When the new book from Oliver+S, Building Block Dress: A Sewing Pattern Alteration Guide, arrived on my doorstep, my girls and I knew it was time to get to work.
This book is very different from any of the other sewing books on my shelf. Liesl gives you a basic dress pattern and shows you dozens of ways to hack it into just about any dress you can think of. The coolest thing about this book, I think, is that Liesl gives you lots of ideas for how to tweak the pattern into her own designs listed in the book, but she also gives you the tools to combine just about any silhouette, sleeve, collar, pocket and closure to create you own original design. What a kick!
My girls and I had a ball looking through the table of contents with all the photos of different design elements, and then choosing all the parts that would come together in their very own dresses!
Kiki chose an A-line dress with the very cute tie collar, cuffs, external hem facing and invisible zipper. Lulu chose the basic silhouette with a shaped yoke, scallop external hem facing and invisible zipper. I asked Lulu if she wanted cuffs, and she said “No way!” Ok then 😉
Just to be sure they knew what they were getting, we did some preliminary drawings.
Choosing fabric with my girls is always a challenge. If we look online or take a trip to Joann’s together, they almost always end up falling in love with the latest Disney princess or Shopkin quilting cotton (ick) — and there are only so many character themed garments that I’m willing to make. Know what I mean? So my new tactic is to browse online solo, pick out several fabrics that I think we all will like, copy and paste the images into Powerpoint, and present it to the girls. This way, they can still choose the fabric they like best without being overwhelmed by millions of choices, and I know that I’ll enjoy sewing with it.
This time, Michael Miller’s Norwegian Too Hedgehoglets was the hands down winner.
In order to pick the perfect shade for the accent color, I emailed the good people at Hawthorne Threads
and asked what they thought would work best — since it’s impossible to see exact shades online. They were incredibly quick to respond and had lots of great suggestions. At first, I asked for chambray ideas, and they sent over several good brown options. But then, I reconsidered and decided to go with the red in the mushrooms. Again, they promptly sent over several choices, and I ended up with Cotton Couture in Cherry
. Thanks, guys!
For Kiki — The A-line dress pattern was pretty easy and quick to alter, and the sewing went quite smoothly. This was my first time using the “Slash & Spread” method — which is a way of lengthening a bodice into an A-line dress with even fullness all around. I’m sure this trick will be useful lots in the future, including making dresses out of t-shirt patterns.
I’d never finished a collar with bias facing, and I just love it. Such a clean finish!
Aren’t the notches in the sleeve cuffs such a great detail?!
The only hitch I ran into was with the sleeve cuff facings, which finish the raw edges where the sleeve and cuff are sewn together much like bias tape would. When I tried to sew them on, I found the strips to be too narrow at 1″ wide. So I re-cut those facings to be 1 1/2″ wide, and that fixed the problem.
When it was time to add interfacing to the tie collar, I only interfaced the actual collar portions and left the tie part un-interfaced (is that a word?). Next time, I might try interfacing the whole thing, as the tie might lay more smoothly with a bit more body.
For Lulu’s dress, the pattern alterations took considerably more time and brain power.
The scallops on the shaped yoke were pretty tricky to pull off. I didn’t realize until I sat down in at the sewing machine to put the bodice together that sewing a curve like this is a lot like squeezing a square peg into a round hole. But drawing in the stitching lines and stay stitching really helped, and I think it turned out well enough in the end.
I also ended up lining the bodice, as the contrast fabric for the yoke is lighter weight than the main fabric, and I felt like it needed more stability.
Measuring out the width of the scallops on the hem facing so that I didn’t end up with a wonky scallop on the side seams was another fairly major task. Liesl suggests cutting the scallop shape out of card stock and figuring out the measurements that way, which worked really well. (I used a ramekin from the kitchen to trace the round shape of the scallop.) Once I got the scallop templates sitting evenly, I traced them onto my pattern piece and went from there. My kids’ washable Crayola markers were a life saver when it came time to trace the scallops onto the fabric!
Liesl suggests adding interfacing to the hem facing, which worked wonders keeping the scallops smooth and even, while adding a little bit of weight.
If I use this type of hem again, I think I’ll try sewing it up in the manner of the O+S Ice Cream Dress
, with the accent color is on the outside and
the inside of the hem. I think it would look cleaner.
I’ve sewn in lots of invisible zippers, and have never been entirely happy with how other patterns deal with the tops of the zippers. Liesl suggests marking 7/8″ from the top of the neckline and lining the zipper stop up with that mark, and then folding the end of the zipper over on itself a little bit and sewing it out of the way. This method worked really well, and I’m sure I’ll use it over and over again.
By the way, for Lulu’s dress I only sewed the zipper into the bodice and cut it off where the bodice meets the skirt. I find this method to be way simpler than extending the zipper into the skirt, and there’s still plenty of room to get the dress on and off.
Both girls decided on 3/4 length sleeves. Since that length isn’t included in the book, I took the sleeve length measurement from my copy of the O+S Library Dress
and cut a bit of length off the Building Block long sleeve.
Here’s my take-away from this experience — Designing your own dress based on Liesl’s Building Block pattern does take a much bigger time investment than simply pulling your favorite pattern off the shelf and sewing it up as instructed. But, it’s a ton of fun and can be a great project to tackle together with the dress’s wearer to create the dress of her (and your) dreams!
By the way . . . these dresses made an appearance on the Oliver + S blog today. Check it out!