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How to Sew a Tiered Pillowcase Dress (includes free bodice pattern)

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How to sew a Tiered Pillowcase Dress (tutorial includes a free printable bodice pattern and cutting instructions for the tiers.)

I love pillowcase dresses! No buttons, no zippers, just straight stitches. This Tiered Pillowcase Dress tutorial will elevate your simple pillowcase dress to the next level.

Even better, you get to show off multiple gorgeous, girly fabrics!

How to sew a Tiered Pillowcase Dress (tutorial includes a free printable pattern in sizes 2 to 8.) Pillowcase dresses are one of my favorite patterns to sew

Tiered Pillowcase Dress

Pillowcase dresses are one of my favorite sewing patterns. They’re just so quick and easy! (That’s my favorite type of sewing project, lol.)

A bonus aspect of a pillowcase dress is that since it’s designed to be fairly loose and is put together with a tie and casing, it can grow with your little one, going from a dress to a top as they age!

How to make a tiered pillowcase dress

Today’s tiered pillowcase dress tutorial takes on the standard pillowcase dress pattern and shows you how to add “tiers” of fabric to take your pillowcase dress-making skills up a notch!

The added tiers use a lot of fabric, but they make the dress extra twirly! (Little girls love to twirl.)

(**update 1 ** – I made an adorable patriotic tiered pillowcase dress for the 4th of July. See that one here.)

(**update 2 ** – I made the cutest little free Pillowcase Dress Pattern for girls in sizes 2 to 16. I call it the “Polished Pillowcase Dress.” The tutorial includes even more options for customizing a pillowcase dress.)  You can see the full post about that dress here.

More beginner-friendly sewing patterns for girls

So, without further ado:

Where Do I Get the Pattern?

Look under the materials section needed for the pattern link. Click the link, and you will be taken to my pattern shop. Add the pattern to your cart and check out. (No payment is needed, and the system needs about 15 seconds to process your order.)

How to Make a Tiered Pillowcase-Style Dress:

Skill level: Beginner-friendly 

Time needed: 2 to 4 hours (the ruffling and pinning of the tiers takes the longest)

Fits sizes: The tutorial includes tier measurements to fit a 2 to 8-year-old.  If you want to make a slightly larger dress, just add an inch or so from each tier for a longer/shorter dress.

Fabric usage note: to calculate the width of the fabric needed for the tiers, I multiplied the width of the bodice by 1.75 and then the width of the 2nd tier, multiplied by 1.75 for the width of the 3rd. This uses A LOT of fabric but makes a wonderfully twirly dress. To save on the amount of fabric used, you could multiply the widths by 1.65 or 1.5. Less full, but still very cute.

 *** Important pattern printing tip*** When printing the patterns, save the pattern to your computer and open it in the free Adobe Acrobat reader program.  Choose actual size and the auto portrait/landscape option. (If you use any other PDF printing program, I can’t guarantee your pattern will print to the correct size.)

Seam allowances are 3/8 inch unless otherwise stated.

Materials Needed

  • Pattern (free pillowcase bodice pattern here)  (add the pattern to your cart and check out <its free> and navigate back to this tutorial) *note, the bodice pattern goes up to size 16, but I have only provided the cut info for up to size 8 in the tiered version. Someday, I will figure out the dimensions needed and add more sizes.
  • Fabric: (The amount listed below is based on 42-inch wide fabric and will make up to a size 8 dress.)
    • Bodice: size 2 to 5: 1/4 yard, size 6 to 8: 3/8
    • Middle tier, size 2 to 5: 1/2 yard, size 6 to 8: 5/8 yard
    • Third tier: sizes 2 to 6: 1 yard, size 7/8 1 1/8 yard
    • Tie: 1/8 yard
  • +/-28 inches of coordinating single-fold bias tape
  • coordinating thread
  • Basic sewing supplies (scissors, paper, pen, ruler, iron)

Sewing Instructions For The Tiered Pillowcase Dress Tutorial

Step 1:  Print bodice pattern and cut pattern pieces.

Print, cut out, and assemble the pattern.  (Ignore the contrasting fabric cut line on the printed pattern- that is for the polished pillowcase tutorial.)

Fold the bodice fabric in half, put the long side on the fabric fold, and cut 2 pieces for the bodice.

free tiered pillowcase dress pattern

Cut the two tiers:

You will need to piece together two strips for the larger sizes/tiers.

