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Turning Pillowcases Into Dresses


There’s more than one use for a pillowcase. In a jiffy, they can be transformed into much-needed articles of clothing for disadvantaged girls.

That’s what volunteers around the United States and internationally are doing in cooperation with Hope 4 Women International, a division of Hope 4 Kids International. This 501c3 charitable organization helps to improve the lives of impoverished women and children around the world by teaching them skills that empower them, boost their self worth, and help them support themselves and their families.

In October 2009, Hope 4 Women launched a program called “Dress A Girl Around the World,” which encourages sewers to make pillowcase dresses and distributes them to girls—from infants to teenagers—in numerous communities in need, including within the U.S. To date, the Dress A Girl program has delivered nearly 38,000 dresses in 47 countries.

According to Rachel Eggum Cinader, Hope 4 Women’s director and the Dress A Girl campaign’s founder, the goal is to raise the dignity of girls and help them feel valued. She says that pillowcases are the ideal material to work with because they’re light-weight, inexpensive, easy to convert into simple dresses, and easy for program workers in the field to carry and distribute.

The Dress A Girl campaign makes a five-year commitment wherever it distributes dresses, so it has an on-going impact, and it has partners in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, Uganda and other African countries, as well as most states in the U.S.

The program’s website, www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com, provides instructions and patterns for sewing simple girls’ dresses from pillowcases and T-shirts and offers tips for starting sewing groups and hosting Dress A Girl events, as well as guidelines for working with the organization. The tutorial on converting a pillowcase into a dress is super easy. It uses the pillowcase opening as the dress hem, and the only sewing necessary is along the new neckline and armholes. The only extra materials required are elastic and bias tape. In countries where girls are required to cover their shoulders and legs, the program distributes long dresses made by sewing pillowcases to T-shirts. There is also a secondary campaign to provide pants for boys, called “Boys in Britches.”

You can check out Dress A Girl’s Facebook page, too for all the latest news and updates.

Is there a Dress A Girl Around the World sewing group in your area? Do you sew for charitable organizations?


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  1. PointPatou | | #1

    I think this is pathetic. If you want to make a dress for a disadvantaged child, spend $5, $10 bucks for some fabric and make a dress. Better yet, just contribute the money.

    A website recently revived an article from the defunct magazine "Sassy," in which the making of a pillowcase dress was demonstrated. It was a total joke.

  2. User avater
    eatsallinsects | | #2

    I don't understand why the previous poster felt this was a "total joke". Wouold someone please enlighten me? Thanks.

  3. sandijj | | #3

    I don,'t think PointPatou has ever seen a dress made from a pillow case.Fabric to make one probably costs$5-10 and are alot more colorful and creative than just buying a pillowcase.Some people just don't get it

  4. sewquilter | | #4

    I make pet fleece blankets for my vet/dog rescue organization during the fall of each year. I do them for dogs and cats. She really appreciates them. Just recently, I sent about 125 pet fleece blankets to the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They have over 400 dogs due to the tornado that happened there. I live in Jefferson, Louisiana, so I sent them through the mail. I have also sewed crib sheets and baby blankets for NICU center for premature babies at a hospital here in Jefferson, Louisiana. I go to the charity sewing day to sew these blankets and sheets.

  5. JanMade | | #5

    I have been sewing with a group recently to make "pillowcase" dresses for an orphanage in Haiti. We have completed over 100 dresses in the past month. We made most of the dresses from fabric which we bought on sale at various places. However, I also keep my eye out for pillowcases. All the dresses are adorable but the pretty patterned pillowcases are some of my favorites!

    See the post on my blog which includes pictures of some of the dresses.


  6. User avater
    fashionista29 | | #6

    My 2 year old granddaughter has a few of these pillowcase dresses and they are in fabulous prints. I wish I had made them myself but she received them 2nd hand from a woman who sews children's wear.

    The simple style is timeless and can be also be made from any cotton fabric. The pillowcase just provides a ready made hem and is a far cry from a "total joke."

    I hope other visitors to this site will do their own due diligence on this classic dress. I'm pretty sure Hope 4 Women International wouldn't be asking for this dress if it wasn't appropriate for the intended recipient irregardless of cost.

