A Refreshed Pillowcase Dress Tutorial

Remember that one time I told you all if I had a little girl, she’d wear pillowcase dresses?  I dug through my fabric scraps this weekend and I’m finally making good on my word.

Well, I did make her that one for my 30th birthday last year when she was itty bitty, but now she has two more!

I followed my original Pillowcase Dress Tutorial (found here), but made a couple changes. Mainly, I wised up and bought some bias tape for the arm holes.


Since the tutorial is a few years old and I made some small changes to it. I’m going to re-post it here, but, if you’d like to refer back to the original tutorial, or you want to see how to do this without bias tape, check out the first post.

Pillowcase dress tutorials are not hard to find online. There are hundreds, or… I don’t know… maybe thousands? I looked high and low for the easiest one I could find. I ended up mainly following one from AndersonsPlace.net.  A few months after finding it, a friend asked for a link to the tutorial, and when I went to send it to her I noticed the link was dead. It hasn’t come back up since, and AndersonsPlace appears to be blank.  Luckily, I printed out the tutorial long ago and it’s still readable.

I’ve just typed out the tutorial below based pretty closely on what I printed off from AndersonsPlace.net with a few changes of my own. If anyone from that website reads this, please contact me! I’m not trying to rip you off, and would LOVE to give credit. It was such an easy, helpful tutorial that I think it needs to be accessible again. The photos that I’m using are mine.

I always start with a yard of fabric and have never actually used a real pillowcase for one, but you can do it either way.

If you are using a pillowcase, cut it off, leaving the hemmed end, based on these measurements:

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

If you are staring with a yard of fabric, cut it to the length specified above, and a width of 28″ for 6 months, up to 33″ for 4T (adding one inch in width for each size up). This, however, can really be based on your own judgement, depending on how wide you want/need the dress to be on the girl.

You will also need some bias tape in a color that coordinates with your fabric… you know, if you want to save a little time and sanity. (Got this stuff at Walmart. It’s not hard to find or expensive.)

Fold up half an inch along the bottom of the large piece of fabric (will be the bottom of the dress), press with iron, and fold again. Stitch along the top fold to hem.

Fold the fabric vertically (lengthwise), right sides together, pin and stitch 1/2 inch from un-joined edge to create a tube of fabric.

(Since this is a crazy long, picture heavy post, please click through from my home page here to read the rest. Thanks!)

Use pinking shears to trim excess fabric from the seam.

Lay the tube, seam side up, with the seam in the middle and press to one side with an iron.

Fold the tube in half vertically to cut the armholes. From the top (un-hemmed) edge, measure 1.5″ in and 3″ down for sizes up to 2T. For 3 and 4T measure 2″ in and 4″ down.

Using your marked measurements, cut a J shaped armhole through all 4 layers of fabric. Don’t stress about perfection.

I’ll note that if you plan to make more than one, it’s much easier to make them in batches and do the same thing to each dress at the same time, instead of starting from scratch after each dress is finished.

To finish the armholes, I just sewed bias tape to each, starting at one end, and then cutting the excess off when I got to the other. Did I say this is SO MUCH EASIER than the other method?

The bias tape comes already folded, so you just slip the edge of the fabric way up in that fold and then CAREFULLY sew around the arm holes. Really, take your time or it will be easy to miss the edge of the fabric, making you bust our your seam ripper so you can try again.

Not that that happened to me… 3 times.

Fold the top of the front and back 1/4″ and then again 5/8″ and press with an iron to form a casing with no raw edges. Stitch along the bottom fold, similar to what you did for the bottom hem.

Thread 1 yard of ribbon (or less for the smaller sizes) through each casing. I like to pin a safety pin to one side and use that to guide it through the casing, then trim the ends of the ribbon when I’m done. This time, though, I couldn’t find a safety pin, so I wrapped the ends with packing tape.

I made a couple small changes from the first tutorial to embellish the pillowcase dresses from here. For the pink & green plaid dress (side note: sewing plaid fabric is awesome because all the lines make it way easier to cut square), I added a row of pleated contrasting fabric along the bottom.

To do this, I cut 2 33″ long by 4.5 inch wide pieces of the polka dot fabric. Then I folded them in half, lengthwise, right sides together, stitched them .25 inches from the long raw edge…

Then I turned them right side out and pressed them with the iron.

Starting at the side of the dress under one armhole, I stitched it along the bottom of the dress, lining up the bottom edge of the polkadot strip with the edge of the dress. Then I hand pleated by folding the fabric over itself every few inches. I wasn’t too big on perfection. I made it across from under one arm hole to the next, then I had to add the 2nd 33″ strip. Finally, I finished it by stitching over the top edge.

Leaving me with this pretty detail:

For the black dress, I wanted the bow to tie in the back. So, instead of cutting my ribbon into 2 separate pieces, I left it one long, 2 yard piece.

Then I threaded it through the left of the front of the dress, out the right of the front of the dress. Then I continued to thread it through the right of the back of the dress and out the left of the back of the dress. (You could stop here if you want to a bow on one shoulder)

Next, I took the piece hanging out the right of the front of the dress, threaded it through the right of the back of the dress and out the left of the back of the dress. Leaving me with this:

From there I just slipped it over her head and arms, then cinched up the fabric in the back to tie the bow.

