sew + tell: donna’s building block dresses

Donna sewed a whole bunch of Building Block Dresses and Art Museum Vests for her grandchildren for the holidays. They turned out so cute! We just had to share them with you. Donna is here to talk about all the sewing she’s been doing.

Oliver + S Building Block Dresses

Name: Donna

Where can we find you on the internet? Flickr, Pinterest, Facebook, Etsy

Patterns used: Building Block Dress, Art Museum Vest

Fabrics used: Kaufman Manchester Metallic in silver from Gloversville Sewing Center, accented with silk velvet that I picked up last summer at Portsmouth Fabric Company.

Project details

When I turn on my sewing machine, a personal message flashes across the screen, “Make someone happy!” Nothing makes me happier than to see my four granddaughters and two grandsons squeal with joy as they dance around in their newly-made special occasion dresses and outfits every Christmas and Easter. I love to use the Fairy Tale Dress pattern and Garden Party dress pattern in fine fabrics such as silk, velvet, organdy and Swiss batiste to create heirloom pieces for the girls. Unfortunately, my time was limited this Christmas when I began working part-time for a local sewing center. I had a copy of the Building Block Dress and was anxious to try it. Unfortunately, with four dresses and two boy outfits to make, I had little time or creative inspirations.

One day at work, while cutting a piece of Christmas cotton fabric in silver metallic for a client, I received a creative spark! I could create a simple yet elegant dress of various sleeve and collar combinations using the Building Block Dress book. What little girl cannot resist that added fullness to the skirt! They could spin with joy! I wondered if I could properly size each girl when I lived so far from them, but after following every post and discussion regarding the Building Block Dress, I began the project with hope and confidence. When the project was completed, I mailed them in special Christmas boxes. I received two special FaceTime calls with happy girls twirling around in spinning skirts!

Oliver + S Building Block Dresses

How did the sewing go?

The project was simply a delight to create and sew! They came together quickly. The design and construction pages of the book made the decision process for each dress combination a joy. For the youngest girl (age 4), I could keep her young in a classic design using a deep green velvet collar and puffy short sleeve. For the older two cousins (age 7), I chose age appropriate design with a sleeveless dress, silver color, and velvet belt in deep grey or merlot. For the middle girl (age 6) with a creative spirit who loves the color blue, I chose a collarless dress with a beautiful deep blue velvet belt and kept her young and modern with a classic cap sleeve. For the boys, I chose to match their sister’s fabrics and color in silver and grey. I love the way the velvet gathers in the boys’ bow ties.

Since the fabric was actually a quilter’s cotton, the dresses and vests sewed together like a dream. The cotton wrinkles a little but as you can see in the photos, the texture works in any wrinkle. I lined each piece in gray or white voile. The silk velvet can be challenging, but since I was simply accenting each piece, the challenges were minimum. When I was finished with the dresses, they needed another “little something”. My daughter suggested vintage pins for bling on the waist or collar. My friend at Daisy Dry Goods vintage store in our village is always generous to me when I sew for my grandchildren, and helped me find old rhinestone pins and earrings to attach to the dresses.

What was the best part?

My husband and I could not be with our children on Christmas day but traveled south to see them during the holiday break. Our Christmas celebrations were complete when all of the grandchildren were together on New Year’s Eve, dressed in their special holiday outfits. They watched fireworks, danced, blew horns and led us in some lovely celebrations of giving thanks for the events of last year and looking forward with hope to the coming year. In working to make them happy, I was the happiest of all.

Oliver + S Building Block Dresses and Art Museum Vests


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  1. So precious, Donna! Thanks for letting us feature you and your adorable grandchildren. The look so happy in their special outfits, made with love.

    1. Donna

      Thank you Liesl for this opportunity to share and for bringing us all happiness with these patterns!

  2. So lovely! So much happiness and the girls are precious in their dresses. Lovely story !

    1. Donna

      Thank you Camelia.

  3. Dorothy

    Great dresses and I love the individual touches on each dress. The children look adorable in their outfits. It is very satisfying to sew for your grandchildren and see the enjoyment they get from their new outfits.

    I made the Art Museum vest and pants for my grandson’s Christmas outfit and he loved them.

    1. Donna

      Thank you. The art museum vest is one of my favorites because it dresses the boys up like little men and because the pattern has great details and fabulous directions. Love to see the little boys dressed up sharply in that vest.

  4. These outfits are AMAZING! I agree with you, sewing makes me happy, and it’s a nice bonus if it makes my kids happy too! So all around, good for the soul!

  5. Lyn

    what a lovely post (and sewing 🙂

  6. Lynn Shepard

    It makes my heart sing to see your lovely, happy, grandchildren! Beautiful sewing!

  7. Lovely child, a happy family, beautiful dress, the only fly in the ointment was the dress material is chemical composition

    1. Silk, the fabric is 93% cotton, 5% lurex, 3% poly. So really the only chemical is the lurex. I think it’s a lovely fabric, and quite child-friendly while also being very festive. A full poly fabric would be much less attractive and more dangerous to the environment.

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