Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pillowcase Dress Tutorial


PLEASE NOTE: This tutorial is different from the one you will find on the Little Dresses for Africa site. I followed their pattern for the first few dresses I made, but then I decided to modify theirs to more suit the way I wanted my dress to go together. Some of the materials I used are different as well as the order in which I cut and sewed the dress together. I have not included their sizings, but you can find them on LDFA site.

1 new or lightly used cotton pillowcase
2-7 inch pieces of 3/8 inch wide elastic - you can use wider if you so choose
2-15 inch pieces of matching 3/8 inch wide gross grain ribbon - you can use wider  
1-package 1/2 inch color coordinated single fold cotton bias tape, thread, scissors or a rotary cutter, yard stick or ruler, pins, & steam iron


1. Find either a new or lightly used cotton pillowcase, wash it, and steam press it to iron out all of the wrinkles and flatten any seams. In general, pillowcases have a wide hemmed open top and a seam at the bottom. Some have a single side seam while others have two. You can work around these variations without any problems.

2.Place ironed pillowcase on your cutting surface. Smooth out your fabric as well as you can because you want to end up with an even cut where the distance is the same from top to bottom for both the front and back of the dress. Place pins as needed around the area to keep the fabric from shifting. Using a yard stick,  measure from the top to the bottom seam and place marks  with your Dritz Mark G Gone or pins at the point where you want to draw your cutting line across the pillowcase. For this one I went down 31 inches.

3. Take an erasable or disappearing ink sewing marker like Dritz Mark B Gone and draw a line from side to side at your pins/markings.

4. Cut seam off along that line using either scissors or a rotary cutter.

5. Before starting to make the armholes, be sure you have your pillow case with the hemmed edge at the bottom of your cutting surface and the bottom of the pillowcase that you just cut open up at the top. Your armholes come from the fabric where you just cut open the seam and NOT from the hemmed part. Once again use some pins to keep your pillowcase from moving. Place a ruler in the upper right hand corner and going toward the center measure in 2 inches and make a dot with your pen.

Please note that I used a red Sharpie permanent marker throughout his tutorial so that my notations could be seen more easily. You should only use an erasable or disappearing ink pen when placing marks on your pillowcase. Now place your ruler back at that upper right hand corner, but this time measure 5 inches going down the side fold towards the hem and make a second dot. Next, measure in 2 inches towards the center from the lower dot and make a third dot. Connect the three dots and you will have a rectangle. Place a pin in the middle of the rectangle. Go back and reshape that inner right angle into a curved line so when you cut out the armhole it has a rounded edge instead of a sharp rectangular one. I use a protractor so I can get a nice curve.

 6. Cut out your armhole through both layers following along your markings.

7. Your second armhole is a snap. Just bring over the pieces of fabric you just cut away from the right side (they will still have the pin in them), place the straight edge of the cutout going from top to bottom along the left side fold and the curved edge towards the center of the dress. Pin to pillowcase, mark around the edge of the cutout you are using for your pattern, and then cut it out. Voila!  You have your matching armholes.

8. Open up the single fold bias tape and pin it around the RIGHT side of one of your armholes stretching and smoothing both the tape and the fabric as you go. DON’T PIN THE TAPE TO THE WRONG SIDE OF YOUR DRESS!  Cut off the extra tape at the end.

9. Do the same thing with the other armhole. Use lots of pins before starting to sew. You need to stitch the tape to the fabric for both armholes along that first fold line where you opened up the tape to pin it. I’ve marked it in black for you. Go SLOWLY, and once again stretch and smooth both layers as you are stitching. You don’t want any tucks or puckers to appear.

10.  After stitching go back and make some very short angular cuts around the curved section of the armhole. Be extra careful not to cut too deeply.

11. Fold the tape to the inside of the dress, and steam it well. You don’t want any of the facing showing on the front or your dress. Pin it frequently from the FRONT SIDE….this is because you are going to topstitch on the front side of the dress and NOT the wrong side. You might rather topstitch from the back, and that is certainly ok.If you choose to do this, you will need to do your pinning from the wrong side.

12.  Before starting to topstitch, check the colors of your upper and bobbin threads. I changed mine to red because I was using red bias tape. By changing the bobbin color to match the bias tape the irregularities in your stitching will not show up so badly! Depending upon whether you are stitching from the front or the wrong side, you might need to change your top or bobbin thread accordingly. Topstitch around armholes as close to the edge as you can.

13. Go back and stitch one more time about 1/2 inch from the outer edge. You should successfully catch the bias binding on both rounds.

14. If you find you are having trouble getting the fabric to feed under the pressure foot, you can take a piece of piecing paper and start your stitching on it. After about 2 inches, place the fabric on top of that piecing paper and then as close to the pressure foot as you can or under it. At the same time as you are guiding and stitching forward using your right hand, pull back on the piecing paper left hand. Doing this will help you get more traction so the “glop” of fabric won’t get hung up and make a disastrous mess. I use this little trick anytime I am having difficulty getting material to feed in properly.  When you are through with your seam, just tear away the piecing paper. I took this picture from the left side of my sewing machine facing in. Follow these same steps for the other armhole. Steam press flat.

15. To make the casing, fold the front top edge 1/4 inch to the wrong side and press. You can even stay-stitch it if you want. Fold it over one more time 5/8 inch, iron, and stitch in place as close to the edge as possible. If you are using a larger width elastic and gross grain, then you will need to turn your casing under that second time a bit farther. This is your first completed casing. Repeat steps for the other one.

16. Take one of your 7 inch pieces of elastic and place one end of it on top of under one of your 15 inch pieces of gross grain ribbon with about a 1 inch overlap. Pin in place and then double or triple stitch these two together going back and forth. You do not want them to pull apart as the child wears the dress. Repeat this for the other side. You will end up with your elastic in the middle and the two 15 inch pieces of gross grain ribbon on either end. I prefer doing the elastic and gross grain ribbon this way rather than the way the LDFA pattern suggests because it is easier for me to guild it all through without not catching the elastic in my stitching.

17. Pin a large, sturdy safety pin through one end of the gross grain about 1 1/2 inches from the outer edge. Slowly start feeding it through the casing keeping an eye on the opposite end. When the point where the gross grain and the elastic are sewn together gets inside the casing an inch, pin it place and stitch over top of the two rounds of topstitching several times. I stitch down the distance of the casing and then backstitch back up to the top at least a couple of times to really make it more secure. Do this on the right and left sides of the front and back of your pillowcase dress – 4 times total.

18. The only thing left to do is cut the ends of your gross grain at an angle and use Dritz Fray Check on the edges to keep them from raveling. I put it on both sides of each ribbon end.

19. Tie gross grain ribbons in bows connecting front to back to form your shoulders.

20. At the last minute I thought the dress needed a little something else, so I cut out and appliqued a red flower to the front. Also, I used the red bias tape so it would show up better in the photos, but end I really like it. My only problem is my marking at the casing is shining out there for all to see. If I want to end up using this as one of my “100 Dresses”, I will need to go back and sew a button on each corner to cover them up.  Buttons can solve all kinds of boo-boos.

Here is your dress. I hope this tutorial was helpful.  Should you have any questions about my directions or photographs, and how I modified my pattern from those I had seen earlier, please let me know and I will do my best to explain it all to you.


  1. That was such a GREAT pillowcase dress tutorial. Thanks for taking such time with the great notes and measurement markings and "right side" notes. SOOOOOO helpful!

  2. Thanks so much, Erica. If I can be of any help to you just let me know.


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