Middle tier: 

  • 2/3: Cut 2 strips of fabric, 27 inches wide by 7.5 inches tall. 
  • 4/5: Cut 2 strips of fabric, 28 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall.
  • 6: Cut 2 strips of fabric, 29 inches wide by 9.5 inches tall.
  • 7/8: Cut 2 strips of fabric, 30 inches wide by 10.5 tall

Bottom tier:

  • 2/3:  Cut 2 strips of fabric, 46 inches wide and 9 1/4 tall.  
  • 4/5: Cut 2 strips of fabric, 49 inches wide and 10 1/4 tall.
  • 6:  Cut 2 strips of fabric, 51 inches wide and 11 1/4 tall.
  • 7/8: Cut 2 strips of fabric, 52 inches wide and 12 1/4 tall.

Fabric ties:

Cut fabric pieces to 3.5 inches tall by 62 inches wide. Depending on your fabric width, you will probably have to sew 2 pieces together. (I had to piece together scraps for mine, so I sewed together 4 pieces to get the length I needed.)

Here is what you will have.  (ties not shown)

free tiered pillowcase dress

Step 2:  Assembling bodice and finishing armholes.

With the right sides together, sew up the side seams of the bodice.  All seam allowances are 3/8 of an inch.

Finish the seams with your preferred method. (For example, you can use Pinking shears, a serger, or a zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine.)  Press the seams flat.

how to finish armholes on pillowcase dress

I like to finish my armholes with single-fold bias tape, and I will show you how to use it.

Cut 2 pieces of single-fold bias tape 13 1/2 inches long each.  Turn the fabric right side out and open the bias tape up.  Align the edge of the bias tape with the edge of the armhole like this:

how to add bias tape to an armscye

Pin securely.

how to finish armholes on pillowcase dress

Sew along the crease, removing pins as you go.  Do the same for the second armhole.

how to finish armholes on pillowcase dress

Fold the bias tape over to the inside of the bodice, iron down, and sew.

how to sew a tiered pillowcase dress

Step 3: Create the casing for the tiered pillowcase dress.

Trim away any uneven bias tape.  Fold the top edge over 1/4 inch and press.  Fold over one more inch and press again.  Sew as close to the folded edge as you can, creating about a 1-inch casing.  This is where the tie will go.

create casing for pillowcase dress
how to sew a tiered pillow case dress
how to make a casing

Step 4: Assemble the bodice and add tiers to the dress.

Sew the short sides of the 2nd tier together to make a circle and finish the seam edges.  Reapeat for the 3rd tier as well.  Press the seams of the tiered pillowcase dress.

Time to gather the tiers.  Set your sewing machine to the longest stitch length.  (Mine goes to 7.)  Sew a straight stitch all the way around, 1/4 inch from the edge.  Leave the ends loose; no backstitching.  Do this on both tiers.  Go ahead and move the stitch length back to the normal length.

To gather the tier pull on the top thread while holding the fabric, you should see the fabric start to gather up.

how to gather tiers

Gather the 2nd tier to approximately 16 inches.  (That is how wide the bottom of the bodice is.)

Gather the 3rd tier to about 23 inches.

tiered pillowcase dress tutorial - adding the tiers

Hold the 2nd tier to the bottom of the bodice and make any adjustments in the width of the gather.

Then, right sides of the fabric together, match up the side seams, and pin the gathered part of the 2nd tier to the bottom of the bodice.

When you are done it will look like this:

Place the gathered edge under your sewing foot and sew just to the left of the gathering stitch.  (When I sew gathers, I usually leave my pins in, but if you opt to leave the pins in, take care as you are risking broken needles and pins.)

Remove the pins and finish the seams.

Repeat for the third tier, lining up the bottom of the 2nd tier to the gathered edge of the 3rd tier.  This takes a while…  sorry!

Step 5:  Create the tie for your dress

Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and iron.

creating the tie for the tiered pillowcase dress

Then open up and fold both edges to the middle crease and iron.

Then fold in half and iron again.

Sew along all the edges.

Step 6: Hem the bottom of your last tier.  

Fold the bottom edge over 1/4 inch and press, then fold over another 1/4 inch and press again.  Pin if needed and sew along the edge.

Using a safety pin, pull the tie through the bodice casing.

Now sit back and admire your work!

how to sew a tiered dress

It is even more satisfying to find a sweet little princess to model your outfit…

how to sew a tiered pillowcase dress with a free pattern

I hope you are inspired to make something pretty!

