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Play it Safe–Summer Dress Tutorial

Play it Safe–Summer Dress Tutorial

A pillowcase dress tutorial. Perfect for summer. But done in a safer way. I don’t mean to be a hater… but drawstrings around necks are not safe and actually have not been allowed by the CPSIA for many years, before all the recent hype. This is why hoodies do not have drawstrings, but elastic instead. Anyway, I completely understand why people prefer the drawstring dresses–they are very cute! They are also much, much faster to make. Even Ottobre has a pattern for one  in an old issue. That said, I prefer this look and don’t mind taking the extra time to sew it.

The main difference is in the  bodice. I use elastic instead of a drawstring, and I use under arm facing to finish the armscye (underarm area); I like how clean and finished it looks. So I’m sure that there are more than enough pillowcase dress tutorials and patterns out there, but not sure that this method is readily available. I’ll share how I do it. I think the end result has more of a vintage feel.

I begin by finding the perfect vintage pillowcase. They are crisp and cool feeling to wear, and many are without side seams, making it even more special. The above dress was made from an antique pillowcase that must never have been used. It still feels new, no stains, holes, and fabric is not worn down at all. The flowers were hand embroidered, and the edge is slightly scalloped.

If you have a pattern use it, but adjust the top–reduce it for a smaller casing. If you don’t have a pattern, no worries. Measure how long you want the dress or top to be. Now measure up from the pillow case hem that amount, plus one inch for the elastic casing.

Use a  straight edge and fabric marker and draw cutting line straight across the width of pillowcase.  Cut along this line. I like to pin parallel to my cutting line, to keep the fabrics together and prevent the fabrics from shifting during my cut.

Now to cut the armscye, or underarm shapes. This need not be perfect, it is a very forgiving design. You will be cutting “J” shapes on each upper corner. For my then 9 year old, my “J” pattern is 3 inches in from the side along the top edge, and 4 inches down along the side. For smaller children, it should be a smaller “J”. Feel free to ask for help on this, as I do have patterns for “J’s” in many sizes that I would be happy to share. If you child has a camisole,  you could use the J on that as a guide to draft a pattern as well.

Finish the underarms (armscyes): Pin single fold  bias tape to underarm “J”– open one of the folds and pin right sides together.

Press bias tape toward seam allowance.

Understitch: Sew a  row of straight stitches close to the fold along the seam allowance/bias tape. This helps the facing to stay on the inside of garment.

Fold bias tape toward inside of garment and press with hot iron. Sew in place.

Fold upper edge 1/4 inch toward wrong side of garment and press. Do this for both front and back. Fold again 5/8 inch for 3/8 inch elastic, or 3/4 inch for 1/2 inch elastic, and press. Stitch close to fold to form casing.

Measure the child’s chest along the front–this is the length of elastic you will use. Place a safety pin on one end of elastic and insert it into casing. Work it through, stopping before the elastic gets sucked up in on the other side. Pin and sew it in place.

Now work the safety pin the rest of the way through. Sew it in place.

Straps: you can use bias tape, folded and sewn.  Sew each strap to top of the “J”. Tie the other ends into knots and you’re done.

Alternative method for the underarms and straps: Do your front and back casings and elastic first. Cut bias tape long enough to cover armscye plus the length of 2 straps. Pin bias tape to dress with the dress sandwiched–placing the center point of bias tape  with the side seam or lowest point of the underarm. Sew the bias tape folded and to the underarm in one step, beginning at one end of strap and ending on the other strap’s end. Repeat for other side.

Well, that’s how I do it 🙂 Hope you like this tutorial and try it sometime. Enjoy the sunshine!


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