And again, for your viewing pleasure.

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  1. I prefer free-handing the armholes but I have had lots of practice. However, its really easy to make bias tape if you want color matching. All you do is cut and press strips on the same fabric… on the bias. Meaning if the fabric looks like a sheet of paper the cut strips are the diagonal 45 degree line. Typically its around a 2″ tall strip that is as long as you need your tape. Just fold over and press the long edges so the “tape” fits the dimensions your store bought tape would be and you have the exact same thing the stores sell – except it matches your sewing project.

    I love the single bow in the back. Now you just need to buy pre-ruffled fabric and make a ruffled pillowcase dress!

    • While I can totally appreciate that one can make their own bias tape, I have to say I’m sold on buying it. It cut my project time in half for this!

      I am dying to get my hands on, like, a whole bolt of ruffled fabric. Ruffles galore!

  2. I’m giving you and myself dirty looks for not thinking of bias tape sooner! Those stupid arm holes make my head hurt! And now this will force me to try to make one again. I LOVE the bow in the back idea.

  3. This is the whole reason I got a sewing machine for Christmas…. and yet it sits in the box, unopened. I’m thinking its a sign that I didn’t understand 95% of the directions in your post and it sounds like you were simplifying it? I don’t think I’m meant to ever learn how to sew.

  4. AH, SO ADORABLE! I am due with a little girl in October, and I don’t have the urge to sew clothes very often, but this sure makes me at least THINK about it! 😉

  5. This post has me thinking it’s about time I get my sewing machine sorted out so I can make a batch of these dresses and send them out! Just had a gaggle of girls born to friends and family around the world and at this rate, the dresses I make will be ready for them to wear in toddlerhood! Ha!

  6. Christie Becking-Rumsey on

    Very cute! Last week I made my daughter a dress with the old tutorial and was just going to comment that if you cut the armhole piece of fabric on the bias, it makes it much easier to go around the armhole. I see that you have fixed that with bias tape. Either way will work bias tape or cutting your own.

  7. Oh. My. Goodness. This is amazing. So far, the only thing I am capable of sewing is a kind of straight line…and I usually break more than one needle per straight-line project (I’ve made lots…and lots…of dishtowels). But maybe this is my first “real” project?? It’s just so darn cute.

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  10. Louise Coleclough on

    Have you ever sized this up for an adult? I love pillowcase dresses, they’d be so handy for vacations!

  11. Once I said, “If I Had a Little Girl” too, and now at the ripe age of 42 I do! I have a very active little 10 month old (yes, I had her myself-LOL) who LOVES her dresses. Since she was very very small she had very specific opinions about what she likes to wear & I always let her pick her own clothes. Thats true regardless of what others may say about babies not having opinions, and if you don’t believe that try feeding a baby prunes or broccoli and see what happens. Either way, I have recently picked up sewing again after many years of letting dust collect on my materials and supplies, and actually got a new machine. It seems that now I have a reason to sew again. But let me get to the point of this message-the bias tape and sewing the armholes. If you want to have some fun instead of using bias tape, you can use the same ribbon that you are using as the ties for the dress. Simply pin the ribbon (needs to be at least 1/2″ wide for easier sewing) to the right side of the armholes and stitch carefully. Once the sewing is complete, turn the ribbon to the inside, press and run another stitch around the armhole to secure permanently. It makes a beautiful alternative to some of the bias tape that we find out there today. Plus, if you use a wider piece of ribbon, it looks more like a lining or facing than the bias tape. That’s my trick and it looks amazing when finished! Further, for an additional and incredibly stylish choice, take that same wide ribbon and simply sew it to the hem of the dress from one of the side seams around the bottom back to itself. To finish, fold the end of the ribbon under and stitch vertically. The ribbon will be at a slight angle and look like a tiny “side slit” in the dress. It is an amazing finishing choice and makes even the most simple (i.e. pillowcase dresses) of patterns look very tailored!

  12. Tracy, it truly depends on you! That’s half the fun of this dress! It is dependent on how quickly you choose to sew and more importantly, how comfortable you are when you get ready to make that “J” cut in the fabric. If you aren’t comfortable drawing it out free hand, use another dress pattern and simply trace the armholes of the pattern piece that show them on each side and cut away! Please read my post at the bottom for additional “Styling tips” for this dress. Its quite long but I feel that it is at least informative and can give some good suggestions! Happy sewing, and don’t be afraid-we all own seam rippers! LOL

  13. Thank you so much much…This is just what I was looking for and you directions are so simple and understandable…you do great work!

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    Excellent stuff, just excellent!

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  17. Mary Anne Schuier on

    Tried a different method which i didn’t find to be nearly as easy or result in a better dress. Thank you for the tube dress idea!!! It is the BEST !!!!

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  20. How wide does the ribbon need to be? I bought something smaller than you show, but am thinking it won’t draw the casing together well. Thanks!

  21. Of all the blog posts I’ve read on pillowcase dresses, I find I love yours the most. I first discovered it last year and made basic dresses for my granddaughters. This week I got the bug to make them some more dresses. I wanted to be a little more adventurous by combining fabrics, adding ruffles, etc. and thought I needed a refresher. Again, I looked at every blog post I could find and ended up back here. Thank you so much for your detailed description and beautiful photos.

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