Pillowcase Dress Tutorial

Having lived in the south most of my life, I have been exposed to things too cute for words. And in the case of the “pillowcase” dress – too easy not to try! This is a great project for new sewers because with very little money or cutting involved, you can practice basic sewing skills like: measuring, working with bias tape, hemming and threading elastic or ribbon through casings.

In my search for instructions on-line, there were lots of results that showed up. Some had variations in their constructions but many of the sites boasted instructions that were identical to the next. What I did find in common with most is the size of the armholes: cut a 3” armhole for smaller children and a 4” armhole for larger children. Of course, if you are making this for a 1-year old, the armhole is probably going to be quite different than if you are making it for a 4-year old. My suggestion: take an article of clothing that fits the child (like a tank top) and use the armholes as a guide. Most also agreed with the following chart for lengths of the dress:

  • 6 months – 14 1/4in
  • 12 months – 16 1/4in
  • 18 months – 17 1/4in
  • 2T – 18 1/4in
  • 3T – 19 1/4in
  • 4T – 20 1/4in

And, with the repeated observation that many pillowcases were just too wide for the skinny little ones they were putting them on. May I suggest determining what your finished width needs to be and sew up one side of the pillowcase?

Here are the sites I checked out in the process: Baby Rabies, Grace Violet, Sewing Mamas & Bumblebee Linens

With that all out of the way, let’s get started.

Step 1: purchase a pillowcase or make one yourself. The one I am using in this tutorial comes from a pillowcase pattern on All People Quilt.

Step 2: Figure out the desired finished length of the dress (measure from your child’s shoulder to where you want it to fall at her knees), add 1 ½” and cut the top edge (or sewn end) of the pillowcase off using a ruler, rotary cutter and self healing mat. This would be a good time to change the width of the dress too, by stitching one side of the pillowcase, trimming off the excess and finishing the edge using an overlock stitch.

Step 3: Fold the top edge under 1 ½” using an ezy-hem ruler (these are the best). This will be used for the ribbon casing.

Step 4: By folding the pillowcase in half lengthwise, and cutting the armhole you will have identical armholes. Your armhole will start 1 ½” down (b/c of the casing) and you will want to allow for the seam allowance when you attach your biased tape. I allowed for a ½” seam allowance. If you want a finished 3” armhole, only cut it 2 ½”.

Step 5: Using the ezy-hem ruler, press the top ½” of your 1 ½” casing towards the wrong side of the fabric. Now you will have a finished edge when you top-stitch your casing.

Step 6: Make your bias tape – or buy some. In this picture, I used my ruler, rotary cutter, and self-healing mat to cut a 2” strip on the bias. Press the bias tape in half long ways and pin to the right side of the armholes with all the raw edges aligned. Before pinning, open up the creases of the casing. Make sure you are pinning top edge to top edge of dress, this will conceal any raw edges of the bias tape within the casing.

Step 7: Stitch using a ½” seam allowance. Then trim away excess seam allowance leaving about 1/8”.

Step 8: Press, pin and top-stitch bias tape to inside of armhole. Now you have a finished armhole that lays nicely, even though it is curved.

Step 9: Re-iron the top ½” and 1” that is forming your casing down. Top-stitch, leaving the sides open. This is where you will thread your ribbon through.

Step 10: Thread your ribbon through the casing using your preferred method – mine happens to be using a loop turner, but you can also use a safety pin or bobby pin. Using a continuous piece of ribbon, tie one bow at one should. Or use two lengths of ribbon to have bows on both shoulders!

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