Menu
Handmade Wardrobe / Inspiration

The Nora Dress

Megan Nielsen Nora dress for the 40 under 40 Awards evening

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.

The Nora Dress by Megan NielsenBack view of Megan Nielsen's Nora dress

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.

Nora dress in khaki cupro. Inspired by Megan Nielsen's grannyCrossover back straps on Megan Nielsen Nora 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 ;)

Details on the Nora dress by Megan NielsenSide view of Megan Nielsen's Nora dress

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!

The Nora Dress inspired by my Megan Nielsen's granny Nora

photography by Bronnie Joel

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

65 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Liz
Liz
2 years ago

This is beautiful :-) I’d personally love a pattern!

Carrie
Carrie
2 years ago

I love this dress so much!!! It’s stunning! I would definitely buy this pattern!!! Also, thank you for sharing about your grandmother! It reminded me of sweet memories of my grandmother.

Kelly Blake
Kelly Blake
2 years ago

This is fantastic! Your Granny sounds wonderful, I love the hankie bra! This dress looks wonderful and would be a great pattern to sew!

Caitlin Goldston
Caitlin Goldston
2 years ago

Wow! It’s incredible! Even more so with the story behind it. I would LOVE to see a pattern for it. To be able to fit a bodice like that with that gorgeous skirt…swoon!

Toni
2 years ago

Love this dress! And the color on you is perfect!! I would love to make this dress, but would have nowhere to wear it. Ha! I could see myself making the skirt portion for sure. And let’s be real, probably the whole dress and finding somewhere to wear it!

Vero Et
Vero Et
2 years ago

This is amazing!
If the instructions include bra/support instructions Id be all over this.

Anne
Anne
2 years ago

Yes! Yes! Yes! Please!
Anne and her daughter Sarah.

Paige
Paige
2 years ago

I would loooooove to see a pattern for this!

Donna
Donna
2 years ago

I clicked through Insta to find out more details about an upcoming pattern. Yes I think this would be a great addition to a pattern collection. You look beautiful in it.

Jeanine
2 years ago

I would 100percent wear this! neeeeed this pattern! but I’m in Canada so you have a few months to develop it! I’ll even volunteer to test !

Lis Taylor
Lis Taylor
2 years ago

It’s a fabulous dress and you should definitely make it into a pattern. It could easily be a sun dress as well as a ball gown. There is nothing really like it out there. Brilliant !

Allison
Allison
1 year ago
Reply to  Meg

I could also picture it with culottes style legs as a glamorous jumpsuit.

Leah
Leah
2 years ago

Gorgeous! I’d definitely buy a Nora pattern if you made one!

Ashley
Ashley
2 years ago

This is such a stunning dress! You look beautiful x

Georgina
Georgina
2 years ago

I’ve fallen in love with the dress, especially the skirt!! We need the pattern!!
Congratulations for your design and enjoy it! It has a beautiful story behind!!

Megan
Megan
2 years ago

I think this would make an amazing rewearable bridesmaid dress. What a great story about commitment and delayed gratification. Beautiful!

From one (maiden)Megan Nielsen to another

rebeccaDoe
rebeccaDoe
2 years ago

YES, YES, YES! Actually, when I saw the picture, I was ready to buy it in an instant and wear it for Christmas (this year)!

Elisabeth
Elisabeth
2 years ago

I absolutely love this. Please, please, please make a pattern.

Jessica
Jessica
2 years ago

Gorgeous dress! I would definitely buy this as a pattern, especially with a shorter skirt option!!

Jess
Jess
2 years ago

Yes please make a pattern for this, absolutely beautiful!

Mary-Rose
Mary-Rose
2 years ago

Gorgeous dress! Looks gorgeous on you abd I love the skirt….I would love to see a pattern like that available! The only thing is as a bigger busted woman an option for a higher back so one could wear a bra more easily would be awesome… I know this may not fit the aesthetic/pattern of the dress at all, but putting it out there as an idea in case you could think of a way to work it! ??