Did you Make this Pattern?

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Yield: 1 tiered pillowcase dress

How to Sew a Tiered Pillowcase Dress

How to sew a Tiered Pillowcase Dress (tutorial includes a free printable pattern in sizes 2 to 8.) Pillowcase dresses are one of my favorite patterns to sew

Learn how to sew a tiered Pillowcase Dress with this free pattern and tutorial! This beginer-friendly sewing tutorial will elevate your simple pillowcase dress to the next level. Even better: you get to show off multiple gorgeous, girly fabrics!

Prep Time 45 minutes
Active Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 45 minutes
Difficulty easy/intermediate
Estimated Cost $15

Materials

  • *Pattern (free pillowcase bodice pattern linked above - add the pattern to your cart and check out and navigate back to this tutorial)
  • *Fabric: (amount listed is based on 42-inch wide fabric and will make up to a size 8 dress.) 1/4 yard for the bodice, 5/8 yard for the 2nd tier, 3/4 yard for the 3rd tier, 1/8 yard for the tie
  • * 28 inches +/- of coordinating single fold bias tape
  • *coordinating thread

Tools

  • Basic sewing supplies (scissors, paper, pen, ruler, iron)

Instructions

Step 1:  Print bodice pattern and cut pattern pieces.

  1. Print, cut out and assemble the pattern.  (Ignore the contrasting fabric cut line on the printed pattern- that is for the polished pillowcase tutorial.)
  2. Fold bodice fabric in half, put the long side on the fabric fold and cut 2 pieces for the bodice.

Cut the two tiers:

  1. Middle tier: fold fabric in half fabric in half.  The middle tier measurement is:
  2. 2/3: 13.5 inches wide by 7.5 inches tall.  (Cut 2 on the fold, and when you open it, your fabric pieces will be 27 inches wide.)
  3. 4/5: 13.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall.
  4. 6: 13.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches tall.
  5. 7/8:  13.5 wide by 10.5 tall
  6. Bottom tier, fold the fabric in half and cut 2 pieces:
  7. 2/3:  21 1/4  inches wide and 91/4 tall.  (you will have 2 pieces 42.5 wide)
  8. 4/5: 21 1/4  inches wide and 10 1/4 tall.
  9. 6:  21 1/4  inches wide and 11 1/4 tall.
  10. 7/8:  21 1/4  inches wide and 12 1/4 tall.

Fabric ties:

  1. Cut fabric pieces to 3.5 inches tall by 62 inches wide.  Depending on your fabric width, you will probably have to sew 2 pieces together.  (I had to piece together scraps for mine, so I sewed together 4 pieces to get the length I needed.)

Step 2:  Assembling bodice and finishing armholes.

  1. Right sides together, sew up the side seams of the bodice.  All seam allowances are 3/8 of an inch.
  2. Finish the seams with your preferred method. (Pinking shears, serger, or zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine.)  Press the seams flat.

    Cut 2 pieces of single fold bias tape 13 1/2 inches long each.  Turn fabric right side out and open bias tape up.  Align the edge of the bias tape up with the edge of the armhole. (images in the tutorial above)
  3. Pin securely.
  4. Sew along the crease removing pins as you go.  Do the same for the second armhole.
  5. Fold bias tape over to the inside of the bodice, iron down and sew.for the tiered pillowcase dress.
  6. Trim away any uneven bias tape.  Fold the top edge over 1/4 inch and press.  Fold over one more inch and press again.  Sew as close to the folded edge as you can, creating about a 1 inch casing.  This is where the tie will go.

Step 4:  Assemble boddice and add tiers to dress.

  1. Sew the short sides of the 2nd tier together to make a circle and finish the seam edges.  Do this for the 3rd tier as well.  Press the seams of the tiered pillowcase dress.
  2. Time to gather the tiers.  Set your sewing machine to the longest stitch length.  (Mine goes to 7.)  Sew a straight stitch all the way around, 1/4 inch from the edge.  Leave the ends loose, no backstitching.  Do this on both tiers.  Go ahead and move the stitch length back to the normal length.
  3. To gather the tier pull on the top thread while holding the fabric, you should see the fabric start to gather up.
  4. Gather the 2nd tier to approximately 16 inches.  (That is how wide the bottom of the bodice is.)
  5. Gather the 3rd tier to about 23 inches.
  6. Hold the 2nd tier to the bottom of the bodice and make any adjustments in the width of the gather.
  7. Then, right sides of the fabric together, match up the side seams, and pin the gathered part of the 2nd tier to the bottom of the bodice.
  8. (Demonstrative images can be found in the tutorial above)
  9. Place the gathered edge under your sewing foot and sew just to the left of the gathering stitch.  (When I sew gathers, I usually leave my pins in, but if you opt to leave the pins in, take care as you are risking broken needles and pins.)
  10. Remove the pins and finish the seams.
  11. Repeat for the third tier, lining up the bottom of the 2nd tier to the gathered edge of the 3rd tier.  This takes a while...  sorry!

