Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pillowcase Dress Tutorial

Because the internet needs one more take on how to make these cute little dresses, right?

Actually, believe it or not I've had a hard time finding a tutorial that suites me so I have come up with my own hodgepodge method of sorts to share.

Sidenote: I wrote these instructions for the sewing novice. I don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence, I just want to help teach a new skill  to a few folks if I can. Experienced seamstresses, thanks for your patience!

Supplies:

  • Pillowcase--Any old pillowcase will do. I've found all sorts of lovely ones at the thrift store but you can use new or one from your linen closet as well. The size of the pillow case doesn't matter so just pick something pretty.
  • Double fold bias tape (aka seam binding)--get "Extra-Wide" if you've never used it before or make your own if you are a show off!
  • Straight pins
  • Scissors
  • 1/4" Elastic
  • A safety pin
  • Thread--please match it to your pillowcase and seam binding. It will hide crooked stitches better!
  • Sewing machine--this should go without saying, right? But also here I should include extra needles, bobbin, etc. Anything you need to make your machine run, k?
  • Seam ripper--I hesitate to add this to the list because I am confident in your abilities--but even the most advanced seamstress has to rip out a few stitches here and there. It's best to be prepared.
  • Iron and Ironing Board--Sewing is so much easier on crisply ironed fabric!
  • Trim--this is optional but a little bit of rick rack or ribbon can really make this simple dress into something over the top cute.

The Process:


1.  Cut your pillowcase down to size. 
Sizing will be based off of the Little Dresses for Africa website since that's where I'm sending my dresses but you can feel free to measure your little one to get a more custom fit. Just measure from shoulder to where you want the dress to fall and add about 1", give or take, for the top elastic casing.

2 = 16 inches
3 = 19 inches
4 = 22 inches
5 = 24 inches
6 = 26 inches
7 = 28 inches
8 = 30 inches
9 = 32 inches
10 = 34 inches
11 = 36 inches
You want to cut off the end that is sewn together and leave the hem (that will be the hem of your dress later--big time saver!)
So, for example, if you have a 40" pillowcase and you are making a size 8 dress you will measure up from the hem 30" and cut straight across. You would be left with 10" of scrap fabric to add to that scrappy quilt you are planning to make "someday". Or is that just me?

2. Cut your arm holes. 
Fold your pillowcase in half so that the side seams meet and the top cut edge is lined up. 
On the side with the seams (not the center fold), measure down 4" from the top corner and over 2" from the top corner. My lines are a little hard to see but look there by the 12 on the left and at 2" on top.
Cut a curved line from point to point. You can mark this first with a disappearing ink pen if that makes you more comfortable. You could even use a Sharpie if you wanted since this part will eventually be hidden under the seam binding.
Your arm hole line should look sort of like a "J" with a slanted bottom hook if that helps. But don't sweat this. This dress is super roomy and very forgiving. Close totally counts. 
If you are totally anal, go HERE for a template. Go ahead. I won't judge. 

3. Make your elastic casing.  
Make sure your iron is hot and ready to steam! 
You are going to want to iron down about 1/4"  of the fabric on the top cut edge. Do this on both the front and the back of the dress. You are ironing the material wrong side to wrong side.
(The "wrong side" for sewing newbies is the side of the fabric that is on the inside of your garment--the side that is not meant to show. The outside of the garment is, conversely, called the "right side". See, this sewing thing is EASY!)
Now you want to iron down another 1/2" or so. Again, both on the front and the back and toward the wrong side of the fabric. See how you just hid that rough little edge? Give yourself a little pat on the back.

You can pin this down if you want. It's quicker if you don't but if it makes you more comfortable go for it! Me? I'm all about living on the edge. Pins cramp my style.
Get your sewing machine ready! You want to sew a straight line close to that bottom fold, say around 1/8" for you math-lovin' types.  
Repeat for both the front and the back of the dress.
A good way to help sew a straight line is to find a place on your presser foot to line up that fold line as you sew. If that doesn't work, put a little piece of masking tape on your machine to help line things up. See how my fold lines right up with the inside of the left fork of my presser foot? Yep, that's how I keep it on the straight and narrow.
Now you should have two nice little "pockets" on the top of your dress. This is your casing that will house a bit of elastic that will gather the top of the dress nicely.
Speaking of elastic, grab yours and measure 6" from the end and make a mark with a pen. No need to cut yet. 
Attach your safety pin to the end of the elastic and feed it through the casing until the safety pin comes out the other end. The safety pin gives you something stable to grab and push through the casing, otherwise you'd be working all night to wiggle that floppy elastic through on it's own.
Take the pin off of the elastic and sew the elastic down. It would be good to backstitch over it a few times just to make sure it catches.
(Your machine should have a button or lever you can easily push to make it stitch backwards--check your manual if you don't know how)
Now that the first end is locked and loaded, pull the other end of your elastic until you see the mark you made earlier and stitch that end down as well. Now cut the elastic.
Measure another 6" down from the cut end of the elastic and repeat these steps for the opposite side of the dress.