  7. Carolebarrel | | #7

    I have had the pleasure of contributing to embroidery projects for some traditional bed hangings in the Governor's mansion here in SC, made two volunteer quilt squares for the largest quilt in the world here in Columbia that as a large banner represented classes held in our school district, and designed a kneeler for the Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem where I delivered and placed it there among more than 300 others representing various dioces in the world. The American Needlepoint Guild raffled off a needlepoint creche scene and each of us contributors stitched an animal or figure in canvaswork. The total project was raffled off for charity after other volunteers blocked and assembled the pieces. Each project I had a hand in taught me much not only about techniques, color choices and craftsmanship but the value of hands on stitching to help those in need. One thing usually leads to another and I look forward to the next challenge as an outlet for my love of embroidery.

  8. User avater
    kdlorente | | #8

    This is a great idea. I recently finished sewing gowns for mammograms for a Women's Breast Cancer Support group in Arnprior Ontario, to donate to their local cancer clinic. It's bad enough having to go and get a mammogram, a pretty pink gown made large enough to fit obese women or small enough for underweight women can go a long way to helping ease the women's discomfort. Those paper gowns are downright drafty and the plastic belt breaks 90 percent of the time. Having an actual cloth gown made from surgical cotton that you can easily tie closed is very reassuring when you have more important things to think about.

    I also donated three Medieval costume gowns to be auctioned off soon that have an adjustable bodice for women who have had mastectomies. It was a rewarding experience.

  9. Snikwas | | #9

    "Boys in BRITCHES!!!!"
    Are you Americans trying to rewrite English???

    It so offends a lover of our beautiful language - breeches - please!

  10. KattDaida | | #10

    I have issues with this project - who gets to decide where the clothing is donated, and under what political/cultural circumstances?

    Are these dresses and pants being distributed by religious or other groups who want to dictate and emphasize our own Western values about body modesty and gender roles? In some cultures it is perfectly acceptable for children to be nude or nearly nude, and not for sexual reasons, as some would automatically assume as is the case in our culture. What are we saying about the native culture when we come in and say "Hey, girls need to wear dresses and boys need to wear pants!"? What about other native forms of dress that are neither dresses nor pants??

    I think that this project is misguided and is yet another example of Western cultural imperialism.

  11. nobodysgrandma | | #11

    Must we attach a political agenda to dressing a girl? If you think it's a joke, don't participate. If the recipient doesn't want to, they don't have to accept. If you want to condescend or wring your sour grapes, you probably do it all the time anyway.

  12. User avater
    orsinimedici1951 | | #12

    It is shocking to me how most of these comments have bypassed the altruistic spirit of this project with personal ego, and personal agendas!! Whatever happened to ""clothe the the naked"???? If you don't like the project, DON'T DO IT!! The pillowcase idea is perfect in it's simplicity for even the beginner sewer, and even young 10 year olds learning to sew. As a matter of fact, I will present this project to my 10-17 year old students, who in their uncomplicated sense of altruism, would JUMP at the opportunity to help these children!! Shame on you nay-sayers!! If your not going to be part of the solution, get out of the way!!

  13. stillsuesew | | #13

    I have made and sent 87 such dresses made out of my fabric stash. And I still have way too much fabric. The dresses can be adorable. I also use my bias tape maker to make the tape needed to bind the armholes and make the ties. This uses up more fabric and saves my having to purchase bias tape. I really don't care what ideology may inform the handing out of these dresses. I just know that my work is a blessing to a child somewhere.

  14. catisnapping | | #14

    Dear PointPatou: After going out to buy the fabric and patterns, how many dresses have YOU completed? Seems like the whole point of the project is to make it simple enough, and inexpensive enough, to overcome inertia and fear of a lack of skills or resources to motivate people to act.
    Dear KattDaida: Have you been to the places where they're distributing these dresses? Have you witnessed first hand the egregious Western cultural imperialism you have assigned to this project? Or are you just making gross assumptions with no facts to back them up? Seems like everyone in the videos was wearing clothing of some sort, so I doubt these people are running around naked, as you claim.
    If the two of you don't want to be involved, move on to the next blog, and don't waste your time whining. Use your time to save the world in your own way.

  15. grannyg60 | | #15

    I may have been sleep somewhere, but I have never heard of the Pillowcase dresses..however if someone could explain the basics I would be more than happy to make some to donate as well as speak w/other members of my group.

  16. User avater
    aunty_em | | #16

    A few friends and I got together to make some dresses for this charity. We used our fabric stashes. There is a link on their website in the discussion section to measurements for fabric in place of pillow cases.

