The Nora dress has been in my dreams for something like 20 years, ever since my Granny told me stories of living through the second World War, shortages and rationing, and how that impacted her sewing. These were my favourite chats with her. I could have listened for hours about how she coped and made do in such trying times. Of all the stories she told me the one that rolled around in my brain constantly was about how when she could no longer buy them, she made herself bra’s from two handkerchiefs folded into triangles, with darts sewn in the middle of each, crossed over at the front and with a ribbon or rope threaded through the folds to tie at the back. The ingenuity of that solution impressed me so much that I wanted to try it myself.
Many hankies were sacrificed in attempts. But then the idea evolved – what if a skirt was added to the two triangles? Could that be a dress?
My first version of the Nora dress was back in 2006, and I really wish I had a photo because that first muslin was made out of a sarong that I had bought on holiday and never used. It was so bright haha. I tried a few more variations on the dress idea over the years, and generally hovered around the idea of a cross over triangular bodice with an empire waist dress, but more and more began playing with the skirt being a wrap, different waistband and strap ideas.
And then I kind of forgot about it. I had kids, started my business, got really busy and before I knew it, 2020 arrived.
I only remembered the dress idea when I found out I had been nominated for the 40 Under 40 Awards. I immediately knew I wanted to make my dress for the awards gala event, and knew what dress it needed to be. It needed to be the Nora dress. I pulled out my old sketch book and we started working on a pattern for my dream dress.
I ended up spending most of our COVID lock down time working on muslins with my pattern drafter and though at the time it felt silly to work on a ball dress during a pandemic, it really gave me something to focus on. I sent family members so many photos of myself half clad in bodice muslins that I know they must really love me to have put up with it haha. I sewed a lot of muslins, and through that process the dress design evolved. The silhouette changed slightly, the waistline lowered and widened, my plans for the neckline were updated, and I really honed the fit and construction. Oh and of course I added pockets – you know how I feel about pockets!
By the time the 40 Under 40 Gala Awards night rolled around in September, restrictions had lifted in Perth, and my Nora dress pattern was fully fleshed out and tested and I was ready to sew the final piece!
I had set aside quite a few different fabrics from the studio for this dress, and had so much trouble choosing what to use. In the end I decided on a gorgeous khaki cupro that draped wonderfully and I thought would be a bit more “wash and wear” after the event. Though the Gala Awards night was Black Tie formal, I knew I was never going to wear a formal gown again (this is the first time I’ve needed one, ever haha), and had plans to shorten the hemline afterwards and turn it into a day dress.
The most challenging parts of the final make were the pressing and hemming. Pressing cupro is always a pain, and with so many pleats and small components I must admit I did not enjoy pressing this make. The hemming was also a little challenging as we drafted the skirt as a very large 1/4 circle to give it a lot of body and drape. Though that makes the skirt really gorgeous and voluminous, it also meant that there were many bias sections which stretched a huge amount. I left this dress to hang for quite some time, and my lovely design assistant Naomi helped me hem it – me standing on a stool and Naomi measuring up from the floor – the same as I would recommend for any circle skirt. So big thanks to Naomi for going above and beyond the call of duty to help get the hem just right ;)
I’m honestly just SO happy with how this dress turned out! The fit is perfect for me, it’s comfortable and though the back and neckline are low it is carefully constructed to be very secure and provide the right amount of coverage. I don’t even have the words to properly express how wonderful it is to be standing here in my dream dress, something I’ve been wanting to make for so so long. I love my Nora dress so much.
I know a few of you might be wondering if this will be released as a sewing pattern, and honestly at this stage I don’t know. You tell me – is this something you’d like to make yourself? I designed this dress for myself because I wanted to wear it, without any thought of releasing it – but if there is enough interest i’d be happy to work on it as a pattern. Let me know what you think!
photography by Bronnie Joel