces!

The bride’s elaborate A-line satin and lace dress was based on some of the bride’s favourite outfits and weddings gowns she’d loved. I created the embroidered lovebirds at the bride’s request to match the design of the couple’s engagement celebration cake. The skirt was two full circles to get the satin to fall in waves included the two biggest single pattern pieces I’ve ever created; they couldn’t even lay flat in my empty 3.6×2.6 metre fitting room! The dress took around a month in total to complete with all consultations and measurement sessions taking place by videocall until we could legally meet for the first time two weeks before the wedding.

The bride and groom prefer not to be identified but are happy to share these photos, with the bride saying: “Thank you for making the most beautiful wedding dress ever.” I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to feel helpful in the pandemic and create a token of thanks to our marvellous NHS workers.

It almost didn’t happen – my dad died half-way through

The timing of the making of this dress was both a challenge and a blessing. At 8.45am on Saturday 18 July, I was sneaking in some stitches to a hem in the 15 minutes before my Zumba class started on Zoom in my fitting room. With my phone on silent in readiness, I saw I had a missed call from Mum. 8.15am on a Saturday was an odd time for her to call so I assumed she’d pocket dialled me and carried on sewing. Then in the family WhatsApp group: “Please call me urgently.”

I jumped up and did, but her line was engaged. So too was my brother’s. Just as I realised that I was probably about to get some bad news, probably about my dad, and that I should probably sit down, my phone rang. Mum said it was indeed really bad news, followed by the four words that have haunted me since: “Dad died this morning.”

Between the family luggage, contents of the fridge, and the hamster, I could squeeze a sewing machine and the constituent parts of the dress in the boot of my car as we flew up the M1 from Farnborough to be with my mum in Sheffield. I finished the dress over the course of the subsequent three weeks while we reeled from our loss, planned the socially distanced funeral and dealt with all the admin around death certificates, life insurance and the Lotus parts Dad had listed on ebay.

With no room in the car for a mannequin, I put out a plea in a local Sheffield crafters Facebook group and two hours later had one on loan from a kind stranger.

Having the dress to work on gave me something positive to focus on and keep me moving forward. One stitch after the other became my proverbial one foot in front of the other. I spent several entire days hand stitching lace to the skirt and neckline in Dad’s favourite armchair. It was a mindful, meditative, edifying activity that gave my head some welcome respite. And it reminded me that the world was still turning and life still going on. 💞

I returned home on 11 August, the day after Dad’s funeral and met my bride for the first time in the flesh three days later for her fitting.

Next NHS bride

I am now working on a custom wedding dress for Sussex ambulance service occupational therapist Immi Warren who plans to marry Jai on a Devon clifftop next summer. More details will follow… 😊

As always, I am happy to have a chat about this and all things bridal and weddings if you need more.

Holly Winter Couture

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