    I get my fabric and trims from the clearance sections of fabric stores, thrift stores and yard sales. I made the bias tapes and ruffles out odd bits of fabric, saving more money and clearing out more odds and ends. It gave me a sort of justification to buy a simplicity bias tape maker(craigslist) and the roller (amazon). They made it much easier.

    Spending a lot of money to make anything is just crazy. The cost of dresses we made is about 25 cents each. The majority of the fabric usd came from an estate sale find. A container that said "quilt scraps" had 4 pieces that were 45" wide and 10 yards. I paid $10 for the container which has many useful pieces.

  17. JanMade | | #17

    grannyg60....this is the pattern that I use for the dresses. It includes instructions for making the dress with fabric and also using a pillowcase.


    The dresses are very cute, a very timeless design. It is also very quickly sewn together which is why it is the perfect pattern for this project. I have made so many that I can usually make one in 30 to 40 minutes. There are also many variations of the pattern available from the commercial pattern companies.

    I try to buy the bias binding when I have a coupon for notions at the local fabric store. I have been thinking about buying the bias tape maker. I need to read some reviews first because it is somewhat pricey.

  18. Mariesainte | | #18

    I'd love to sew for a number of charities, but until I retire, I can't. It is difficult as it is to juggle a long commute and full time work, but I am keeping an eye on the charity sewing options and look forward to participating. I have done sewing for friends with temporary disabilities and it is an engineering challenge--no one wants to wear obviously adapted clothes, but the adaptations are not always easy.

  19. User avater
    RevDi | | #19

    I suppose that PointPatou thinks making a dress from a pillowcase is "cheap." Perhaps PointPatou doesn't understand that not everyone has an extra $5-10 to spend on one dress, but does have a caring heart and found a great deal on some pretty pillowcases. Or perhaps PointPatou grew up poor and wore hand-me-downs and resents passing something she (or he) considers akin to a hand-me-down being sent to a poor child. The good news is that PointPatou doesn't have to make pillowcase dresses, and you don't have to feel guilty about making them and sending them on with love in your heart.

  20. Bother | | #20

    Bravo, catisnapping! Anyone who doesn't want help or charity is perfectly free to decline it. This sounds like an excellent organization and worth looking into further.

  21. georgiegirl73 | | #21

    Hi,I sew for a free clinic that supports the poor and uninsured of our community. the quilt I designed and built has raised $75,000 to date, we are still selling space. I would love to share my story with Threads. not sure where to send it.

  22. Flanerie | | #22

    I first heard about this project through an interview I did with the president of the Kiwanis Club in my area (I'm a writer/reporter for the local weekly newspaper.) Her group sewed and donated over 100 dresses to poverty-stricken girls in Africa.

    I really shake my head over the person who responded in this conversation that we shouldn't be going into other cultures telling them they need to be clothed. ..because as the Kiwanis president explained to me, the girls who receive these dresses are vulnerable to being taken from their families and sold into slavery, and if they are dressed, it looks like they have a family who cares about them, and makes them far less likely to be kidnapped.

    As for the snooty-ness about sewing with a pillowcase, for one thing, it's just the idea of having pre-hemmed fabric (the pillowcase opening is the hem of the dress) to encourage a sewer to know that they can make these very quickly. (You're basically just attaching the pillowcase to the bottom of a tee-shirt.) You could use your stash of fabrics if the idea of a pillowcase offends your aesthetic sensibilities. . .but why would it?

    Linens are available in beautiful high-thread count fabrics - a few years back, I bought an extra king-size sheet when I bought new linens, and used it as a large expanse of fabric to make coordinating pillows and such for my bedroom - and it looked a lot nicer with my custom touch than the store-bought alternatives that were offered.

  23. Kitrtymom | | #23

    I just made 3 of these dresses this afternoon ! I used fabric from my "stash" and leftover bias. I plan on making a few every week--it's a great cause and a great way to use the fabric filling up my house !!!

  24. Stillsewing | | #24

    All this is very laudable and i think that it is very good that sewers are prepared to give their time to others less fortunate. We all have our ways to help others!

    However this item has left me, once guessing, I would love to know what a "pillowcase" is, is this something that one uses on the the bed under your head, or is it a cushion that one uses on a chair. Mostly in American parlance, the word pillow is used to describe what I would call a cushion. This time it appears to have a different meaning.

  25. User avater
    eatsallinsects | | #25

    THANKS to the subsequent comments on this article, I now see where that person was coming from when labeling this idea as a "total joke".
    Appreciate the enlightenment and will go forward to try to make some of these myself.

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