Learn to make matching flutter sleeve dresses for a child and her doll!
Our free pattern and step by step tutorial can help even the beginner to make these dresses (this can also be a very quick project for those with sewing experience). These dresses can be sewn entirely by hand. Our tutorial gives directions for hand-sewing stitches (with video tutorials on each stitch!), but if you are using a machine, a straight stitch can be used. Pillowcase dresses can also be used as nightgowns.
Why pillowcase dresses?
Starting with pillowcases allows some of the major seams to be completed without any work. This makes sewing a dress for a beginner a much easier and faster project.
Some tips for selecting the pillowcases:
1. We recommend using standard size cotton pillowcases. Standard size tends to be 20″ by 30″ or 32″. If you would like a longer dress, you could consider adding some extra fabric or wide lace to the bottom when you finish the dress. If you would like to select a king size pillowcase (typically 36″ long), just check that it is 20″ wide. Sometimes king size pillowcases are narrower than standard size pillowcases. If the pillowcase is narrower than 20″, the dress may be too narrow to wear comfortably.
2. If picking a pillowcase with a patterned fabric, be sure the pattern will be in the right direction for the dress. An overall pattern that does not have a clear horizontal or vertical direction might work best. The pillowcase as a dress will hang down vertically (rather than the horizontal direction as used on a bed).
3. Make sure the pillowcase you select is a woven cotton (not a stretchy jersey knit). The pillowcases we used in the photos and videos for this tutorial were from Laura Ashley (200 thread count breathable percale cotton pillowcase set) and Threshold (400 thread count performance pillowcase set).
Our tutorial begins with instructions for making the doll dress. The dress is designed for an 18″ doll (such as an American Girl or Our Generation doll), but the pattern can work for other dolls as well.
Starting with the doll dress will allow the beginning seamstress to practice and perfect her stitches before attempting child-size clothing.
Stitches will need to be stronger and smaller for child-size clothing that will likely be washed and worn more often.
If you are brand new to sewing, check out our sewing basics videos on YouTube by clicking the links below…
- How to thread a needle and tie a sewing knot
- What does right sides together mean?
- Make a running stitch (and how to avoid the knot slipping through on the first stitch)
- Sew a backstitch (makes a very sturdy stitch for garments)
- How to tie a knot at the end of your stitches
- How to iron to a measurement using a sewing gauge
- How to thread elastic into a casing
Ready to make some really sweet dresses? Let’s get started…
We recommend reading through the entire tutorial before beginning the project.
Gather your supplies…
- 2 standard size (20″x30″ or 20″x32″) woven cotton pillowcases (not stretchy knit)
- A spool of thread to match the pillowcases
- 1/8″ wide elastic
- 1″ wide grosgrain ribbon (optional)
- Sewing needles
- Pins (in a pincushion)
- Small safety pin
- Craft scissors
- Sewing scissors
- Sewing tape measure
- Sewing gauge (optional, but helpful)
- Pinking shears (optional, but helpful)
- Large cardboard cutting board (optional, but helpful)
- Ironing board
- Our free printable doll and me dress patterns
Let’s make a doll dress!
Wash and dry your pillowcases. Iron the pillowcases well to remove wrinkles. Use only one pillowcase for all steps in this section. (Set one pillowcase aside to be used later for the child-size dress.)
Print out the pattern pieces, then cut them using craft scissors. Do not use sewing scissors to cut printer paper, as doing this will dull your sewing scissors.
Cut off the short side of one pillowcase opposite the opening. VERY IMPORTANT: Do not cut the side where the pillow would normally be inserted – this part will become the pre-finished hem of the dress.
Fold the pillowcase so that the pattern pieces needing to be placed on a fold will be on a fold (not on the seams of the pillowcase). Place all pieces (doll dress, doll sleeve, and child sleeve) on the fold and make sure none overlap the seam (if so, refold fabric to have more room). Watch this video if you need help.
Pin on the doll dress pattern pieces. If you are also planning to make a girl size dress, you should also pin on the child size dress sleeve pattern. New to pinning patterns? Watch this video. Carefully cut out the pieces. Remove the pins, and set the fabric aside.
