Book Review

Oliver + S Building Block Dress
A Sewing Pattern Alteration Guide

Blog / 28 September 2016

It’s pretty rare that I’ll sew with a sewing pattern and make no adjustments or customisations to it. Whether it’s a slightly higher or lower neckline, different sleeve length or a fitting tweak I usually always see a pattern as a starting point for my own design.

When Liesl (of Oliver + S fame) asked me to take part in the blog tour and review her brand new concept book, ‘The Building Block Dress – A Sewing Pattern Alternation Guide’ I was really excited to see how it would work and all come together.

The basis of the book is a block pattern for a simple children’s dress with size range from 6 months to 12 years. The book then talks you though so many different customisations that you can do to the pattern to make your own design and there are literally thousands of different combinations.

The customisations are split into a sleeves section, silhouettes, pockets, collars and necklines and finally finishes: hems closures and linings. You can either put together your own combination or seek inspiration from all the different ideas Liesl has put together.

You download their dress planning worksheet that has the faint outline of the basic dress that allows you to draw your own design on top of. I found this really useful and I’m pretty terrible at drawing my ideas in any kind of scale or proportion. It helps to see how the design will look with the different components that you choose.

You then go to the corresponding page for that customisation and adapt your pattern and then follow the instructions for how to sew it.

The instructions are pretty comprehensive with really clear diagrams that help you to visualise what you should be doing. I find lots of text quite off putting unless there is a good diagram and I think the book has a really nice balance of that.

So for my design I choose the flutter sleeve, A-line silhouette, external neck facing and a button back.

I used this really soft pink cord and floral twill fabric for my dress for Sophia. They go together really well and the twill is really lightweight so it doesn’t bulk out the neckline too much.

As the smallest size option was 6-12 months it’s still too big for Sophia (she was 5 months when these pictures were taken), but I’m sure she’ll fit into it in no time and the thickness of the cord will keep her warm over the next few months.

I really enjoyed working though the pattern adaption’s and found it quite satisfying to think that I had made the pattern myself (well pretty much).

This is what my pattern pieces looked like.

I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The sleeve looks so cute. I cut a bias strip to finish the arm hole but it ended up not being totally equal in width when I pressed it round. I think it was a combination of not cutting it exactly on the bias and the way that I sewed it in. The book instructs the method where you fold the bias strip in half, sew onto the right side of the fabric and then stitch in place. It meant that I couldn't really fold it under more in places where the binding was a bit wider, so I decided to hand sew to finish it off with an invisible catch stitch.

I love a bit of topstitching so I really like how the external neck facing has worked out. I made a shape that was similar to the one shown in the book but you could make it any shape you fancy.

The buttons go all the way down the centre back but I only need to undo 3 of them to get it on and off her – at the moment anyway!

I'm really pleased with how it turned out and I think the book is great and something really different as you can make whatever you want of it depending on your skill level.

The other great thing about the book is that you can use the pattern adaption concepts on adult patterns and for knit fabrics too! You can read more about that from Liesl on the Oliver + S blog.

As this book is self published, if you'd like to buy a copy you can order direct from the Oliver + S website, were it gets shipped from their warehouse in the US.

I was kindly given a copy of the book for free but as always, all views are my own and I only agree to do things like this when I genuinely like the book I'm reviewing.

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Image credit to Victoria Beddoes Photography