4. Bind the arms and make your ties
Now grab your seam binding. No matter what size dress you are making , cut two 38" long strips. Fold them in half and mark the middle with a straight pin.
See how the binding is folded in half? You want to envelope the raw edge of your armhole inside the fold of the binding. So line up the center of your binding (you just marked it with a pin, remember?) with your side seam and pin it.
Continue to put the raw edges of the arm hole into the seam binding and pin all the way to the top of your dress. Go ahead and do this around the whole arm hole. To make things easier on yourself when you are sewing, make sure your fabric is right up to the inside of the fold before you pin it.
To finish the raw ends of your seam binding, open it up, fold down about 1/4" and then refold it. Pin if you need to. Obviously, you'll need to do this on all four raw ends so unless you want to wing it as you sew, pins are good.
Now, let's get ready to sew again! Start at one end of your seam binding and sew the open parts together. You want to sew a short line along the top of that fold you just made and then turn and run your seam all the way down to the dress. Sew about 1/8" away from the open edge.
When you get to the dress, continue to sew approximately 1/8" away from the edge of the seam binding all the way around your arm hole. Our goal here is to catch the front of the seam binding, the pillowcase AND the back of the seam binding all with this one run of stitches. 
If you are nervous about doing this and catching all the layers, switch over to a zig zag stitch! Super cute way to "cheat" a little! (This is obviously not the dress I was working on. I grabbed it from the bag of lovelies that we whipped up last week. Credit here goes to Brooke.)
Take it slow. This is the hardest part of the process. If you get off of your mark a little there's no shame in ripping out the part that was messed up and doing it over.

Once you've sewn the binding to the dress, keep going to the end of the tie and then across the top fold just like you did the first time.
Repeat this for the opposite side and you are, for all intents and purposes, DONE!
Woo Hoo!

5. Trim!
If you want, you can add a bit of trim at the hem. It's totally optional but I am a trim-aholic. A little trim can go far to make your dress look more professional.
But, if you are just over it at this point, don't sweat the trim stuff and move on to step number six!
For most trims, I find it easiest to just sew right along the line of hem stitches. Super easy way to keep your trim straight and even.

Trimming isn't limited to a line of ribbon or rick rack around the hem. Get creative. Add a bow, maybe some ruffles or a flower from your scrap fabric, sew on some buttons or do a fancy applique! The sky's the limit!

6. Step back and admire your handiwork. Pat yourself on the back because you are so awesome!
And if you're sending this little number off to Africa, take a moment and say a prayer of blessing over the girl who will someday wear it.

 
Please let me know if you have any questions or if you get stuck! I'll do my best to help out!
~Lindsay

74 comments:

  1. This rocks!!! You are entirely amazing in every way.

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  2. I do happen to agree with Shannon. I think even I could make one of these now. :o)

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  3. Lindsay, I got a sewing machine for Christmas and am just learning to sew. I am so excited to try this project! Seems simple enough. Let me know when you meet together again, I would love to join the fun! Toni Warren

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  4. I really really want to do this with a group of ladies one day... I tried to talk my little girl into hosting a Girl Scout party to sew these!! mom's sewing... girls designing... but she has her heart set on another charity!! =) I love the step by step!! Blessings!!

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  5. You have done a great job in making your instructions very clear. I am so excited to try this! Thank you and I will definitely check back on this site!

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  6. Thank you for doing this! I am definetly planning on making a few of these for Little Miss because she needs more clothes :-) But I definetly want to make some to send to Africa as well. Its really meant to be because usually pillow cases come in two, so one for Hannah and one for a little girl in Africa! When are you planning on sending yours?

