building block dresses sewn by frances suzanne

We are delighted to welcome Ashley and Emily from Frances Suzanne back to the blog. They have stopped by in the past to share their two favorite patterns (the Puppet Show and Music Class), to talk all about tucks, and to share their sewing for a trip to Disney. Now they have a post all about the Building Block Dresses they’ve sewn for their nieces. Here they are.

Hi all! It’s good to be back sharing with the Oliver + S community today! Summer sewing for us often includes grand plans, with the potential for having more time to sew. Building Block Dresses always enter the picture when discussing what to sew next. It seems we have become quite the picky “pattern customers.” You see, we like a lot of patterns…. Yet, more often than not, we find one minor thing we would “do differently” if we were to sew the said pattern.

Thankfully, Liesl’s book Building Block Dress: A Sewing Pattern Alteration Guide walks us through those visions with clarity, ease, and with a much greater pace than if we were left to our own devices–not to mention, the success rate of the finished garment is exponentially increased when “going by the book” rather than by our mere brainpower.

To date, we have sewn six Building Block dresses–each differently styled by design elements or fabric choices. We would like to think it isn’t obvious the same pattern was used to begin all of these projects.

Our oldest niece, EA, has been the recipient of three Building Block Dresses.

1. A casual, empire-waist dress with Peter Pan collar and notched, short sleeves.

Oliver + S Building Block Dress

2. A princess-seamed navy dress with capped sleeves, a tie collar, pleated circle skirt, and fun pockets.

Oliver + S Building Block Dress

(If in doubt, this is the post that gives our most complete and comprehensive review of the book.)

3. An heirloom Easter dress with lace, lace, and more lace. We also made a slip, using the building block dress pattern as a guide.

Oliver + S Building Block Dress

CL, the middle child of the nieces, has also been the recipient of three Building Block Dresses.

1. A sleeveless, striped dress with pleated circle skirt using upholstery fabric.

Oliver + S Building Block Dress

2. A princess-seamed floral dress with capped sleeves, a shaped collar, pleated circle skirt, and fun pockets.

Oliver + S Building Block Dress

This dress actually used all the drafted pieces from EA’s princess seamed, navy dress except for the collar. We perused the Building Block Dresses on Instagram and on Flickr, but did not find another sewn version of a shaped collar, as shown in “dress variation F” and featured on page 111 of the book.

That just would not do! So, we decided to rectify that . . . and make one of our own. Disclaimer: there probably has been a Building Block Dress made with this type of shaped collar since the release of the book; we just did not find it in our searching.

3. A sleeveless, knit nightgown (using the slip pattern from EA’s heirloom Building Block Dress).

Oliver + S Building Block Dress made into a nightgown

Shelley’s post about sewing the Building Block Dress with knits was extremely helpful!

We are thrilled to have “alteration knowledge” when we want to change a particular styling detail. It gives us the freedom to take any pattern and use the alteration methods in the book to create a different variation. And, once you draft certain elements/pattern pieces in a size range, you can use them for multiple garments!!!

That is what we did with EA and CL’s dresses here and here. Same pattern pieces, same size . . . the only change was the collar and fabric selection.

Oliver + S Building Block Dresses

Or, when we used EA’s heirloom slip pattern to make CL’s knit nightgown. You cannot get much different than those two garments!

LG, niece #3, has not been the recipient of a building block dress . . . yet. Her time is coming though, especially since several variations of pattern pieces have been drafted in sizes 4 and 5. And you better believe we are going to put them to use when she hits that size range! The work is done at that stage. The sewing fun can commence!




  1. Oh I love these, especially the collar on the last one!

    1. Thanks so much!!

  2. Susan Terrill

    these dresses are all beautiful. I love the colors and details and pockets. The heirloom dress reminds me of the time I used to do hand smocking and lace work about 35 years ago when I lived in Memphis and my girls were little. But I did it all my hand with rows of entredeux between all the rows of lace and I had to do a hand stitch in each hole of the entredeux. and I had to spit and roll the gorgeous batiste. I made and organdy hat for my daughter and I had laid out the bodice of a beautiful dress on heavy backing paper for an Easter dress and purchased all the lace I needed for the dress but I never finished it.

    I did use hand sewing with the smocked dresses to attach the lace to the collars .Especially when I was able to buy Liberty of London fabric. This was before I was divorced and went back to school to become and electrical engineer. Then my handsewing days disappeared for a while. I never learned to sew with lace on the machine. I am sure I would destroy it.

    1. Wow . . . our mom also sewed heirloom by hand, back in the day and can’t imagine using a machine to sew lace!! It was slow enough WITH the machine, we can’t imagine sewing it all by hand!!

  3. Jean Savage

    I love all these dresses! I’ve made so many outfits for my three girls when they were little (all grown up now). Now I have little great granddaughters and the sewing bug is biting me again. I just need a big dose of energy to get me really going.

    1. You’ve got this . . .you can do it!! Slow and steady wins the race . . . .

  4. Cathi Thomas

    Very nice! What is EA?

    1. Thank you! We refer to the oldest niece as “EA”. It beats spelling her name every time we do a blog post, and protects her identity somewhat . . .

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