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Little Dresses! (and cutting tips)


Ok, so I went on a bit of a sewing tangent. Even though I have a stress-inducing number of unfinished projects right now, I decided to take a little time out and do a bit of last minute charity sewing. A blog that I follow, Sew and Sow Farm aka Featherweight Quilt Co on Etsy, was hosting a sew-a-long for the Little Dresses for Africa charity organization. Her personal goal was to make ten little dresses, and to get as many others as she could to sew along with her. The deadline for this was 5 July.

Now, I did see her first mention this on 20 June… but pretty much immediately forgot about it. Then, as I was laying in bed catching up on my Bloglovin feed (when I should have been going to sleep) on Monday, June 29, I saw another post about it and suddenly decided to participate. The next day, Tuesday, I stopped by a quilt shop on the way home from work and raided their sales rack for fabric. By the time I left work Wednesday (of course I didn’t spend work time looking at sewing sites…) I had a plan in mind, and dragged my husband and daughter out to Joann to pick up some bias tape that evening.

Inside of pillowcase... no raw seams

Inside of pillowcase… no raw seams

The plan I came up with was a mix of the pillowcase dress tutorial on LDFA’s website and my favorite pillowcase tutorial, which I had used a few weeks ago to make pillow cases for my mother in law. The reason I decided to go with this pattern combo was because the pillowcase had no exposed raw edge seams, which should hopefully make it durable since repairs may not be possible. It is also super quick to stitch up, and kind of fun to sew the “burrito” and then pull it right sides out. Combining this with the pillowcase-style dress with ties at the shoulders meant the dress could grow with the child. The only small modification I made to the pillow case instructions was to add top stitching along the cuff because I wanted to be sure the seam remained flat, and then of course I didn’t stitch the end closed. Later I did stitch the inner seam down to make it flat, but that came after cutting the arm holes.

I don’t typically pre-wash my fabric for quilts, but when it comes to things like this I do. So I did a bit of prep work by washing and drying the fabric, and then pressing it well. To make cutting easier I employed my Shape Cut Pro ruler, first making sure the selvages were lined up so that the grain of the fabric would be straight.  The Shape Cut Pro ruler has slots every 2.5 inches, and makes getting perfectly parallel cuts very easy. I love this ruler! If you cut a lot of strips or squares and don’t have one, you need one. Of course it takes a little finagling when cutting things that don’t fit perfectly in the ruler’s dimensions, since the slots only go up to 20 inches and are only at certain distances.

The trim (or pillowcase cuff) was easy, as it was only 9″ x 40″ on the first dress. For that you simply line one of the perpendicular grid marks up with the selvage and make a cut along the slot marked as zero of the ruler. Once you have a straight edge to work with, slide the ruler over an inch to line up the freshly cut edge with the one-inch marking. Now when you cut at the 10-inch slot, you will end up with a 9-inch cut. See what I did there? Slide the ruler over an inch so that you basically get 10 – 1 = 9. To get the 40-inch width you simply turn the ruler and line the fold up along the zero slot, and then cut at the 20 inch slot so that when you unfold the fabric you get your 40 inches.

Using the ruler to cut the dress body was slightly more complicated since it needed to be 27″ x 40″ and the ruler only goes up to 20 inches. First I again lined up with the selvage so that I could cut a straight line along the zero slot and have things squared up with the grain. Then, I made a mark seven inches from the freshly cut edge. This mark was then lined up along the zero slot, and a cut made at the 20-inch slot. See the math there? 20 + 7 = 27.

To get the 40 inch width to be even along the whole span of fabric, I then folded my 27″ x WOF fabric in half, being sure all the edges were lined up so that things stayed squared up. Then it was a simple matter of once again lining the fold up at the zero slot and the edge up with any one of the perpendicular grid marks before cutting along the 20-inch slot, so that when unfolded you would have forty inches of fabric. Hopefully all that made sense!

Now that the dress fabric was cut, it was time to sew it up, but I don’t want to reinvent the wheel or steal anyone’s thunder… so check out the pillowcase tutorial for that bit. I followed the pillowcase tutorial exactly, aside from what I mentioned before: top stitching along the cuff seam and omitting the bit where you stitch the end closed.

The only tip I have to add is that, when pinning, I lined up the fold line in all fabrics and placed the first pin there. This will be the exact center of everything if you measured from the fold when cutting. Next, I lined up each corner and pinned there. Just like when pinning for piecing a quilt, I then went along adding pins at the middle point between two other pins until I had enough pins in place to keep things together while stitching. Adding the pins in this way keeps all the fabric aligned without stretching.