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  7. There are a 100 different tutorials for this online but THIS is the one I choose after looking at them all!! I did not know how to sew prior to this (other than my 4th grade 4-H pillow) and this was my first adult project. I have a tiny little sewing machine, which I had to read the manual for to figure out, and I made this!! I have a 6 yr old girl just insane about dresses and with my .50 cent Goodwill pillowcase I made the cutest little dress. Thank you so much. The instructions for beginners were perfect and the following pictures helped hugely. I'm hooked!

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  8. Kiley, I'm not sure if you'll see this but I couldn't reply to your e-mail and I wanted you to know that you made my day! I'm so glad you were able to make one of these for your little sweetie AND learn to love sewing in the process! Thank you so much for sharing!
    ~Lindsay

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  9. Seriously...this is the best tutorial I've seen on these dresses...and I've seen a LOT!

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  10. i had to write and tell you that your web site is sooooo pretty.
    Maria

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  11. I used your instructions to make pillowcase dresses for my two goddaughters. They turned out wonderfully! Thank you so much!

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  12. Oooo!! I love this! :) Very good instructions... I feel like you're sitting on my shoulder and saying it all! :) Great cause too!

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  13. I am a completely new sewer and I felt like a pro making this dress for my daughter - it turned out perfectly!!!

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  14. ...Just a question also, if I wanted to send dresses to Africa as well - how would I go about doing that?

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  15. Kristin--I am so happy you tried this!! If you want to send dresses to Africa you can check out the Little Dresses for Africa website: http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/


    All donations can be mailed to:

    Little Dresses for Africa
    24614 Curtis Drive
    Brownstown, MI 48134

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  16. I made pillowcase dresses for my daughters using your instructions with some variations. You can check out how they turned out if you want. : ) Thanks for the tutorial!!!
    http://jennisrandomramblings.blogspot.com/2011/08/pillowcase-dresses.html

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  17. Woo-hoo! I cannot sew but think I can follow these directions easily enough. Thanks!

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  18. hello, i came across your fabulous tutorial. perfect for the novice like me so thankyou for taking the time to make step by step instructions so clear :) i thought id share my result. http://and-sew-it-seams.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/too-pretty-for-bed.html
    thankyou very much,it astounds me the generosity of fellow bloggers who are willing to share their knowledge :)

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  19. Yes... best tute I have seen in the internet world on these little dresses! I had a sewing session with my niece to teach her how to sew, and she made two of these precious little dresses, I am so proud of her!

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  20. Fabulous! I didn't have any pillow cases but wanted to make a start with my 2-year-old-and-as-yet-unused sewing machine - so I was looking for a very simple dress design. This was perfect. Thanks! Wish I could post a picture of it here but I guess - on reflection - that, whilst I may be feeling hugely smug about my creation no one else would actually be that interested in my fabric, ribbon colour choice combo, so perhaps its just fine that I can't upload a photo...

    Thanks again. Wonderful site. Im adding a quilt to the list of things I must do before I do, though I think I may just manage one in total.

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    1. Kate, I'm so glad you tried it! I'd love to see a photo if you want to share (402CenterStreet at gmail dot com). I always love seeing what other people do!

      I hope you do attempt a quilt! Though they are terribly addictive! Beware! :)
      ~Lindsay

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  21. Wow! What a great tutorial! VERY EASY to follow. Love it. And I also love the fact that your dresses are going to little girls in Africa! May God bless you for that.

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  22. I am going to make 2 of these for the flowergirls in my son's wedding. I not only totally get your instructions, you also made me laugh. Thanks for making my day and also for providing instructions for dresses that will make my son's big day even better. Now to decide the color, trim, and embelishments. I may embroider the bottom hem.....hmmmmm

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  23. Detailed instructions for a beginner. Thanks for sharing. I'm pinning for future reference.

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  24. Absolutely loved your tutorial!!! Made a dress today in record time with your amazing directions. Also, made a smaller version of the same dress for her dolly!!! So now my god daughter has a precious pillow case dress for her and her doll that match!!!! How much fun is that?!!! Thank you so much for sharing your talents!!!

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  25. Great tutorial brought my lap top into my sewing room and made one, I have two granddaughters and making them dresses to match. Thank You.

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  26. I am making this for a church project for "dress a girl around the world". I have done lots of sewing but am a very visual learner. This is going to be a snap - thank to you. I could not find any cute pillow cases so I bought a yd each of some cute material on sale.
    You rock!
    Excellent tutorial.

