My Material Life

A Pillowcase Dress Fit For A Tween

Have you ever made a pillowcase dress?  This one is my first, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.  You see this type of garment a lot these days, if not in dresses then in tops for both girls and adults.  It’s both good-looking and very easy to construct, and you can take the dress from little girl to more grown-up by simply cinching the waist and adding a pocket or two.  This one is cinched with an exterior casing and a drawstring made from the same fabric as the dress, an IKEA plaid I picked up a couple of years ago.  The fun part is that there is no pattern required.

I made mine for a 10-year-old.  Here’s how you can do it too.

You’ll only need 1 yard of your main fabric plus an additional 1/4 yard of any contrast fabric for the waistband casing and pocket.

Start by gathering a few simple measurements from the eventual dress wearer.  The first of these is the measurement around the widest part of the body, usually the hips.  Add 3″ to this measurement to accommodate your seam allowance and wearing ease.  Then measure from the wearer’s clavicle bone down to where you think the dress should stop.  Add at least 4″ to this measurement to allow for your neckline casing and a double-fold hem.  It’s best to err on the side of too long here as you can always cut off any excess length.  Take a third measurement for the armhole, starting again at the clavicle bone and measuring down to where the top of the garment should hit under the arm.  Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be exact; you’ll have a neckline drawstring that will also function as an adjustable shoulder strap.  The measurement I used was 4″.

Cut 2 rectangles using your width + 3″ and length + 4″ measurements with the length (the longer edge) running parallel to the selvedge edge of your fabric.  My cut measurements were 19″ x 30″.


Now you need to shape and cut your armhole which is easier than it might seem.  I used a flexible curve to help me, but you don’t need one.  Begin by making a mark on the top of your rectangle, 1-1/2″ in from one long edge of the rectangle.  Make another mark on the long edge of your rectangle, your armhole measurement + 1-1/2″ down from the top (to allow for your neckline casing).  The first mark is the top of your armhole and the second mark is where your armhole will end.  Join the two marks with a drawn line, either by using a curve to guide you or by drawing the curve freehand.  In the photo above, you see my armhole after I cut it.  Keep the curve pretty big, or it will be the devil to fold and sew your armhole hem.  I just marked one side in this way.  Then I folded my two rectangles, still stacked one on top of the other, at the lengthwise center.  I used the one line I’d drawn as a guide for cutting through all four layers of fabric.

I cut the waist casing from a contrast fabric, but you can use your main dress fabric if you like.  For the casing, cut a 2″ strip of fabric equal to the width of your fabric and parallel to the cut edge of your fabric as shown below.


Cut a 6″ x 8″ square for your pocket or cut two pockets if you wish.  For drawstrings for the neck and waist you can use purchased webbing or tape or you can make them from your main or contrast fabric.  I cut one 2-1/2″ x 48″ strip in the same manner as the waist casing for the neckline drawstring and a 3-1/2″ x 60″ strip for the waist drawstring.  Luckily, my fabric was quite wide.

Begin sewing by joining the two rectangles along the sides (the long edges with the armhole curves).  I used French seams and pressed them towards the front.


Next press a narrow (1/4 – 3/8″), double-fold hem along each armhole edge.  It should help to make a few clips in the curved edge right around the seam.

Stitch close to the folded edge.


Finish the front and back necklines by pressing each in (to the wrong side) 1/2″ and then another 1″.

Stitch close to the folded edge to form your neckline casings.


Time for your waist casing.  Press in 1/4″ along each long side of your casing.


Turn in one short edge 1/2″ and stitch in place.


Place at least a temporary drawstring though your neckline so you can try the dress on its wearer and determine where you want to place your waistline casing.  Pin casing in place with the opening centered on the center front.  It helps to use a plaid fabric.  Mine provided me with several useful guidelines, this one included.


Finish the remaining short edge as you finished the first one when you see where it should end.  Pin into place and stitch casing to dress close to both folded edges.


For the pocket, finish top edge if desired (I didn’t) and fold over 1″ to the wrong side.  Press.  Stitch 1/2″ from each edge of the pocket sides.  Trim upper corners.


Turn top of pocket to inside along with sides along stitching.  Press.


Fold 1/2″ remaining unfinished edge of pocket (bottom) to reverse side of pocket and press.  Try dress on with at least a temporary drawstring in the waist casing and determine both where to place pocket(s) and finished dress length.  Stitch pocket(s) to dress along sides and bottom, very close to folded edges.


Trim excess dress length if necessary and finish bottom with 3/4″ double-fold hem, stitching close to the folded edge.  If sewing drawstrings for neckline and waist, fold drawstrings along length, right sides together and raw edges even, leaving opening for turning and shaping ends with a curve if desired.  Trim corners and clip curves, turn right-side out, press and stitch openings by machine or hand.  Use a large safety pin or some such device to guide your drawstrings through their casings.  Find the wearer and have her try it on; she can tie her drawstrings in a bow or in a knot and the neckline tie can go in the front or the back.  Now pat yourself on the back and maybe even think about making one for yourself.


    • Thanks K; it was pretty good – we went to SLO for a couple of days; returned on the 4th and managed to see a few unauthorized fireworks from our own street which was good because we couldn’t figure out a place nearby to go and see them. Wait till you see pics from our rooms at Madonna (we spent one night each in two different rooms and these were the wildest yet!)

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