Markings for arm holes

Markings for arm holes

Once the pillowcase was together, I switched over to the LDFA pillowcase dress tutorial for the last bit. The pattern instructs you to cut the arm holes about four inches deep and two inches in. So that they match up evenly, you first fold the dress in half and then cut all layers at the same time. I simply put my ruler on the corner of the dress, lining up the four and two inch lines with the edges of the dress and made a mark to help guide my cutting. Then I just followed the guidelines with my rotary cutter, doing the curve free hand. Easy!

I decided I really should stitch down that inner seam so it didn’t annoy the child that ends up wearing it. Since the stitching at the corner was cut when making the armholes, it meant that seam wasn’t as secure as it had been since the locking stitches at the end were now gone. Because of that, I saved this step for this point instead of doing it when making the pillow case. I suppose I could have done it then and just stay stitched after cutting the armholes, but doing it this way saves a few minutes. When you add the bias binding, it will secure it even more.  This means there ended up being a line of stitching visible along the seam on the outside of the dress, but I don’t think it looks bad. It will definitely make the dress more comfortable, and possibly more durable.

Next, it was time to add elastic. Eep! I have next to no experience with elastic. The only other thing I have done with elastic was put a little in the back of a baby onesie I converted into a dress over a year ago, and that didn’t turn out all that well. So I winged it, and then Googled afterwards… I think I did it pretty much like I was supposed to? On the plus side, it means I finally got to use the other end of my bodkin! The bodkin really did make running the elastic through super easy, and the little slit in it was perfectly sized for the 1/4″ elastic. (Amazon link: Dritz Ball Point Bodkin)

Casing for Elastic

Casing for Elastic

The pattern only said to turn the top over 3/8″ and edge stitch; however, I thought it would be better to turn the raw edge under 1/4″ in first, and then fold it again for the 3/8″ to make the casing for the elastic. Based on my Googling afterwards, this was the correct thing to do.

After failing horribly at trying to run a short piece of elastic through, I decided I must be doing it wrong, and switched tactics… in the end I just ran the elastic through without cutting it, stitched one end, and then let it gather up the fabric to an appropriate length before stitching the other end. I only trimmed the elastic after both ends were securely stitched (at what might have been a maniacally paranoid level of thoroughness). Once the first side was done, I did the second in the same way and matched up the length of the gathered fabric before securing the last opening.

Once all that was done, the only thing left to do was add the bias tape for the shoulder ties. This was a simple matter of first turning the ends under a bit and stitching, then matching the middle point of the strips of bias tape to the middle point of the arm hole. A few pins to secure the tape to the dress and then I ran it through the machine, stitching about an 1/8″ of an inch from the edge all the way from one end of the tape to the other. The only note I have to make here is that I found it best to put the shorter side on the outside of the dress, and then stitch with this side up (one side of prepackaged bias tape is slightly longer than the other, this is so that when you fold it around a couple layers of material the edges will match up). This way, you will be sure to catch both sides of the tape… and if the under side ends up a little uneven, at least it will be on the inside of the dress where it won’t be seen.

I made three in just a couple short nights of sewing, maybe I can make a few more before I ship them out!



  1. Robyn! Those are sew adorable!! I love that you used the pillowcase pattern. The wide contrasting fabric really makes them cute! Thank you for showing us how to do that! And the elastic idea is great! I had one piece of elastic on one of the smaller dresses slip up into the casing and I had to fish it out. So after that I would pull the elastic through only far enough to reach the edge of the right side of the casing. Then I stitched over it MULTIPLE times ( paranoid here too) then I finished pulling it through( I use a diaper pin like my granny used to ) and stitched through it on the other side. To even it out I just held each side and and pulled, it would gather back up evenly then. These really are fun and easy. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your sewing tutorial and in making these Dresses!
    Good luck in the giveaway! xo jan

    • Robyn

      Thank you! I love your dresses too, especially the purple one in the middle. And thank you so much for bringing LDFA to my attention, I will definitely be making more dresses for them in the future.

      I set my zig zag stitch to be pretty tight and stitched vertically and horizontally, I was so paranoid the elastic would come apart… I would hate for the dresses to wear out and the kids not be able to fix them. If you come across a bodkin, it really did make running the elastic through so so much easier than using a safety pin. They are inexpensive, and also work great as a turning tool.

  2. Robyn, these are so cute! I’m going to try using your suggestions to make more dresses for the project. I ended up using a pattern I’d already tried rather than doing something new, but these are cute and look quick to sew!

    • Robyn

      Thanks! They really are super quick to sew, and fun to make. I definitely understand sticking to something you have made before when you have a deadline. The main reason I chose this one was that I had made the pillow cases before, and they came out great.

      I love the ones you made as well!

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