As each piece needs to be cut twice, flip the pillowcase over, fold the pillowcase again so that the pattern pieces can be placed on a fold (not on a seam). Pin on pattern pieces and carefully cut out the pieces. Remove the pins. Set aside both child size sleeves to be used later.
Draw a light pencil line 1/4″ from the edge of the left and right sides of the dress before you start stitching to keep your stitches straight.
Using a backstitch sew a seam 1/4″ from the edge on the left and right sides of the dress. The back stitch allows the dress to hold together better than a simple running stitch would (however, a very young child or a beginner might want to just use a running stitch). Would you like to learn the back stitch? Watch this quick video.
Find the doll sleeve pieces. With the help of an iron and a sewing gauge, iron the curved edge of each sleeve under 1/4″. Do not worry if it is not exactly 1/4″ inch, as the curve will make this challenging. (Children may want to ask an adult for help with the iron.) Watch this video for tips on ironing to a measurement.
Pin each sleeve to the dress as shown, right sides together. You may want to pin one part of the sleeve at a time, sew it, then pin another side. Watch this video to learn how to pin on sleeves.
Using a backstitch, sew the sleeves onto the dress bodice, 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric.
Press open the dress side seams and press the underside of the armhole opening down 1/4″.
Using a running stitch, stitch the underside of the armhole opening about 1/8″ from the edge.
Fold the seam allowances at the neckline/sleeve connections so that they all face the same direction (e.g. clockwise). Then use a basting stitch to keep them down (a basting stitch is like a running stitch, but you do not need to knot the thread, and you can pull out this stitch later). See this video for help. Baste the seam allowances from the neckline and down about 3/4″. Basting down the seam allowances in the same direction will make threading the elastic in step 20 easier.
With the help of an iron and a sewing gauge, fold the neckline of the dress over 1/2″. Do not worry if it is not exactly 1/2″ inch, as the curve will make this challenging. However, a little more than a 1/2″ is better than a little less. (Children may want to ask an adult for help with the iron.) Pin down the fold to keep it in place.
Using a running stitch, stich around the neckline, about 1/4″ from the edge. The fabric will wrinkle where it connects at the sleeves (this is okay). You can remove the pins as you sew. Leave a 1″ opening between where you start and stop your stitches. This creates a casing for the elastic. Leaving the 1″ opening is essential to be able to insert the elastic.
Cut a 12″ piece of 1/8″ wide elastic. Attach a small safety pin to one end of the elastic. Thread the elastic through the casing, being sure to hold on to the other end of the elastic so that it does not get pulled all the way through. Once the safety pin makes its way all the way around the neckline, pull the elastic so that the end of the elastic comes out of the casing by a couple inches. Put the two ends of the elastic together and make a sewing knot. Watch our video for help with this step.
Flip the dress right side out. Put the dress on your doll. Adjust the location of the knot on the elastic so that the neckline is right for your doll. Take the dress off of the doll, cut off any extra elastic from the neckline. Use a running stitch to stitch together the 1″ opening.
Congratulations! You just made a new dress for your doll! If you would like, tie a piece of grosgrain ribbon around the waist line.
Have fun playing together!
Please note, as this is a hand-sewn project, it should be treated gently.
Let’s make a girl-size dress to match!
If you have already made the doll dress, find the girl-size sleeve pieces that have been cut out of one of the pillowcases in steps 5-6.
If you did not make the doll dress first, follow the beginning steps for the doll dress (wash, dry, and iron pillowcases; print and cut out paper pattern pieces). Follow steps 3 to 6 of the doll dress instructions to cut out only the girl-size dress sleeves.
Measure from the back of the neck down to the desired length of the dress (for example, to the knee or calf). Write down this measurement to save for another step.
Lay the pillowcase on the cutting board. Place the opening (hemmed side – where the pillow would be inserted) of the pillowcase on the zero line of the cutting board.
