My Quarantine Routine: Holly, a dress designer who is homeschooling two kids

Weddings across the UK have been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Usually spring and summer is wedding season and we all reach a time in our lives where it feels like you have a wedding every weekend.

But this year, thousands of brides and grooms who had spent months or even years planning their big day have found they have to come up with a new plan.

And with the postponement of weddings, those who work in the industry, who had been planning for their busiest months, now find they have hardly any work at all.

Today for My Quarantine Routine, we’re chatting to Holly Winter, a bridal and prom designer and dressmaker.

The 40-year-old who lives in Farnborough, on the Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire borders, with her husband, Paul Stevens, 44, who is the lead designer of Airbus drone Zephyr, and their two children, Coral, 10, and Aaron, eight, who usually attend a local junior school.

This is how they spent 23 March, the day we went into lockdown,

7 am

Paul’s alarm goes off and he gets up to make breakfast for us all while the children and I take advantage of not having the school run and have an extra half an hour in bed.

We’re running low on milk and our usual crumpets, hot-cross buns and baguettes were missing from the Sainsbury’s delivery on Saturday so the children have been getting through gallons with their cereal. Meanwhile, the cats are on hunger strike because their usual food was unavailable.

8 am

Paul starts work. It’s the first time since we moved into our house four years ago that he’s actually used the study; he’s usually in meetings in the office and abroad and Zephyr flight trials in the USA or Australia so working from home had never been a practical option.

In contrast, my business is home-based; I commandeered the house’s annexe to create my sewing workshop and fitting room for my business Holly Winter Couture so working at home is nothing new for me.

Working at home with Paul and both children however is going to take some getting used to. 

9 am

Home-schooling begins. If anything has freaked me out about isolation, it’s this. My teaching experience is limited to a year teaching English in a Japanese high school 20 years ago and getting Coral to use a sewing machine for her Brownie badges.

Further, Aaron is autistic and has needed several days to decompartmentalise school and home to accept that schoolwork will now happen at home. And when am I going to get any work done?

I give Coral her timetable from the school and Aaron’s adapted activity list in the format he knows.

First activity is a trip to the shop on scooters in the sunshine (the children wait outside; only strawberry milk is left) before returning for 45 minutes of maths. Aaron aces his number ordering and Coral can add and subtract using roman numerals faster than I can. Still not started any of my own work.

10 am

I use a toilet break to check emails and my business social media. With all weddings and proms in the next few months postponed or cancelled, my business is taking a financial hit, particularly this year.

In the last few months, I’ve invested £1,000s in creating sample bridalwear, advertising, photoshoots, exhibiting at wedding fairs and recruiting in anticipation of my peak May-July quarter, which now won’t happen. My business will survive so I’m lucky but it’s a blow.

Some good news though: one of my brides has posted photos of her wedding on 20 March; Boris Johnson would announce school closures and social distancing later that day.

It’s a particular relief for me that Sarah’s wedding went ahead as planned as she’d asked me to embroider her wedding date in dark green under the collar of her wedding dress!

11 am

We all need a cup of tea after the English lesson. It started well, with Aaron plunging his hands into his bucket of uncooked rice (a favourite calming, sensory activity) for pieces of paper with a word on which he then had to stick on the ‘noun’ or ‘verb’ wall.

It went downhill when he had to correctly punctuate sentences on his worksheet from school while Coral tackled some fronted adverbials.

I retreat to the downstairs loo again and receive an email from another one of my brides who’s postponing her wedding until May 2021. We reschedule her fitting for April next year and I really feel for her but she sounds upbeat, telling me that everyone has been supportive.

12 pm

Paul makes lunch while I continue hiding in the toilet with my phone. The wedding community is pulling out the stops to help couples who have to postpone their weddings or downscale due to reduced income.

I’ve seen a cake maker with cancelled wedding orders baking boxes of beautiful cupcakes for her local NHS staff.

A photographer is offering a free online beginners’ photography course and others are offering free professional product shots to fellow suppliers to alleviate their isolation boredom.

1 pm 

Inspired by the kindness and creativity of these wedding suppliers, I decide to offer free loan of the sample bridalwear I’ve been creating to any bride who needs it because of corona virus.

I’ve also realised I can still hold design consultations and measurement sessions, via videocall. The cats meow at the door to insist I top up their bowls with more food they hate and they ignore that too.

2 pm

More fresh air to prepare for afternoon lessons. We chop firewood in the garden and chat to a neighbour over the fence, keeping at least two metres away of course.

He’s the first person outside our family I’ve chatted to in the flesh in over a week. He might be the last as Aaron takes the axe to some kindling.

3 pm

Music lesson. Coral plays keyboard and Aaron drums in school bands with the organisation Rock Steady.

Rock Steady has put sessions online so we watch the videos and they have a practice until I decide that school is over for today.

4 pm

While the children relax into screen time, I get out the gorgeous floral silk fabric I’m planning to layer under ivory tulle in my next bridal creation.

But first, I need to finish the custom red prom dress I’ve started, even though the prom will now be September rather than June. 

5 pm

I put fish pies in the oven for dinner. Bonus of Paul working at home: we can eat dinner together.

Usually I feed the children when they get home from school and eat with Paul when get gets in from work, which is often after 10pm. 

6 pm

Videocall with my parents in Sheffield. Part of the new routine is that my mum tells us a joke each day. Watching her try to remember the joke is usually way funnier than any punchline but today she doesn’t falter: ‘What’s green and hairy and goes up and down? A kiwi in a lift. It’s supposed to be a gooseberry but I didn’t think the children would know what a gooseberry was.’ 

7 pm

I catch up on some sewing, designing and more emails and social media while Paul wrangles the children into bed.

8 pm

I tuck Coral into bed and read a chapter of her book with her while Paul reads with Aaron. This part of our routine remains untouched by coronavirus.

9 pm

I look at what’s next in the school learning packs to steel myself for tomorrow’s lessons.

Ordering numbers with Aaron I can cope with but Coral has some spider diagrams with a choice of numbers to fill the blanks and I can’t fathom the logic. A friend in a Messenger group points out it’s just adding and I realise today has taken its toll.

10 pm

Paul and I collapse in front of the TV. 

11 pm

Bedtime. I fall asleep quickly as usual, mulling over why CCCXII plus CVI equals CDXVIII and whether the floral silk should be A-line or trumpet under the tulle.

If you want to be involved with My Quarantine Routine, email [email protected]

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