Pillowcase Dresses

My friend who is expecting a niece next month has a little girl of her own.  She loved the diaper changing kit I made for her to give to her sister so much that she commissioned matching dresses for the cousins!  I’m not an expert by any means with making clothes… the maxi dress was really my first foray into that field, so I was a little nervous at first.  But after some research, I decided to make the girls matching pillowcase dresses.  Turns out, this was the perfect project for someone who doesn’t make clothes very often!  They were pretty easy to make, especially since I used my serger (don’t worry, my tutorial will include directions for a standard sewing machine too!), and they turned out great!  I can’t wait to see photos of the girls wearing them!

I relied very heavily on this blog, whose author obviously knows what she’s doing!  I’m not going to include any measurements, because she put together an excellent table with all the measurements you need!  I have, of course, created my own variations on her pattern, which I will share in my tutorial.  The biggest difference in my own design is that I didn’t use fat quarters to make panels; I just used a piece of fabric in a print my friend liked.  So it’s a little simpler than the original design, but just as cute!


  • 1/2 yd to 1 yd of fabric (it will depend on what size you’re making)
  • 1/2″-5/8″ ribbon (again, the length will depend on the size; it’s always better to have too much!)
  • 1/2″ elastic (optional)
  • Coordinating thread

Start off by looking up the sizing guide measurements from the link above.  The length will be whatever is listed on the table (it’s just a reference number so you know how long the finished product will be).  This version of the dress, however, will have no panels, so you’ll need to do a little math to make 4 panels into one piece of fabric.  Take the first number in that column (the smaller one), multiply by 4, and subtract 2″.  My first dress is a 3-6m, so I multiplied 3.75″x4 = 15″, subtract 2″ to get 13″.  Keep the 2nd number for the length; in my case, I needed to cut 2 panels that were 12″x13″.  For the 5T dress, I cut 2 panels that were 22″x22″.  The third column tells you how big to make the bottom panel, which will also act as the hem for your dress.  The first, smaller number is good, but if you cut it 22″ long you will waste fabric for dresses smaller than 5T!  Instead, make this piece the same length as the number you calculated before (in my case, 13″; the 5T will still be 22″).  Be sure to cut 2, one for the front and one for the back.  I know that sounds confusing, but if you cut as you read this, it will make sense, I promise!

Once you have your 2 pieces for the dress (2 larger pieces and 2 bottom panels), you’re ready to get started!  Press the bottom panel pieces in half along the long side (hot dog style) to make the hem of the dress.  Then pin the raw edges to the right side of the bottom of the front piece.  Repeat for the dress’s other side.  Serge (or stitch 1/4″ SA) the pieces together.  Press the seam upwards (away from the hem) and topstitch the seam allowance into place.

Bottom Hem

Left: Bottom hem pinned, then serged. Right: Hem seam pressed up and topstitched.

Place the front and back of the dress right sides together and create the armholes by cutting the top corners off according to the size (credit: http://www.themotherhuddle.com):

  • 3-12 months measure in 3 inches on the top, and down the side 3½ inches
  • 18 month-2T measure in 3½ inches on the top, and down the side 4 inches
  • 3T-4T measure in 3½ inches on the top, and down the side 4½ inches
  • 4T-6T measure in 3½ inches on the top, and down the side 5 inches

Then separate the pieces and press back 1/4″ on each arm hole cut.  It should be easy to curve it a little since it’s on the bias.  Press back another 1/2″ and pin on the right side of the dress.  Stitch in place, and repeat for the other 3 arm holes (you want to stitch on the right side so it looks good – sometimes the bobbin side can get a little wonky).

Arm Holes

Right: Cut the armhole triangles out. Left: One side is pinned, the other is already sewn.

Now it’s time to assemble!  Place the pieces right sides together again and line up the bottom of the arm holes, the seam attaching the hem, and the bottom of the dress; pin in place.  Serge (or stitch) up the side of the dress (don’t close up the top or the armholes!), starting with a wider seam allowance (5/8″-3/4″) at the arm holes and decreasing as you get to the bottom (1/4″).  You may have to work with it a little to get the 3 pinned areas to line up, but you definitely want them to!  If you serged the seam, pull the tails back and zigzag stitch in place to keep it from unraveling.  Press the seams to the side and turn right side out.

Side Seam

Left: Where to pin to line up the important things. Center: See how it flares a little at the bottom. Right: Zigzag the serger tails and trim.

I used two different methods for the tops of the dresses.  They started the same: press the top raw edge of the dress 1/4″ then an additional 1/2″ and stitch in place to make a tube (obviously you want this tube on the wrong side of the dress).  For the 5T dress, I used the traditional tie method: use a safety pin to thread your ribbon through the two tubes and tie at the shoulder to complete the dress.  But for the baby’s dress, I knew a ribbon would never stay tied!  The tutorial I linked to above gives directions for using elastic instead, and ribbons that are just decorative.  I adjusted her tutorial a little, though, to minimize seams on the front since I don’t have panel seams to work with.  Cut your elastic according to the directions in the linked tutorial (3.5″ for up to 12 months) and use a safety pin to thread through one of the tubes you sewed.  Pin it in place.  Then cut your arm ribbons to be the same length as the arm holes, and insert one end into the tube on top of the elastic.  Pin in place (you can remove the first elastic pin) and stitch both in place with one seam (go back and forth because you don’t want it to come out!).  Repeat on the other side, but use the other end of the ribbons that are attached to the front – be careful they’re not twisted!


The right side is pinned (elastic is below the ribbon), and the left side is already sewn.

The last step, if you used the elastic method, is to tie a ribbon into a bow and sew it to the dress.  I stitched the back side of the ribbon first to make sure the baby wouldn’t be able to undo it, then attached it to the ribbon shoulder straps.


Those girls are going to be so cute in their pillowcase dresses!


The thing I love most about pillowcase dresses is their versatility.  The straps on the baby’s dress can be tacked shorter temporarily until she grows into them, and as the girls grow taller they can keep wearing them as shirts!  Gotta love that!  In fact, one of the reasons I don’t make clothes for my own kids is because I put all that effort in just for them to outgrow it in a few months – but I may be making some for Christmas for Peach and my niece!  You can also put a t-shirt (long or short sleeves) underneath for all-weather wearing.

I hope you find some inspiration in these simple dresses, and realize that making kids clothes can be worth your time!


1 thought on “Pillowcase Dresses

  1. Pingback: Easy Little Girl’s Dress | Project Mama

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