Cut off the top of the pillowcase (the part that is sewn shut on the opposite side from the pillow opening) so that your pillowcase becomes your desired length. Use your measurement from step 2 (in the example here, we wanted our dress to be 25 inches long from neck to knee). Or if you want to keep the full length of the pillowcase, simply cut off the smallest possible amount. To keep your cut straight, you may want to draw a line. Your pillowcase will now be open on two ends. The part you cut off will become the neckline. Very important: Do not cut the hemmed opening of the pillow case – the hemmed opening will become the bottom hem of the dress!
Find the armhole template. (Choose size small/medium for sizes 4 to 9, and large/xl for sizes 10 to 14). Pin the template at the top left of the pillowcase as shown (with the curved side toward the center). Cut out the armhole. Discard the cutout fabric.
Repeat step 5 on the right side of the dress, but place the template face down (so that the curved side is again toward the center).
Find the sleeve pieces. If desired, use pinking shears to cut near the edge of the curved part of the sleeves (this may help to keep the fabric from unraveling when washed, but is optional). With the help of an iron and a sewing gauge, iron the curved edge of each sleeve under 1/4″. Do not worry if it is not exactly 1/4″ inch, as the curve will make this challenging. (Children may want to ask an adult for help with the iron.)
Flip the pillowcase inside out. Pin each sleeve to armholes of the dress as shown, right sides together. Sleeves need to be pinned on to each side of the dress, but only one side is shown here. Watch this video of pinning the doll dress sleeves for help.
Using a backstitch, sew the sleeves onto the armholes of the dress bodice, 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric. Sleeves need to be sewn on to both sides of the dress, but only one side is shown here.
Make a rolled-hem on the underside of each armhole by folding over the fabric twice by about 1/8″. Pin parallel to the edge of the fabric to keep in place. A rolled hem will keep the raw edge from showing under the arm.
Make a running stitch very close to the edge of the underside of each armhole opening.
Fold the seam allowances at the neckline/sleeve connections so that they all face the same direction. Then use a basting stitch to keep them down (a basting stitch is like a running stitch, but you do not need to knot the thread, and you can pull out this stitch later). Baste from the neckline of the dress and down about 1 inch. This basting stitch will make threading the elastic in step 16 easier. Watch this quick video for help (it shows the doll dress, but has the same idea).
With the help of an iron and a sewing gauge, fold the neckline of the dress over 1/8″ and press. Then fold over another 1/2″. Do not worry if it is not exactly 1/2″ inch, as the curve will make this challenging. However, a little more than a 1/2″ is better than a little less. Note: This step is slightly different than in the doll dress – folding over the fabric twice will make it so that the raw edge of the fabric will not been seen, and will be less likely to fray when washed. This double fold is more complicated than a single fold, but is important as the garment will be worn by a child, rather than a doll.
Using a running stitch, stich around the neckline, as close to the lower folded edge as possible (to be sure that the 1/8″ fold gets stitched down). Leave a 1″ opening between the start of your stitching and your last stitch. This creates a casing for the elastic. Leaving the 1″ opening is essential to be able to insert the elastic.
Cut a 30″ piece of 1/8″ wide elastic. Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic. Thread the elastic through the casing, being sure to hold on to the other end of the elastic so that it does not get pulled all the way through. Once the safety pin makes its way all the way around the neckline, pull the elastic so that the end of the elastic comes out of the casing by a couple inches. Put the two ends of the elastic together and make a sewing knot. Watch our video for help with this step. This video shows the doll dress, but the same concept is used for the child size dress.
Flip the dress right side out. Try on the dress. Adjust the location of the knot on the elastic so that the neckline is right for the child. Take the dress off, cut off any extra elastic from the neckline. Use a running stitch to stitch together the 1″ opening.
Congratulations! You just made a new dress!
Step 18 - optional
If you would like to define the waistline of the dress, grosgrain ribbon could be tied around the waist. Making a simple 1″ long stitch on each side of the dress at the waistline will help to keep the ribbon in place.
Another option to define the waist would be to create a casing with an extra piece of fabric, sew this at the waistline, and insert elastic.
Looking for more fun doll ideas?