Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Make Modern Pillowcase Dresses

I have considered making pillowcase dresses for years. I like the simple design. If you don't know the basics of how to make one, I suggest that you check You Tube. There are videos on construction basics for a pillowcase dress. My posts contain tips, tricks and advice. I assume you know the basics.
I had never made a pillow case dress because old pillowcases seem too white and fragile to serve well as a little girl's dress. The GriggsDakota Farm Inspector and the Ag Analyst are busy and active. Old pillowcases would be dirty and wrinkly in no time.
One day a light went on in my head: A pillowcase is approximately the same width as folded cotton fabric. I could use modern fabric and make my own pillowcase.
So my first piece of advice is this: 
If you want to make a pillowcase dress, you can start by making a pillowcase. 
Standard cotton fabric is 44/45 inches wide which is perfect for little girls pillowcase dresses when folded and finished. You can make your garment any color and finish the top and bottom any way you would like. 
The ties also seemed impractical, especially if they were made of satin ribbon. The ties would surely come undone during a child's busy day. 
Grosgrain ribbon or fabric ties would be more stable, but I still wondered. The tie was so critical to the dress and a young child could not retie it if it came undone. Would a good designer put a child in a garment such as this?
 I started my project with colorful fabric folded in half. Finish the bottom of the fabric which will serve as the hem of the dress. Make the pillowcase about the length you want plus two inches.  Leave the pillow case top undone. It will be the top of the dress. I place the seam at the center back of the dress.
Make a template for the arm holes. I found that 2 to 2 1/2 inches in from the edge and 6-8 inches down worked for the dresses that I was making. Curve the bottom of the opening to make it easy to finish. Note that the template above contains two arm sizes. One for the Farm Inspector and one for the Ag Analyst.
Use the template as a pattern to cut the armholes on the sides of the pillowcase. 
It is helpful to check standard size charts for finished lengths. These are available online at pattern sites and children's clothing sites, as well as on patterns and in catalogs. Pillowcases can be made into tops or dresses. I recommend putting a back vent in longer dresses to enhance movement.
 I solved the tie dilemma by using elastic. I found that the child's waist measurement is about the length of elastic you will need for the top. To finish the top I use bias tape as binding on the arm openings. The top is a simple casing. Fold the raw edge down about 1/2 inch and press in place. Fold again wide enough to string your elastic through the tube you will construct when you sew a narrow hem on the edge of the casing. Do this to both the front and back of the pillowcase. Pin a safety pin to one end of your elastic and insert into the casing. String it through the tubes, being careful that the tail of the elastic does not get pulled inside the casing. Bring the elastic ends together, overlap 1/2 inch and sew securely. Slide the sewn ends into the casing so that they do not show on the shoulder of the garment.
Colored elastic is used in lingerie, but many prints look fine with black or white elastic that is available at any fabric store or online.
I also experimented with a strap that buttons on the shoulder. I used bias tape to make the string, finishing the ends. The length of the finished string needs to be adequate to fit comfortably on the child as she is wearing it, plus 2-3 inches for the overlap. 
Sorry, I used clear buttons without remembering that they wouldn't show up very well on the picture above. I used two buttons on the strap for security, threading it through in the casing front and back of the dress. 
This method works, but only for experienced sewers. I recommend interfacing the ends for stability or folding back the ends of the tape to provide a firmer surface on which to sew. Also, after the garment is properly fitted, the string should be tacked in place to keep it from falling out in the washing machine.
 I finish the armholes with bias tape which I will describe in tomorrow's post. I found a use for a pretty pillowcase as a slip under fabric that is too sheer to use alone. 
Tomorrow I will show you more ideas for modern pillowcase dresses from the sewing room of GriggsDakota. If you want to see my dresses in action visit today's Pinke Post. View part two of Making Modern Pillowcase Dresses by clicking here.


  1. It is really not that difficult to make since they are small in size. They are truly adorable and they are easy to create out of beautifully printed pillow cases. For moms out there, if you have a baby girl, this is definitely applicable.