Susan Munday
Susan Munday
2 years ago

Absolutely stunning, right down to the buttons! Beautifully made, pressed and modeled. All I could think was how beaming proud your grandmother would be to have inspired this creativity in you.

anna irving
anna irving
1 year ago

Oh this is gorgeous! I would make this in a heartbeat… though perhaps with something underneath as my 47 year old back does not like saying hello to the world ;) but then again, I’d probably work out like a mad woman just to be able to wear this as is, it’s so beautiful!

Mauni
Mauni
1 year ago

It is such a lovely dress, Meg, I really think you should turn it into a pattern! I would love to see it in a knee length version too. As I still breastfeed my son, I think the crossed top is great – I’m always pondering if I’ll be able to nurse easily with my outfits. ^^

Melodie
Melodie
1 year ago

Gorgeous dress!! Love everything about it! I’d love a pattern!

Wendy
Wendy
1 year ago

Yes, Please put out a pattern for this dress. Great design!!

Elizabeth Vincent
Elizabeth Vincent
1 year ago

I really like the dres. What about putting it with a jacket that has a similar bottom back shape as the back line. You could slip of the jacket on arrival to reveal the stunning looking back!Could you makes hack that had less fullness in the skirt although I like it the way it is to cut down the spit of heming d be useful for weightier fabrics such as velvet compared with silver. Just a couple of thoughts to add to the mix. Yes. This on is the sign for a winer. Get out there and put your hand out for those awards!

lkleven
lkleven
1 year ago

Love this dress. I too was ready to hit buy. The back is awesome. I’ve been searching for a pattern for years with a back similar to this.

kelley
kelley
1 year ago

The dress is stunning. I love the length, but I think it would be just as gorgeous if it was shorter. It looks like it would be a wonderful; sundress at any length. Thank you for sharing your inspiration from your grandmother.

Allison
Allison
1 year ago

I would absolutely buy this pattern. My first thought was: “omg! that’s my next dress to wear to a summer wedding!” I love it!!!

Kate
Kate
1 year ago

It’s a lovely dress but I think that the bodice doesn’t look like it would provide any support for those of us who need it.

Deneen
Deneen
1 year ago

Oh my gosh — gorgeous! And I love the story behind it. <3 Do it!!! :)

Trinity Kuhl
Trinity Kuhl
1 year ago

I would love to have this pattern!! I don’t need a formal dress but the bodice on a simpler skirt would make an amazing summer dress!! I would love to see this released as a pattern.

Emma
Emma
1 year ago

Such a beautiful dress – I’d definitely say yes to a pattern!

Megan
Megan
1 year ago

What a beautiful dress! I’d love it if you made a pattern for this. It’s hard to find maxi-length dresses.

Sara
Sara
1 year ago

Lovely! It would look great with a Culotte bottom, as well.

Sharon van de Zand
Sharon van de Zand
1 year ago

Love this dress Megan & it truly suits you, I would definitely buy the pattern. The story behind the pattern was beautiful, thank you for sharing with us.

Aarti
Aarti
1 year ago

This is beautiful, I would love a pattern!

Dikeleko Mazibuko
Dikeleko Mazibuko
1 year ago

Beautiful dress, I will personally love to have this pattern.

Erica
Erica
1 year ago

Hi Meg- This dress is swoon worthy! So elegant and modern but with a more casual chic vibe. We definitely need a dress pattern that meets these criteria. I could see wearing this out to dinner on vacation as well as to more upscale events. But for me personally (an intermediate sewist, petite with a larger waist), styles with a fitted waist and a full skirt usually don’t suit my body type and I’m not sure I would have the patience for all those pleats!!! I really love the bodice and was imagining it on different bottoms including a less full skirt…. Also, for the amount of fabric this dress would require, I would definitely want it to be something I could wear on many occasions.
Please please don’t cut the skirt! At least find a reason to wear the dress out a few times before you do!
Thanks for sharing your beautiful story and make. Erica

Donna L Leffler
Donna L Leffler
1 year ago

Would love to try this ash pattern

Tess
Tess
1 year ago

Please create the pattern!!

Anya Velickovic
Anya Velickovic
1 year ago

Nora dress looks like a wonderful pattern, I want to buy a pattern for this dress. Please make the pattern!