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    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! I hope your project goes well!

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  27. EXCELLENT you showed me exactly how to do without any questions and your photos of the dress in process are fabulous THANK YOU

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  28. Hi Ladies, Love you website. Lots of great ideas. Found the tutorial for the pillowcase dress and am very excited about making some for my 2 yr old granddaughter. Have actually started making my first one and am to the point where I'm supposed to put the elastic through the casing. However, nowhere in the tutorial do I see how long the pieces of elastic are supposed to be. I see where you're supposed to make a mark on it six inches from the end, but have no clue how long a piece of elastic I should start with. Must be totally stupid. I see others have made the dress with apparently no problems,but I'm stumped. Can you please help me? I'm really anxious to finish this first one and make others. Thank you so much. It's a great tutorial. Very easy to understand.

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    1. Hi Deb! Thanks for the feedback!
      As far as the elastic goes, it doesn't matter how long a piece of elastic you start with. Any length 6" or longer will do b/c you will be cutting off the excess once you pull it through the casing.
      I hope that helps.
      ~Lindsay

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  29. Great tutorial! Great photos, which are very helpful! Thank you for making this so clear. This is the best tutorial for these little dresses that I've found - and I have looked at quite a few!

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  30. Loooove it! :) Thanks for the tutorial :)

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  31. Beautiful dresses. I am also doing my for the Little girls of Africa...just started last month and have 17 done at this time...hope to do more and mail out end of this month. Love your directions..haven't tried the binding but will on my next go around...my goal is 108 dresses...God Bless

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  32. Love this - looked at several tutorials and was glad to come across this one - my first sewing project since jr high home ec - my daughters love their dresses!

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    1. That's awesome Beka! Hopefully many more "Momma made" clothes to come!

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  33. Amazing! I feel like a rock star after making a pillow dress using your tutorial. We did a college theme (Go Beavers!) Check it out on my blog.
    http://www.homedaycrafts.com/2012/06/pillowcase-dress-osu-beaver-fan.html
    Thanks for such easy to follow instructions! This is the best tutorial I found and I'm so glad I did!

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  34. I truly love it!! You make me think that I can do this!! lol!! Great tutorial!! Thank you!

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    1. You CAN do it! I'd love to see the results if you try! Good luck!

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  35. Wow! This was amazing! For all of ya that are wondering if you can do this, GO FOR IT! My daughter Tashina is brain damaged from an automobile accident and has limited mobility (she forgets she has a right hand) and she made a little dress for her newborn cousin. The confidence she gained was overwhelming. Thank you for posting such an easy to understand tutorial and we will be making some for Africa and some of our other fave charities. Thanks again and God bless all of ya!

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    1. Your story brings tears to my eyes. What a blessing! Thank you for sharing.

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  36. Thanks! I actually did it, and it looks like a dress!

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  37. I tried to print out he armhole template (as i need to adjust for adult size) and it comes out very small. What to do? Thank You

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    1. I'd be happy to send you a PDF of the pattern to try. I'll need your e-mail address to do so. Otherwise, I can tell you the template for the XL size (girls size 11 and up) measures 5 3/4" down and 2 1/8" across. You could scale up from there. Hope that helps!

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  38. The measurements for the XL works fine! Thank you so much :)))

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  39. Thank you so much for this. I am new to sewing and have wanted to make one of these for my little girl for a long time. Reading this tutorial makes me think I could really do it. In fact last night I managed to sew in the elastic bit, yay! Just have to do the binding and trim. Again, thank you!

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  40. Thank you for posting PICTURES! I've been looking everywhere for detailed step-by-step instructions. You rock! :)

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  41. Hi -- I love your tutorial! I made a dress for a niece to rave reviews. Your tute is so clear and easy to follow -- thank you for that.

    I do have one little question, though. Is the 6" of elastic the same for all size dresses? For example, I bought a gorgeous pair of pillowcases from our thrift store and want to make matching dresses for my two girls (aged 2 and 11). I know that it will work perfectly for the two-year-old, but I just have trouble envisioning that 6" of elastic will be the right size for the 11-year-old...?

    Thanks in advance for your guidance!
    Cheers!

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  42. Thank you for this! I am not a sewing person, but I made my first dress in about an hour!

