Sweet-dream dresses: Pillowcases find new life as garments for girls

FARGO - A simple summer dress has become a favorite project among young crafters, frequently featured on hip crafting blogs. The girls' frock has also spurred ministries to form across the country.

Pillowcase dress
Britta Trygstad of Moorhead made this pillowcase dress for her daughter, Edie, last week. She says it took her about an hour to make it. Photo by Britta Trygstad / Special to The Forum

FARGO - A simple summer dress has become a favorite project among young crafters, frequently featured on hip crafting blogs. The girls' frock has also spurred ministries to form across the country.

And it all starts with a pillowcase.

Pillowcase dresses are made by trimming the top off a pillowcase, cutting out arm holes, gathering a neckline and using bias tape to finish the armhole edges and create shoulder straps.

They can also be made out of a fabric remnant - sewing one seam gets to the same starting point as the trimmed pillowcase.

Britta Trygstad, a Moorhead mom and photographer, started sewing in February 2010. She sewed her first pillowcase dress last April after seeing it on a blog by a Norwegian graphic designer who writes about decorating and sewing.


"They're so simple. It's a great first project to do," Trygstad says.

And it's economical. Find a pillowcase at a thrift store for a quarter, and the whole dress would cost less than a dollar to make, Trygstad says.

She used a sheet instead of a pillowcase for her first dress and has sewn several since for her daughter, Edie, who will turn 2 in August.

It's a breezy garment for summer months or can be topped with a cardigan, Trygstad says. Or, she notes, the pattern can be shortened to make a top worn with leggings or capri pants.

The pattern is nothing new. In fact, it's been around since pioneer days when women would make girls' dresses from potato sacks, says Rachel O'Neill, a Brownstown, Mich., woman who founded the nonprofit group Little Dresses for Africa in 2008.

O'Neill had wanted to take a few dresses to children in a village in Africa. "The girls are so oppressed," she says. "We wanted to do something to make them feel worthy. It was a way to honor them."

The idea caught on like wildfire, she says. More than 250,000 dresses have been routed through her home to Africa and other countries in crisis, such as Guatemala, Cambodia and Haiti, as well as places within the U.S.

That number doesn't include many individuals who've been inspired by her story (featured twice on NBC Nightly News) or other groups with similar missions, like Dress a Girl Around the World, which not only distributes pillowcase dresses but collects pillowcases for women in Uganda to make the dresses.


Area churches have made pillowcase dresses for girls in need. Women at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Fargo offered to make quilts for orphanages being built in Kenya, says member Loretta Swanson. Bill Sharpe, executive director of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's North Dakota District, suggested the women make dresses instead.

Swanson had heard about other churches making pillowcase dresses. A group of about 10 women sewed several in one evening. They sent 20 to the orphanage dedication. They've also made dresses from T-shirts.

"It's fun to get new clothes, no matter where you live in the world," Swanson says.

They've made another 25 to 30 that will go to a crisis center in Fort Yates. Swanson has scheduled another sewing day for Saturday.

A few of the dresses are adorned with lace, rickrack and even beads.

Some of the women thought the dresses turned out so cute that they were going to make some for girls they know. Swanson plans to "whip up a few" for her granddaughter in Florida, who has a birthday soon.

"It's simple. You don't have to be an accomplished seamstress, and you know it can be used somewhere," says Swanson.

Swanson says most of the dresses were made


out of fabric rather than pillowcases. She says she was able to find cuter prints that way.

The trick to a cute pillowcase dress is finding an interesting fabric pattern, whether bold or traditional, Trygstad says.

"Everything comes together with the right fabric," she says.

Four-step pillowcase dress

1. Cut the sewn end of the pillowcase top off (this will be the top of the dress), leaving the hem (the bottom of the skirt).

2. Fold the pillowcase in half and cut out the arm holes so they will be the same on each side. The measurements depend on the size of the pillowcase, but it's about 4 inches down and 2 inches in.

3. Fold down the top strip about 3/8 inch and stitch a casing. Slide a 6-inch piece of elastic at the top so it will be gathered.

4. Finish the arm holes with double bias tape, leaving enough at the ends to tie at the shoulders.



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