This week’s How To is a little “Pillow Case” dress for beginners. It is the second one I have made and I class myself a sewing beginner. It is amazing how quickly you forget things and I had to keep going back to my first dress and check out what I did – but it was still “surprisingly easy”. Luckily for me, I have a lovely sewing friend – Ruth from Summerland Creative – who not only sent me lots of sewing tips (i.e. how to sew hems neatly), but also some fabric for my borders and ribbons and buttons. How nice is Ruth?!
So.. I want to share with you my Pillow Case Dress for beginners: I have written a detailed step by step guide and added lots of photos – but only to help you – it does make it all look a little more complicated than it is.. but believe me it is not! You are simply cutting out a basic shape dress and hemming it! I have also given you a basic pattern. The pillow case dress is VERY forgiving.. so if you cut it a little bigger or smaller, you will be fine!
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Also get yourself a GOOD pair of Seamstress Scissors! Most haberdasheries will have some. But if you want to get some online, than these are just the ticket. The KEY THING to remember, is to ONLY EVER use these for fabric. That way you can keep your scissors nice and sharp. Get yours here – US readers/ UK readers (affiliate links ).
Note: this post was first shared in June 2011 and has been updated and republished for you)
Pillow Case Dress DIY
I decided to add a “contrasting border” at the bottom of the dress – if you want life simple – don’t make the border. But I do think it is lovely and worth doing! You can simply skip Step 2 – the French seam!
My little girl is a big 18mth old, so this is probably for a 2yrs old (she is 85cm, approx 33″). Or you could use one of your child’s existing dresses as a template. If you make your own pattern add 2″ seam allowance length wise (you loose more seem allowance fabric due to the ribbon piece at the top) and 0.5″-1″ seam allowance width wise.
Pillow Case Dress – Materials
- Fabric approx 20″ x 21″ if using one piece (or 17″ x 19.5″ main fabric, 4″ x 22″ border fabric),
- iron, ironing board &
- sewing machine
How to make a Pillow Case Dress DIY
I am not much of an ironer, but when it comes to sewing, the iron is your *friend* and it is well worth doing!***
Here is my FREE Pillow Case Dress pattern – this will result in a dress approx 18″ in length and 20″ wide. With border or without!
Step 1: Cut your Pillow Case Dress fabric.
You may find it easier to cut “the pattern” out of a piece of baking paper – that way you can make sure you don’t cut anything wrong and that you align the pattern nicely.This also gives you practice working with commercial patterns another time!
I find it helpful to fold your fabric in half to ensure you cut it evenly. You will need 2 pieces of the main and 2 of the border fabric. If you are making your own pattern – use your ruler to align your main and border fabric on the diagonal (see image).
Step 2: Joining Main & Border of your Pillow Case Dress Fabric with a French Seam (Optional)
Attach border with a French seam. Now a French seam sounds complicated, but it isn’t. And it looks lovely and will give your dress that special “professional” finish. You can of course just do an ordinary seam. So if you find this step “confusing”, just sew your two pieces together normally – you may have to trim a bit of the border though, as there are extra French seam allowances!
So go on, I dare you to have a go:
(i) Put our border and main together – right side facing OUT and sew as close to the edges as possible.
(ii) “Open” the two piece. Press the seam with an iron, so it opens up (just makes it all neater). I also trimmed a little of the seam.
(iii) Folder over, so you now have the right side of the fabrics facing IN, press and sew.
(iv) “Open” the 2 pieces. Press with iron and hey presto you have a French seam! Lovely.
(v) Now trim the border against the main fabric so you have “one continuous line”.
Step 3: Making the arms for your Pillow Case Dress
(i) Cut a “semi tear” shape into the arm – 6″ down – 2″ across. You can cut a diagonal if you like – this is easier to sew. But the “tear” is prettier. Your choice!
(ii) Fold over raw edge and iron a very small seam. Then fold over again and iron/ pin in place. This gives you a nice neat seam with no fraying edges. It is as if you are “tucking in the raw edge”. It IS fiddly, especially around the curve and my seem gets very narrow there. Just take your time and gently fold the fabric round. Use the iron to help keep in place. Check both front and back align.
Step 4: Adding a the Halter/ Ribbon Thread for the Pillow Case Dress
(i) Fold over a raw edge of the fabric, iron in place.
(ii) Fold fabric again – approx 1″. Match up your front and back and make sure they are aligned.
(iii) Sew as close to the edge of the seam as possible – making sure you sew on both folds.
You will find the beginning and the end of this seam a little harder to do – as the sewing machine has to sew across so many folds of fabric. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t “too neat” – no one will notice the odd bit of bumpy sewing. It is a little fiddley. Don’t fret. Just take your time.
Step 5: Sew both pieces of your Pillow Case Dress fabric together
(i) Pin in place. Make sure you align the border/ main” fabric seams – if these don’t align, it will be most noticeable “discrepancy” on the dress. You can adjust any border unalignment in the next step.
Step 6: Sew a hem on to your Pillow Case Dress
This is your chance to tidy up your hem and make sure both sides are neatly the same length etc. You can shortened it too if you fancy or if you didn’t do a French seam (see step 2).
(i) Fold raw edge and iron. Then turn the fabric again iron and pin in place. Tuck this in again and hide away any raw edges of the fabric to give you a nice neat finish.
Step 7: Add the ribbon as a halterneck.
(i) Thread in the ribbon (attach a safety pin to make it easy).
(ii) I placed a couple of stitches in the centre to hold the ribbon in place.. else you may find you are constantly pulling it out.
Woohoo! Your Pillow Case Dress DIY is complete!!!! Well done you.
And here is one I made earlier (slightly longer)
ENJOY and basque in your sewing glory!