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  43. Love this post. Made my granddaughter a dress. Have to make another granddaughter one now. The pictures are great. I am a novice sewer and the instructions were perfect. Thanks for sharing. I know it took a lot of time to make this tutorial.

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  44. Thanks so much, after reading oodles of tutorials, this one is by the best!

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  45. Your tutorial is the ONLY one I have found that made this endeavor less frightening. I've always liked the idea of making clothes but have always thought it looked so complicated! It took me some time to complete this because I over analyzed a few areas, had to run to the store and pick up a different width elastic, found out my casing was bigger than the size you used, etc. beginner woes lol. But I got it done and I'm ready to make another one! Thank you!!

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    1. Hooray!! I'm so glad you were brave enough to try and persistent enough to finish!!

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  46. Hey there! I am trying to make a childrens size 8 dress but don't have a pillowcase to make it from... so i will be using just fabric from the store. i see where you have the height lengths (thanks you) but i don't know how wide to make the dress... I am just at a loss... Your dress is beautiful by the way!! Thanks for the pattern!!!! :) Katie

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    1. I think standard, queen and king size pillows are all 21" wide (they just vary in length) so I'd say you want your finished tube of fabric to be at least 21" wide. Make sure you add in your seam allowance when cutting (so cut two 22" wide rectangles if using a 1/2" seam allowance). You could make it wider if you wanted, that would just make the dress more full and gathered. Let me know if that doesn't clear things up! :)

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  47. OH THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH!!! You just made my day!!!! I'll be making this well... probably tomorrow now... too late to start today lol... But THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! Katie

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  48. Hi my name is Linda and I just wanted to say I pinned your tutorial to my Pinterest sewing board with a note that if there is and new sewer out there that needs a pillowcase tutorial that yours is the best one by far of any I have ever seen so I just commend you on your patience to do this for others THANKS LINDA

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  49. Love these little dresses .I did my casings diffrent instead of elastic I used ribbon about 50" long for each side then I gather to fit the child .tie the exess ribbons into a bow on each side.

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  50. Have you ever made one of these dresses with a ruffle on the bottom? If so how do you do it?

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  51. Hi. I volunteer for Operation Christmas Child and was told about these dresses. I found your site to see what they looked like. I made one right away. Your tutorial was excellent. I will be making several to put in shoeboxes to send to children all over the world.
    MICHELE

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  52. Thank you!! I have sewn a few other projects in the past so I'm not a complete novice, but definitely appreciate your clear instructions! They are so easy to follow and understand.

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  53. Thank you for this tutorial! You have very clear instructions with good photos. I am a very novice sew-er, and I had no trouble making my 3 yr old a dress in the course of an afternoon.

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  54. Thank you for this pattern!!! I whipped two up for a friend's daughter two days ago, and decided to tackle homemade bias tape for the second one. Now I'm thoroughly smitten with bias tape. :) They both turned out so darling, and my friend loved them. I put yo-yo's with buttons at the center at the bottom corner of the second one for decoration which matched the homemade bias tape. Absolutely adorable. Thank you again. :)

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  55. Hi, your tutorial is just what I was looking for :)! I'm hosting a reuse/remake/repurpose clothing thread on a simple living forum and I'd like to link to this tutorial as it's so easy to understand. Thank you for making it available as I've just done my first tutorial and I realise now how much time they take!
    Cheers, Robyn

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  56. Thank you for this tutorial - I am a beginning sewer (been sewing less than a year) and this was a great project for me (and for the random extra pillowcase my husband brought to the marriage) (and for our beautiful 2-year-old.) The only problem I had was when I started to stitch up the seam binding, at the first end of it ... my machine didn't want to go through it and the stitches went all wonky on me. I tried going slower but couldn't get it slow enough, until I had the bright idea to use the hand wheel (is that the right term? To make the machine go manually?). Then I was able to make a perfect little straight line. I did that for the remaining three ends. Overall the dress took me about 75 minutes which was awesome for an evening project. Thanks again!

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    1. Great tip! I'm glad you figured out how to get through a tight spot. And a little over an hour for a newbie sewer is awesome! Good for you!

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  57. Thank you for this tutorial. I've been looking for one that actually used a pillow case and not just a piece of fabric. Your pictures were spot on and really helped along with your descriptions. I really appreciate your effort and and time you've taken for the rest of us. :)

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