Tuesday 19 September 2017

Building Block Dress her way

In a curious coincidence, last week was the first anniversary of the release of the Building Block Dress Book and last week was the first time I really used the book in the way it was intended.

I handed it to my daughter and said pick your dress. Whatever you pick, I can sew it!

We had another Saturday ballet matinee coming up and I was in the mood to use up some of my cotton stash for a new pretty dress. Maybe it was also wishful thinking that spring would come if I would just sew some spring-like garments.

The Building Block Dress Book takes one basic block pattern and then guides you through alterations to every aspect of it such that you end up creating a truly unique dress. Previously I'd used the pattern block and turned it into T-shirt dresses (here and here) by using knit fabric and omitting any closures. Those dresses have both been in heavy rotation.

Applying herself to the task, A sat down and pored over the book then finally declared she liked a dress example with scalloped yoke and hem facing.

Image from Oliver + S with A's dress choice shown on the far right

I rummaged through the fabric stash and presented her with 4 or 5 choices for the main fabric (yep, I wasn't going to let her loose in the fabric stash unsupervised). She picked a quilting cotton that I had 1 metre of and had probably earmarked for making her a blouse about 4 years ago.

Then I hunted for a suitable contrasting solid. The blue from my Lisette dress was a perfect colour compliment, although a bit limp and drapey as a fabric. Still, I was determined that this was to be a stash fabric make so it had to do.

And I set to work on the pattern: the silhouette is unaltered from the basic pattern block. I drafted a size 6 with size 7 length, then retraced the bodice and drew in my curved yoke, cut my tracings and added seam allowances.

For the skirt I wanted the scallops to be about the same size as on the bodice, but of course I also wanted them to continue across the side seams and the centre back seam apparently unbroken. That took a fair bit of measuring and adjusting to get it just right. I thought that was the hard bit done....

But then came the sewing.

Just to sew the two curves each of the front and back bodice was one solid evening's work. There were twenty more on the skirt.

Man, it sucked. Each scallop is the joining of two tight, opposing curves that requires lots of clipping and pinning and careful stitching to avoid puckers. It took forever.

To finish the dress I'd decided on a full lining and invisible zipper. Here I confess I sewed from memory and didn't reference the various parts of the Building Block Dress Book where the instructions could be found. I sewed the dress in the same way I have sewn the Fairy Tale dress (many times now).

I used a lightweight cream cotton from the stash for the lining and then decided that it needed some tulle, so I did end up buying some fabric after all. One metre of light green bridal tulle was enough for a double layered tulle underskirt.

It was all getting pretty last minute by this stage and so I confess that none of those seams are finished. The scallops are all edgestitched, but I should get in under there with the pinking shears and at least trim the raw fabric edges. Or maybe, since it's lined, I'll just ignore the seam allowances and trim stray threads if and when they dangle below the hemline! :)

When she first put it on I wasn't entirely sold on the fit, but then as she moved around (and twirled and twirled - the pictures were taken after attending the ballet hence all the posing) it looked better and better. While I probably do prefer the fit of the Fairy Tale bodice, the twirly part circle skirt on this pattern is a complete winner as far as she's concerned.

Of course the whole point of the Building Block Dress Book is that you don't even have to use the pattern, just use the ideas of pattern manipulation and the techniques shown. So why not put a part circle skirt on the Fairy Tale bodice? Or why not add some waist darts or even princess seams to this bodice to alter it's fit? That is what the book is all about.

The armholes are finished with a bias facing cut from the last little bits of the green floral fabric. The facing is then handstitched to the lining. I think without sleeves I should probably have enlarged the front armhole ever so slightly, and I could have lowered the front neckline just a little - as she sat to watch the ballet it pulled back a bit and was tight across her throat. Solved in 6 year old fashion of course by hefting all her skirts out from under her and not sitting on her skirts at all.

It was certainly a fun challenge and I like the idea of working through a lot of my fabric stash with the "you design the dress, I supply the fabric" team approach. With 60,481* possible variations on the basic block dress I think we'll be kept busy using this book for lots of future ballet attending dresses.

*yep, they crunched the numbers. That many different dresses without even changing fabric!

Pattern: Building Block Dress Book  - basic silhouette. - sleeveless, bias facing. - scalloped yoke and hem. - no collar. - full lining with tulle underskirt. - invisible zipper
Size 6 width, 7 length
Fabric: Quilting cotton (American Cottage by Little Quilts for Peter Pan Fabrics) and tencel, drapey, mystery blue stuff. Batiste lining and tulle
Notions: invisible zipper, thread, and sheer exhaustion. All. those. little. f'ing. curves.


  1. I feel your scallop making pain. I made a similar dress from the book, as per daughter's request, only thankfully she didn't ask for the scallop hem! Still, they look spectacular (yours and mine both) ;)

    1. Thanks Ann. The hem was definitely the killer bit. Glad you came up with a beautiful dress!

  2. Those scallops! So! Much! Work!!! Wowsa! The circle skirt and the tulle are enough to make a 6 year old girl's heart sing, though. Love her dance moves!

    1. Does it sound silly to say I had no idea how much work it would be? No foresight whatsoever :)

  3. Bravo to you for making such a challenging-to-sew dress! Challenging to the patience, I mean, as anyone can see from this dress that you are a pro. I love the team approach to this, and enviously wish that my mother had given me carte blanche to create any kind of dress I wanted as a child. It's lovely and makes me want to try this, too. Though maybe without all the scallops!

    1. Thanks Emi. I'm not entirely sold on the collaborative dress design thing as some of her requests are a bit too frou-frou for me (and his fashion sense is just nutso :) ), but with guidance it was fun.

  4. Amazing job on those scallops--gorgeous! What a lucky girl!


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