Stratford mum works through cancer pain to create amazing wedding dress
WORKING on any dress is a labour of love for Laura Callard.
However, her latest wedding gown creation, which has taken a year to complete, has been more significant than any other as Laura, 41, has been fighting terminal cancer.
A mother to two young children – Emilia, nine, and Daniel, seven – and wife to Ian, the designer and seamstress wanted to finish the dress for a collection at Boho Bride Boutique, where she had been working.
“The dress has been made by me and given to the collection out of love and the reason it has taken me longer than it would normally do is I am extremely fatigued because of my cancer and chemotherapy,” she said.
“In 2018, just before my birthday in August, I found a lump in my breast. Even waiting for the results of the biopsy, I knew it would be cancer as my aunt had died of the same disease when she was 41.
“I am 42 in August and I just want to reach that date. It will help me mentally to get there.”
Laura, who was born and bred in Stratford, had a mastectomy, but unfortunately the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions followed but in December 2019 there was more bad news.
“I started to feel unwell and had a lot of pain throughout my body and I was told the cancer had spread to my bones,” Laura said. “My hip was particularly bad and my amazing oncologist pushed for me to have a hip replacement just before lockdown happened, or I would have ended up in a wheelchair.
“In March, they then found tumours in my liver and they have just recently found shadows in my spleen. I’m now on palliative chemotherapy and cope with extreme fatigue and joint pain.”
She added: “It has been devastating for our family, particularly as my children are so young, but the support they are being given by their school, Stratford Primary, and the Shakespeare Hospice is amazing.
“It is a great comfort to know they are there for them throughout the day and whenever they need to talk or just express their feelings.
“As you can imagine, this past year has been even harder because of lockdown for so many reasons, but particularly because the children have not been able to see their friends, go on play dates and do their normal sports groups.
“And for me, not being able to see my friends and family or take my children out on fun days or holidays has been so very sad.”
Making this wedding dress was a way to fight, a chance to show that even with cancer, Laura was still able to create something special.
The dress will be on display at Boho Bride Boutique in Clifford Chambers, where Laura worked as a designer and seamstress alongside the owner Lynette Turner.
“It is Lynette’s business but we work as a team,” Laura explained. “Lynette has made Boho Bride a warm and welcoming place for brides and excels at making them feel at ease and helping them decide what gown will suit them, whatever their shape, but more importantly listens to what their dream is.
“Quite often a bride would like the top of one dress but prefer the skirt of another, or loved the dress but wanted sleeves added, or they would want beading or lace added to a plain dress or their accessories customised to match. So we listen and create that dream.”
They also make bespoke gowns and are currently on their third collection.
“I started designing this final collection in the autumn of 2019 as we were due to have a very busy winter going into spring. But then lockdown happened and most of our brides have had to postpone their weddings.
“This dress is the first of this collection and took me 12 months to design and make, but it will be available to view at Boho Bride Boutique at Stratford Garden Centre once lockdown has been lifted.”
Sewing and creating has been a passion for Laura from an early age – she loved sewing with her mother and grandmother.
She studied fine art at Cardiff University and started to make her own clothes, which made her realise she wanted to pursue designing and making clothes as a career.
“In my final year I started to search for colleges that taught City and Guilds qualifications and found the Inkberrow Design Centre in Worcester, led by Brenda Killigrew.
“So I came back home and got stuck in and did every course they offered and particularly fell in love with theatrical costume, specialising in corsetry.”
Laura went on to teach at Bromsgrove College and develop her own business, Lola and Em, carrying out alterations and making clothes for clients. “But my love was designing and making bridal dresses,” she added.
Realising after the birth of her son that the teaching job could prove difficult with two children, Laura spotted a new bridal shop at Stratford Garden Centre and asked if they needed a seamstress.
“Due to not being able to stand for long periods or lift things very well I can no longer work with clients, but I have an amazing group of colleagues, led by Lucinda Holbrook-Hase, who I worked with at Inkberrow Design College,” said Laura. “They now work with Lynette to keep creating dresses they know brides will love.
“Lucinda has also stepped forward and has taken over the care and running of my business and she will look after it for my daughter Emilia, who is an incredible artist, even better than I was at her age. I started my business Lola and Em for both of us and I am passing on my knowledge to her as she loves to sew.”
Laura’s dress is now in need of a special bride to fall in love with it.
“I still love seeing photographs of the look on the bride’s face when she first puts on her dress and it is just as she dreamed it would be.”
To find out more, visit www.bohobrideboutique.co.uk.
Lucky to have the Rigby Unit
Laura has nothing but praise for the NHS staff in south Warwickshire who have been providing treatments and care.
“I think we are so very lucky in Stratford and the surrounding area in having the Rigby Unit at Stratford Hospital,” she said. “It is such a beautiful building but more importantly the nurses and doctors who work there are outstanding; always kind and always there for you if you need to talk if you are worried.
“The Aylesford Unit in Warwick Hospital is just as wonderful but to have the facility in Stratford and not to have to drive over to Warwick every time I need to be seen or have any treatment makes a world of difference.”