With every fibre of her being, Laura Koehler has woven a beautiful tribute to her sister, writes ASHLEY ARGOON.
WHEN she was asked to pick up the skirt of this dress for the next photo, model Katie Reid just could not do it.
The size and volume of fabric was too large for her arms to reach the skirt's hem.
Cascading down to the ankle, the layers were too many and as much as Katie tried, she could only grasp at a few.
For designer Laura Koehler, that was the whole point.
"The size of the skirt and different layers are to do with all the different levels of depression and anxiety, and the size is to do with how big this issue is in our community," Laura says.
A final project for the Wodonga TAFE fashion design student, the piece was created under the instructed theme, "When I grow up".
But it was really a dress for Laura's sister, Aimee Lea, 20.
"When I grew up I always thought she'd be here," says Laura, 25, of her younger sister.
"She was a big part of my life growing up and for some reason she's been taken away."
On March 7, Aimee lost her six-year battle with depression, taking her life after a desperate bid for help from a crisis line.
Seeking a constructive outlet to express her grief, Laura decided on dedicating her design project to mental health awareness.
Called a "show stopper" by her fashion teacher, the Howlong designer's creation was chosen by her classmates as their catwalk finale piece at Thursday's opening of Wodonga TAFE student exhibition Merge.
Teacher Lisa Watt said the meaning behind each and every lovingly created detail set the piece apart.
Laura chose a dress fabric in bright purple, the colour associated with the Border's headspace campaign.
She attached a peacock feather to the front, a symbolic request for people to always show their true colours.
The heart-shaped bodice was crafted to reflect the love between sisters.
Laura spent months considering the design and weeks to create it.
Countless hours were taken to stitch the layered skirt together.
When Laura finally finished her creation, she took photos, stood back and examined the final product.
"I wasn't happy with it," she says.
"The layers didn't sit right."
So she pulled the skirt apart and started it all over again.
It may have taken up a lot of her time, but for Laura it was a cathartic journey.
"It's been a bit of an outlet, to be honest," she says.
"It's helped me to do this in memory of my sister and it's kept me busy.
"I definitely think this has helped my grieving process."
And that's Laura's wish for others experiencing grief; to channel their energy in to something good.
She believes this would be more beneficial to the community instead of, say, online tribute pages for lost friends and family.
Since her sister's death, Laura has noticed well-meaning Facebook dedications popping up in Aimee's honour.
She has also noticed that other similar pages, set up with good intentions, have been desecrated by people with thoughtless or harsh words.
The name Amanda Todd particularly comes to mind.
The 15-year-old Canadian girl posted a video on YouTube in September talking about how she was the victim of incessant cyber-bullying, which had prompted several suicide attempts.
Five weeks later, she took her life.
Since then, more than 200 Facebook memorial pages have been set up in Amanda's name, most of them scrawled with heinous messages by strangers from across the world.
Powerless to stop a thoughtless stranger from commenting about her sister on public Facebook pages, Laura waited, filled with dread, for that first negative comment.
"We were lucky, everything was good but it was scary waiting for that one horrible comment," she says.
"I'm really concerned about Facebook and social media, this issue needs to be addressed.
"And I don't think it's fair to be making pages for someone and commenting on things when (the person is) not here to speak for themselves.
"They don't know what they were going through so it's not anyone else's place to comment."
Laura has endeavoured to have any public Facebook page or photo dedicated to Aimee taken down.
She can't bare the thought of insensitive public comments being made.
Rather than turning to social media as an outlet for their grief, Laura encourages people to instead engage themselves in something more productive -- and meaningful.
For her, it was making a dress.
"Obviously I did it this way because it's something I'm interested in but there are other outlets," she says.
"Not necessarily creative, whether they just go and invest their time helping other charities, getting signatures or taking photos.
"As horrible as it sounds, I think if they were trying to remember someone they'd be out there trying to make a change.
"I understand (why people turn to social media), but I also think that it hasn't been around for that long and people have expressed and dealt with their grief in different ways before."
Laura's dress will be on display today at the Merge exhibition at The Cube Wodonga from 10am to 3pm.
For Laura, it's a much more fitting public tribute to her sister.
"I've been able to put a lot of hard work and energy in to something that's positive and I'm hoping it will make some kind of difference, even if it's small," she says.