Nice To Meet You, Norma

Many moons ago, right back in Lockdown 1 when I was furloughed and had all the time in the world to sew, I spotted this broderie anglaise remnant on one of the New Craft House drops and I just fell in love. It’s not necessarily my typical vibe, but something about it just spoke to me. Perhaps it was just that I was longing for days in the sunshine, holiday jaunts and walks through tiny side streets, desperately clinging to a litre of water and desperately trying to insist that ‘yes I love the heat actually THANK YOU’ (spoiler: just thinking about the sun is enough to give me heat stroke and I will complain for every moment my skin is exposed, but in these dark depths of winter I have forgotten that, just for a moment). A few months before, Fibre Mood had released their Norma pattern and it was starting to crop up on Instagram more and more, slowly but surely turning into a definite trend in the sewing community. Instantly I had visions of those sleeves in a crisp cotton broderie and that was it, it had to be done.

The nature of broderie anglaise means it’s got these delicate little holes all over the fabric, which are so whimsical and dainty but present a glaring problem: namely, flashing the flesh. Obviously I knew this would need some kind of lining, and I spent a while debating whether to line it in the traditional way (cut out a second version of the pattern, construct, then attach both shells together inside out and turn ’em the right way round) or whether to go down the more traditional route of interlining. I went for the latter, having decided it would be less bulky and nicer to wear than a fully lined blouse. I also decided to leave the sleeves unlined to create an extra subtle feature of the not-so-subtle sleeves. I bought a fine cotton lawn, then cut out my bodice front and back and facings as I had with my main fabric. I then basted these two layers together – with the right side of the lining against the wrong side of the main fabric, which meant I then had one of each piece (bodice fronts and back) to play with. From there I followed all the instructions as normal and had it whipped up in an afternoon.

This was actually the second Norma I’d made, after my mum fell in love with the design and asked me to make one for my Aunt’s birthday. My mum chose this delectable Atelier Brunette viscose and we both immediately agreed we needed our own. I actually still have a metre of that fabric leftover, so it may yet fulfil its destiny as a second Norma … unless that would ruin the joy of my Aunt’s one-off. Watch this space. Or you know, watch this space in a year’s time when I actually manage to write the accompanying blog post, whatever. The beauty of the Norma is that it really changes depending on the fabric you make it out of. The version I’m writing about in this post is crisp, put together, with big voluminous sleeves that can’t help but make a statement. The viscose version was far more delicate, drapey and beautiful – but a whole different vibe.

The beauty of the Norma is twofold: one, how little fabric it takes (my aunt’s came out of just under a metre, this one in a bigger size was more like 1.2 metres) and two, how quick it is to sew up. Like, I can’t be certain because it’s taken me a solid 8 months to get around to writing about it, but I’m pretty sure this came together in less than a day, including cutting out and basting. All of the shaping comes from the curved side seams so there are no darts to faff about with – just get your facing on, get your shoulders and side seams together, stick your sleeves in, cuffs, buttons & buttonholes, hem. Wham bam thank you ma’am. The dinky little cuffs were the fiddliest part: the combination of how narrow they are combined with the holes in the fabric just made them a right bloomin’ faff but we got there in the end, and I don’t know about you but I think they look super cute.

I didn’t actually get that much wear out of this after making it – the sleeves make it really quite breezy to wear and it’s pretty hard to style covered up, and a vest will only get you so far when it’s -2 outside. But with the arrival of sunnier days (famous last words), my love for Norma has returned with a vengeance and she’s getting her rightful praise. The Norma goes up to a UK 30 (bust: 140cm, waist: 127cm, hip: 140cm) – I made a UK 12 and if anything, it’s a bit roomy particularly around the shoulders and across the bust. It’s still completely wearable, I just have to be a little bit conscious of the ol’ cleavage, especially if I’m leaning over. For my next Norma I’ll size down – I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll size down all over or just grade to a 10 at the bust and back to a 12 at the waist and hip.

I spent a long time deliberating about the buttons for the Norma. As I was making this blouse I fell completely and utterly in love with it and I wanted everything about it to be absolutely perfect. I spent a long time browsing various sites, deliberating about plastic vs metal, fabric vs wooden. In the end, I was torn between some very simple white linen covered buttons and these beauties, which are dinky little Liberty covered buttons made by Coco and Wolf. After much internal debate I went for the Liberty ones and they were the perfect choice and I just love the little pop of colour they bring to an otherwise very minimalist blouse. In fact, when it came to the buttonholes it’s the only place I tripped up. I sewed the whole thing on my trusty Bernina 1008, apart from the buttonholes which I always do on the first machine I owned which is a Brother Innov-is 10. For some reason my beloved Bernina has a tantrum every time I ask her to sew a buttonhole but the Brother has an automatic buttonhole feature and is a total dream to use. She sailed through the first four holes but when it came to the top buttonhole, she got stuck on one of the holes in the fabric and just couldn’t complete the stitch. Honestly, I reckon I unpicked that buttonhole about four times before giving up. In the end, I used a trusty trick from my days in the theatre – I stitched on a metal popper and then stitched the button over the top as a false button. And be honest – if I hadn’t just told you, would you have known?

I’m genuinely so thrilled to have rediscovered this little gem of a blouse and it’s lit a spark under me to make more – I’m thinking about a dreamy drapey viscose version similar to the one I made for my aunt. She’s such a beauty and gives such a gorgeous end result for a relatively quick and easy sew – if any beginners out there are thinking about dipping their toes into the world of blouses I would absolutely recommend the Norma as the place to start.

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