Step 5:  Create the tie for your dress

  1. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and iron.
  2. Then open up and fold both edges to the middle crease and iron.
  3. Then fold in half and iron again.
  4. Sew along all the edges.

Step 6: Hem the bottom of your last tier.  

  1. Fold the bottom edge over 1/4 inch and press, then fold over another 1/4 inch and press again.  Pin if needed and sew along the edge.
  2. Using a safety pin, pull the tie through the bodice casing.
  3. Now sit back and admire your work because you are done!

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44 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I have printed out the pattern exactly as stated. Yet even the smallest size does not correspond with the 16inches, that the first tier should be gathered to. My first tier fabric is smaller than then the bodice without the gathers.
    Hope this makes sense

    Thank you

    1. Jamie Sanders says:

      You are correct, sorry about that. The instructions should have said cut two strips of the measurement given for the tiers.

  2. Hi I am fairly new to sewing so my question may be obvious to many. I can’t wrap my head around why pattern size 2 and size 8 are both the same length for the tiers. Would they not need to increase? If I’ve read correctly you use 27” and 42” length for mid tier and 3rd tier gathering to 16” for mid tier. I cut the pieces but found it did not match up to the bodice unless I cut 2 pieces for mid tier which I did not see that in the directions. Is that what should be done? Thank you for sharing this lovely pattern.

    1. Jamie Sanders says:

      Sorry, the instrutions are not clear. I will work on updating it today.

      1. Jamie Sanders says:

        ok, the tutorial is updated to be more clear, and with more modern sizing.

  3. Silly question but I truly want to find one. I’m looking for this pattern with a couple of changes. I want a maxi length, with one more tier to make a long dress and available in plus sizes. Do you make one? Would you make one? Where might I find one? Thank you on all questions.

    1. Jamie Sanders says:

      You can just add an additional tier. Measure the width of the bottom tier, multiply by 1.5, and that is the width of the new tier.

  4. Came out really cute. Precious girl couldn’t wait to twirl around in her new dress

  5. What is the brand of the fabric &/or where can I find it – Thanks so much!!

    1. I agree, isn’t it pretty! Unfortunately it was just a bunch of random premium quilting cotton that I had picked up online back in 2010, 2011 and 2012. So I don’t have it anymore nor do I remember where it came from, sorry!

  6. teen32966 says:

    I have two young granddaughters and want to attempt this pattern. Thanks for sharing :).

    1. You’ll love it. The fabric pattern combos are endless and they’ll look so cute!

      1. Very cute dress & fabric combo – can’t wait to make it for my granddaughter!! Having an issue printing the bodice pattern – I see that the width of the bodice is 8-3/4″ – could you possibly let me know the height measurement – hoping to be able to sketch out the pattern myself!!
        Thanks so much!!

      2. The 6 to 10 is 9.25 inches.

  7. Thank you so much for the detailed tutorial!! Right when I’m thinking about sewing a dress for my little cousin, this is perfect because I don’t live with her so I don’t know exactly her size.

  8. I am just finishing up sewing one of these — your tutorial is great and I've shared it with several sewing friends. Thanks!

  9. Recovering Sociopath says:

    I love this dress.

    Do you think if someone were lazy/pressed for time they might skip fiddling with bias tape and armholes and cut the top off an old shirt of suitable size and sew the tiers onto that? If so, would a knit (like a tshirt or tank top) work? I'm not sure about sewing woven fabric onto a knit.

    1. You could definitely do that. Just be careful as the t-shirt will stretch a tiny bit as you are sewing. You could try ironing on a strip of interfacing or stabilizer to the inside/bottom of the tee before you attach the tiers. It will help the t-shirt hold it's shape.

      Good luck,
      Jamie

    2. Recovering Sociopath says:

      Thank you! I'll give it a try and let you know how it goes.