Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle's Wedding Gown Maker Struggling to Feed Family

Chloe Savage has been pushed to the edge of homelessness during the pandemic

Chloe Savage's expert embroidery helped create the iconic royal wedding dresses of both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.

Due to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, however, she is now struggling to feed her children and is facing the very real possibility of homelessness.

"It's been horrific," Savage, 43, tells PEOPLE from her home in Warmley Village on the outskirts of Bristol, England. "We've had all our work literally dry up.

"My 14-year-old daughter is skipping meals to save on the food budget," she adds. "The stress is getting to her and she is self-harming too. So, she's now going to Child Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to get support."

royal dressmaker Chloe Savage
Catherine East

This is a very long way from Savage's role in the royal wedding celebrations of 2011 and 2018, where she helped create Kate and Meghan's gowns at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court Palace.

"We appliquéd all the lace to her gown and shoes," Savage says of her work on Kate's Alexander McQueen dress, adding that she also worked on her "elasticated blue silk and white lace garter."

"All of the things that you don't get to see!" she jokes.

"Kate came in a few times. She was lovely. The usual blushing bride," adds Savage, who studied at the prestigious École Lesage in Paris. "She was excited about the dress, nervous about the day, questioning what we were doing... all that sort of stuff."

Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton at her 2011 royal wedding. Chris Jackson/Getty

The Duchess of Cambridge also wisely opted to leave the meticulous handwork to Savage and the rest of the professionals.

"She didn't pick up a needle herself," says Savage. "She didn't trust herself not to bleed on the work!"

While Savage was out of the office when Meghan dropped in to view her Givenchy dress ahead of her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry, she was responsible for hand-stitching California poppies, ears of corn, Commonwealth flowers and a variety of garden flowers onto the royal bride's veil.

"It gave you snow blindness after an hour-or-so because you were constantly working white on white," says Savage about the painstaking process of embroidering white thread onto white silk tulle. "You start to go a little bit cross-eyed after a while!"

Meghan Markle on her wedding day.

Away from royal wedding gowns, Savage has worked extensively for theatre, TV, and couture houses including Balenciaga and Victoria Beckham. Her work has also appeared in the Harry Potter movies and numerous "weird and wonderful one-offs" for film companies, such as a special 007 embroidered jacket for Daniel Craig.

Prior to the pandemic, Savage — who also has sons aged 8 and 24 — also worked as a conservator for The National Trust charity, where she was responsible for 40,000 historic textile items at Tyntesfield house in North Somerset, including an entire cupboard of Victorian dishcloths.

Sadly, this has all gradually dried up since the U.K. first went into lockdown in March.

"In January and February, we started seeing a lot of our international contracts getting put on hold," says Savage. "Work just disappeared. People like the National Trust very quickly said they would have to postpone our projects because they knew they were going to have a massive hole in their budget."

In what Savage describes as "a desperate attempt to stop hemorrhaging money," she shut down her Chloe Savage Embroidery studio, laid off her apprentices and took out a $30,000 "bounce back loan" provided by the U.K. government to help small businesses during the pandemic.

The problem is, the loan was almost entirely eaten up by business-related costs such as electricity, materials and buying herself out of her studio rental. She has since applied for the U.K. version of welfare four times, only to be turned down each time.

royal dressmaker Chloe Savage
Catherine East

With very little money coming in – Savage says she makes around $250 a month selling embroidery kits – and lots continuing to fly out, she's fallen back on her parents, who are turning their garage into a new workspace and selling off her dad's beloved, vintage Morris Minor car.

"We are now in the position where we have to actually not pay our bills for the first time ever," says Savage.

"Well, what else do you do?" she says. "You spend half the time phoning up agencies trying to grovel your way into reducing your bill or putting it on a monthly payment or spreading it over, just so you don't get hit by the whole thing.

royal dressmaker Chloe Savage
Catherine East
royal dressmaker Chloe Savage
Catherine East
royal dressmaker Chloe Savage
Catherine East

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"We might make it through to the New Year but we'll then have to sit down and try and grovel with our landlord and go into rent arrears until he decides to start removal procedures.

"It's really an attractive prospect," she adds sarcastically.

For the moment Savage is focusing on refurbishing her mom's garage and "hoping to God" that ongoing negotiations to provide some costumes for a new HBO project come to fruition in 2021.

"It might just keep us vaguely floating as long as nothing goes wrong," she says.

Despite being about as far removed from regal life as it's possible to imagine, Savage also knows that while it may be a while until another major royal wedding takes place, her expert skills are still likely to be called upon by the royal family at some stage.

"If and when we change monarchs we will have to make a coronation robe for whoever is next," says Savage, who signed the UK's Official Secrets Act for both royal weddings to maintain the huge privacy around the gowns. "So I will know well in advance who it is going to be."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help support Savage and her family.

If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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