DIY · sewing · summertime and the living is thrifty

Summertime and the Living is Thrifty – Not So Basic Pillowcase Dress


Okay, folks, I’m a dirty rotten liar, because sadly, you do not get to see Nicole’s dress today. I guess that will have to be a surprise for next week! However, as promised, here is the tutorial for Olivia’s Not So Basic Pillowcase Dress!



Here is your cutting diagram for the main body piece for a size 6-12 months (cut 2):


This will get you two 13”tall by 14” wide rectangles.

Also cut in a contrast fabric:
-one 2.5” x 45” strip (45” is the width of your average quilting cotton; don’t bother measuring it!)
-one 7” x 45” strip

For a size four, I cut 19” wide by 20” tall rectangles. Considering how adjustable this dress is, I’d say for the width take a shirt that fits your child and add 4” at least to the width. The height would vary on if you’re adding a ruffle, how big of a ruffle, how long of a dress, etc.


That is a picture of the dress cut out, to show you the shape I cut.

2) Press armpit seams 1/4” and then clip in 2 places, see blue lines in below picture.


Press another 1/4” and then pin and sew. Do this on both arm curves of both your main body fabrics. I will note that I did 1/8” here, not 1/4”, and I like the look of it; if you’re up to it then I do recommend it. Not everyone likes fiddling with such tiny seams, though.


Here is where I show you a nifty little trick. A supervisor of mine once told me that laziness is often the real root of genius, when I sheepishly admitted to being lazy a few times when I totally changed up the way of doing things at one of my former places of employment. I’m nothing if not as efficient/lazy as possible. To get a nice, neat seam, I line my fabric up to the side of my sewing machine foot. And then, if you’ll look at the top left of the below photo, I turn the stitch width dial to adjust where my needle will fall. In this case I moved it from the center to the “1” position. My stitch line goes exactly where I want it to, and I don’t have to piddle around with lining up to anything but the foot of my machine. And now the secret is out, I don’t have an amazingly steady hand to get nice even stitching. I cheat. Cheaty cheat cheaterson.


And now, I don’t have photos of this step, but fold your top edge, the neckline, over 1/4” and press, then fold it over just over 1/2” again and press again. Stitch it down to create a casing. You may have to do a little tugging to make it all line up nicely, since we’ve curved it. Keep in mind that once you have added your ties, this area of the dress will be gathered. If it looks a little tucked, that is totally fine.


I chose to do a second line of topstitching just for the look of it. Totally not necessary, but I rather like how it looks, so if you’re taking the time to do it nice and slow, I recommend throwing in the extra step. If you use this trick for topstitching, it’s easy-peasy.

Next, you’re going to sew the main body of the dress together. If you’d like to do this quickly, feel free to sew it right sides together and finish the seams your own favourite way, and skip ahead to adding the ruffle. If you’d like to do a french seam, which is a great way of finishing seams cleanly if you don’t have a serger, proceed.

You’re going to put your main body pieces together wrong sides together and sew it along the two side seams. Every pore of your sewing-being may scream at you, but ignore it and just do it.


Either use a small seam allowance (1/4” or less) or trim down to 1/4” or just under after you’ve sewn your seam. Press the seam allowance to one side.


Turn the garment so that it is now right sides together and press again. Can you sort of see the seam allowance in there? You’re going to use that as your stitch guide for your finished seam, and encase the seam allowance within it.


Once you’ve done both sides, you can press the seams to one side again. On the outside, your garment won’t look much different than normal.


However, on the side, you’ll have a nice, beautifully-finished seam! This is a great finish for children’s garments or fabrics that are slightly sheer. And it’s way easier than it sounds! It’s also a fabulous way of saving yourself if you accidentally sew something wrong sides together. Happens to the best of us, especially after 1am.

Now, here on in is where I don’t have any pictures. Let me know if you’d like some diagrams or if the written instructions suffice.

Take your bottom ruffle piece, the 7”x45” contrast fabric, and sew the 7” ends together right sides together to create a continuous circle of fabric. Press seams open. Fold it wrong sides together to create a tube that is 4.5” tall. Press the fold. Evenly gather the unfinished edge so that it is the same size as the hem of the dress. Sew the bottom ruffle to the bottom of the dress, right sides together. (well, both sides of the ruffle are the right side. But I think you know what I mean.) Press the seam upwards, towards the dress, and topstitch on the dress (not on the ruffle.) You’ve finished the dress!

Now to do the ties…

Take your 2.5”x45” piece and cut it in half lengthwise. (Normally I prefer the look of one long sash tied on one shoulder. However, with a baby Olivia’s age, I can’t help but feel paranoid that she might somehow strangle herself that way.) For each of the two sashes, fold the fabric right sides together to create a long skinny sash. I like to pin a safety pin on one side before I start sewing so I can use it to turn the fabric tube afterwards. Then sew along the length of the strip, turn it right side out, and press the unfinished edges in. Close by topstitching. (If you look carefully, I was in a rush and did not press, close, or topstitch my straps yet in the pictures. I will fix that when I do Nicole’s dresses.)


FINITO! Thread one of your two ties in each neckline casing, front and back.

Find a baby to put it on, tie at the shoulders, and enjoy!

IMG_9670 copy 2

I can assure you, it will take you much less time to whip up one of these sweet little dresses than it took to make this tutorial 😉


Do you have a favourite inexpensive sewing project? Have you made the not-so-basic pillowcase dress?? Hop on over to our flickr group at and share!

4 thoughts on “Summertime and the Living is Thrifty – Not So Basic Pillowcase Dress

  1. You mamas who can sew are so much cooler than me. 😉 Could you make this out of an actual pillowcase, if you wanted to? Like the old Five Roses flour sack dresses?


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